Sexual Objectification of Women in Advertising

Essay, 2016

33 Pages

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Sexual Objectification of Women in Advertising

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Which picture strikes you as unusual? Probably the one on the right. Do you find it ridiculous? Images such as on the left objectify women by displaying them with very little to no clothing, and having them pose in a sexually suggestive manner. It is not unusual that women are being sexualized and objectified in advertising. However, when a man is showing in a pose often used to represent women, they are considered as weird and funny. This is an example of “normalization”: even though the actual pose is absurd, we see it so often that it seems normal. The result of using such images of women so frequently in advertising is that, women are been objectified as objects and instrument of sexual pleasure.

Sexual objectification, by definition, means “The action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object” (Simpson). It ignores women’s personality and dignity by turning them into objects. A woman is sexually objectified when “her sexual parts or functions are separated out from her person, reduced to the status of mere instruments, or else regarded as if they were capable of representing her” (qtd in Teng 77). Advertisements often represent women as sexual objects, subordinated to men, and even as objects of sexual violence, and such advertisements contribute to discrimination against women in the workplace, and normalize attitudes which result in sexual harassment and even violence against women. The representation of women using sexualized images that have increased significantly in the amount and also the severity of the images that’s been used explicitly throughout the 20th Century. Solutions include media and parental education, resistance of sexualized ads, and more women in the advertising field.

The question is, why is sex being used so often in advertising? The answer is that first, sexual advertisement can effectively attract people’s attention even though those sexual images have little relevance to their products. Kerin A. Roger, William J. Lundstrom, and Donald Sciglimpaglia say that “The idea of women as sex objects arises from the use of a woman as an attention getting stratagem when her presence adds little but decoration to the product being advertised” (39). Additional research by Kevin Ann Kelsmark also concludes that, “Advertisers have felt the need to use ‘shock’ to over-stimulate consumers. This is in order to make them stop and look long enough for the ad to persuade the consumer to buy the product” (115). The use of sexual appeal creates excitement for viewers, which attracts more attention to the ads. By displaying shocking images, the brand is more memorable in people’s minds (Tess), overcoming the increasing “clutter” of numbers of ads. There are thousands different ads we now perceive every day in our lives. The shock value of sexualized images, along with the tendency of people to notice sexual images, draw attention to ads, causing people to notice ads for products which otherwise would be lost in the ad clutter. People are more likely to buy a product if they are already aware of it. Meanwhile, when people have a memory of a product they have seen on TV, it increases the chance of purchasing that good in the future. Ads with attractive sexual images make people stop to look. Advertisers take that as an advantage of selling their goods. A significant way of doing that is by using women’s sexualized bodies, and these pictures really promote companies and make people buy more of their products.

Second, sex in the ad can create a link to desirable associations. An advertisement with attractive image can certainly create a positive feeling for its audience. The use of woman body is a promotion element for both men and women (Gudekli and Çelik 6132). Sexual images are appealing to women who look up to them, and also to men who admire them. An image of a sexy fit woman in an ad for a weight loss product can be desirable to women who are overweight. They would associate a beautiful sexy body with that product. This will lead to the false assumption that by taking their product, they would look as sexy as the woman in that ad. At the same time, the sexual images particularly stimulate many men’s brains. An image with both a sexy woman and a man gives the audience the feeling that they would be able to be as attractive as the man in the ad and get the woman they want. Advertisers link the images with desires of male’s emotion such as romance, love and sex. These pictures are suggesting to men that those desires can be satisfied through purchasing their products.

However, these sexually suggestive images often represent women in sexually objectifying ways. Women are often seen as sexual objects rather than as people in many advertisements. Studies show that women and men are represented in stereotyped roles as women are more commonly seen as homemakers who rely on men, and men are interested in women as sexual objects (Reichert). Why do people regard women with less respect than men? The answer is that women are not only in the weak role in advertising, but also regarded as sexual objects. Advertisements are subconsciously implying to their audience that women are simply objects to be obtained and possessed. This attached ad uses a sexualized image of a woman to sell Fat Ass tequila. They use a woman in a revealing bikini and set the scene as she was just came out the swimming pool. This is definitely a sexual image because her clothing barely covers her body and leaves little to the imagination. The women’s image is reduced to an association with the “Fat Ass” brand; she is literally just a “piece of ass.” The image of the woman is used to attract attention to the ad and to the product, but at the same time, it reduces the woman to a mere object for a man’s gratification.

