The Situationist

Selling Products With Sexism

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 11, 2011

Sexist products and advertising were once right out in the open.

Take this old advertisement from Honor House Products Corp. for “Stuffed” Girl’s Heads (highlighted this week over at Dangerous Minds).

A 1970 advertisement for Mr. Leggs slacks (shown below) played into the same notions of women as passive “conquests” and men as active “conquerors.”  As the copy explains,

Though she was a tiger lady, our hero didn’t have to fire a shot to floor her. After one look at his Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her. That noble styling sure soothes the savage heart! If you’d like your own doll-to-doll carpeting, hunt up a pair of these he-man Mr. Leggs slacks. Such as our new automatic wash wear blend of 65% “Dacron®” and 35% rayon–incomparably wrinkle-resistant. About $12.95 at plush-carpeted stores.

While, in general, the sexism in advertising and marketing campaigns is less explicit today, it has in no way disappeared.

A recent example comes from an unexpected source: Jenny Craig.  One might think that the weight-loss company with its traditionally strongly-female consumer pool would be the last place to see sexism of any kind, but JC is looking for new customers: men.

I suspect that the controversial campaign was spurred by a worry that the gendered associations for the company would doom its efforts to make inroads with the male demographic unless they took bold action.  What type of man would turn to Jenny Craig for help?  That would imply his femininity — and, indeed, his weakness.

So what did the company come up with as a message?

“Jen Works For Men!”

In other words, it’s okay fellas: think about Jenny Craig as your secretary or maid.  As Mr. Leggs would have pointed out, “It’s nice to have a girl around the house.”

Check out one of the television ads below:

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4 Responses to “Selling Products With Sexism”

  1. JD said

    It seems pretty obvious that “Jen Works For Men” means “this program will help men succeed in losing weight, just like it does for women.” They’re advertising that it’s not a program designed exclusively for women. Smart move on their part since I’m sure many people assume Jenny Craig is specifically targeted for women. Your interpretation seems like a huge stretch to me.

  2. Tamara Piety said

    Doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to me. I agree that it is ambiguous. On its face it could be intended to mean exactly what it seems to mean which is simply that the Jenny Craig program works for men as well. And yet the folks who put the ad together and who greenlighted it cannot have been oblivious to the more subtle undertone as well – the juxtaposition of a female name with “works for men” is metaphorically “down” and “under” to use Lakoff & Johnson’s terminology. Theoretically this could make it appealing to at least some men on two levels: one the literal effectiveness level (although presumably men of even moderate intelligence know that there is isn’t likely to be a big gender difference with respect to the effectiveness of diets so that a “woman’s diet” will be less effective for men; if anything the reverse is likely to be true because of men’s generally higher metabolisms). The second level, and I think what Adam picks up on in this post, is an appeal to male dominance imagery. Whether the folks that made the ad or Jenny Craig intended for the ad to have this effect may be open to question. Perhaps it was entirely innocent. But in a time when millions are watching the sexism of the recent past reenacted for us in shows like “Mad Men” I don’t think it is that much of a stretch.

  3. […] Seksizam u reklamama. […]

  4. […] Selling Products With Sexism […]

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