Everyone’s seen good old-fashioned sexist images like the one on the left, right? There’s no shortage of ads that reference America’s earlier, less enlightened era when women stayed in the home and their sole social function was to support their husband and kids. It was a good, simple time, when women had nary a thought in their little heads and and could be easily appeased with new kitchen appliances. At least, that’s how ads from before women’s liberation would have you think.
Now that women are rocking out in almost all spheres of business, politics and law (haven’t touched the presidency yet, have we?), things in advertising are a bit different. It’s no longer considered socially acceptable to overtly compare women to objects or to imply that their only worth lies within domestic spheres. In theory, the strides that American society has made towards equalizing opportunities in education, jobs and politics are reflected in modern advertising…but everything is ok if it’s ironic, right?
The good ol’ boys club, where a certain level of bonding resulted from the exclusion and objectification of women, hasn’t disappeared. Those who aren’t ready to move into a modern egalitarian spirit have found a solution – retro sexism. The latest Feminist Frequency video features this topic, offering up this definition: “Retro Sexism (n.): Modern attitudes and behaviors that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.”
Everyone knows that implying that women are stupid or weak is politically incorrect, but retro sexist ads bargain on viewers thinking that their particular brand of sexism is ok because it’s funny. Feminist Frequency point to a wide range of advertisers, from Twix to Coor’s Light to the repeat offender Carl’s Jr. Comedian Sarah Haskins has also focused on this topic before in her videos, pointing out that cleaning products are still pretty much only marketed to women and going on her own rant about Carl’s Jr. The NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body campaign even has a whole section devoted to ads that are offensive to women. These retro sexist ads are EVERYWHERE.
Ads like this reflect our social reality, when women still earn about 78 cents for every dollar earned by men and hold significantly fewer positions of leadership. Unfortunately, it’s not so much that sexism is making a comeback, it’s more that sexism has never fully disappeared.