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Such images do not only sell products, but also sell a specific idea of the value and role of women as subordinate and submissive objects for the use of men. Sexual images of women have significant impact on their audience, and it is especially problematic among men. One study by Vaes, Jeroen, Paola Paladino, and Elisa Puvia stress that objectified women are deprived of the individuality of humans:

Objectification theory has suggested that men attend especially to a woman’s sexual function when confronted with sexually objectified depictions of female targets, […] this increase in focus on the body and appearance could then imply that men lose out on the personal and individual qualities of the sexually objectified target, seeing her as a lesser human being. (776)

Women in advertisements are usually skinny, beautiful, and curvy, instead of intelligent, smart human beings. Women’s bodies are shown as objects, rather than as a person.

In a lot of ads, men and women are depicted together in sexual situations, the appearance of the body is emphasized, and human qualities are ignored. The man is shown as dominant, and the woman is his sexual object. They tend to take control over women easily. However, this is not only inappropriate, but also offensive for women. Their bodies became the symbol of unfair power in relation to men. For instance, a company called I Love Ugly launched a new advertising campaign this year. The ad was an image of a well-dressed man putting his hands with their jewelry product over a completely naked woman’s breast.

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This company uses this kind of image which is offensive to female customers. Another image shows the same man wearing their jewelry with hands on a naked women’s butt. It is certainly true that many men who see this ad could be impressed and remember their product. The woman in this ad is being taken control by a man. It was showing that women are just like possessions that men can easily have. She is also an object to be obtained by possession of the product. They were appealing to their customers that by purchasing their jewelry, men can dominate women as the image shows. They treat women as sexual objects. Another example is a company called Lynx. They advertised their brand by showing 100 women chasing one male who used their product. In this ad, women are seen as objects that were pursuing one man, while making noises sounding like animals. The purpose of this ad was to tell men that by using their product, they will look sexier and attractive to women. However, this ad was promoting their product by insulting women as animals. If we look at some other ads that Lynx uses, most of these are images with half-naked women.

As a result of sexual objectification, more and more ads use disrespectful images or images depicting violence towards women. Because of the relative dominance of the male in advertising images, and the representation of women as passive sexual objects, these images often imply or overtly display sexual violence. The attached controversial image is an advertisement from Dolce & Gabbana.

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This ad is involving five strong males who are lacking clothing, are muscular with military haircuts and dog tags, surrounding one skinny female who is lying on the ground. Also, moreover, the woman’s position of being held down makes it seem like it is against her will, all implying dominance and power. Even though the photo is meant to promote their brand, it still clearly indicates sexual violence against women. In another ad for Samsung, there is a woman being forced to lay on the ground with a man on top of her. At first glance of this ad, people are more likely to see a knife instead of a cell phone. It is more and more common for advertisers to connect sexuality with aggression and violence.

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The relative sex roles that are taught by advertisements can also desensitize women, teaching them to accept sexual objectification as normal. If we take a look at the history of women, they were always the population placed the subordinate position, which is the reason why men are usually given the dominant role in most advertisements. Advertisers make women look little and weak in most ads. As a result, women who watch those ads may automatically think they should be the way that they are on TV. They do not realize that advertisements have been intentionally implying to them that violence against them is appropriate and normal. Women’s attitude towards themselves are affected by sexual objected advertisements. In the long term, it is possible that women will start to underestimate themselves, and think of themselves as not as good as men. Gradually, women accept the false feeling that they are not as respected as men. Thus, when they are truly been offended by men, they are not fully aware of violence. Sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University conducted an interview with 100 youths who may have been sexually assaulted. Hlavka found that young women experienced different forms of sexual violence every day in their lives, and often times they considered these as normal (Nica). According to Sociologists for Women in Society website, “During one interview, a girl states: ‘I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone’” (Nica). Young teenagers rationalized sexual violence as normal because they didn’t want to make a “big deal” of their experience. They have been taught to accept it as a common occurrence. This study pointed out that the media affects the way youth perceive things, and lead to ignorance of sexual violence. People should realize that violence against women could change their attitudes on both young and adult women. The media is so powerful that it can manipulate its audience’s opinion and twist it into something they want.

Women’s evaluation of themselves can become negative, which will lead to depression and lack of confidence. Objectification theory states that women have less control in relationships and the workforce because they are not confident enough to present themselves, and women depend on others who typically focus on their physical appearances (Fredrickson and Roberts). One study done in 1977, by Ford, LaTour, and Lundstrom measured the attitudes of women towards female roles in advertising by doing a survey. It was used to measure women’s perceptions of themselves in advertisements. The result from this survey was that most women were critical about that way they were portrayed in advertisements. They claim that companies were treating them mainly as sexual objects (qtd. in Zimmerman and Dahlberg 72). Advertisers influence people’s opinion about women’s power by showing its customers that women are not as powerful as men. Over time, women start to believe that they cannot perform as well as men, and doubt their abilities. A serious problem is that women’s self-esteem and confidence no longer exist, and their attitudes towards themselves will tend to change as well. According to Tamar Saguy’s research, “Under objectifying conditions, particularly in mixed-sex interactions, women may present themselves as stereotypically female” (179). As a result, women tend to talk less and fear to present themselves in the long term even though they have not been objectified.

Moreover, sexual objectification is also affecting young women’s perspective towards offensive ads images. Zimmerman and Dahlerg “showed that young women today are more forgiving of companies that portray females offensively in their advertisements than young women were decade ago” (75). Different companies use specific advertisement to attract certain groups of people. Teenage girls might not always be their target, but those images are absolutely effective to them. Most college students don’t take sexual objectification as seriously as adult women do, and some of them even disagree that advertisements are showing women as they truly are. In a random survey that was done recently by students in the University of California, Irvine, 75 out of 100 young female women think that sexual women images are not offensive to them. Even though it was a small population, 75% percent of them thought sexual objectification was normal. This survey shows that young women in today’s society are more affected by advertisement than adults. They actually accept the offensiveness from the portrayal of women. This will result in continuing to ignore sexual objectification of women among young females, and they will positively see those ads and purchase more goods regardless of sexual portrayal of women in advertising. However, the reason of the widespread objectification in advertising is not only because of the portrayal of a woman’s image, but also due to the historical context.

Such images also communicate the idea to women that they are valued as sexual objects, promoting the idea that they should sexually objectify themselves. The media makes women take advantage of their sexual bodies because of the popularity and other social benefits that women can get from their body images. Because of these reasons, women are more likely to become self-objectified and act like objects. Women might isolate and narrow themselves from social life interactions because being an object doesn’t require one to possess any personality (Saguy 178). Examples from the popular celebrity Miley Cyrus, her performance in her Wrecking Ball video, and singer Beyoncé’s feature on the cover of the Time magazine in her underwear were well-indicated that they were treated as objectified humans. These kinds of images that have been sexually presented can have negative influences on teenage girls. They may use the same method to appear sexier in real life.

The reduction of women to sexual objects and the resulting subordination contributes to discrimination in the workplace, as women are regarded as subordinate to and expected to serve men, and may limit the opportunities for professional advancement. The problem with sexual objectification is that women’s position in work places are commonly considered lower than men; women face job discrimination. Because of the misunderstanding that advertisement brought to its audience that women are sexual objects, people in real life don’t think that women can do the same job as men. As a result, men are more likely to have priority of job consideration ahead of women. Meanwhile, sexualized women images can create a weak and “not as good as men” feeling to the employers, and their judgment will be affected based on what they see through advertisements. Since women are more likely to be seen as sexual objects, companies’ decisions are affected by that. As a result, men have a better chance of getting jobs than women. Women are not getting the fairness they deserve. Sexual objectification contributes to gender bias in this society. The reason that men are more often seen as the work force for most families is relatively related to sexual objectification.

The expectation of discrimination can also discourage women from pursuing jobs, especially in management and administration. As a result of facing discrimination, women are less likely to pursue jobs especially in competition with men. They feel less confident and lack motivation while competing with men. They also follow a specific dress manner when going to an interview to increase their chances of being hired. Men usually represent the independent and dominant role when compared to women. Therefore, when it comes to workforce, it is commonly seen that men are the major population among high authority department because people don’t expect women to do jobs as good as men do (“What's Holding Women Back?”).

Such advertisement can also suggest to men that violence against women is normal, and even expected, promoting attitudes which lead to sexual harassment and real world violence. Women are not only particularly sexual objects for men, but also often the objects of violence. Jean Kilbourne says that, “But turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person,” […] “So the violence, the abuse, is partly the chilling but logical result of this kind of objectification” (Killing Us Softly5). People think that “Sex Sells” gives others the idea that women have no power which can lead to violence. Research has found that it is increasingly common for advertisers to connect sexuality with aggression or violence against women (Benokraitis and Feagin). Michael Capella states that in his article “The Impact of Violence against Women in Advertisements,” “Exposure to sexualized violence…may activate a complex set of associations related to aggressive ideas and emotions, thereby temporarily increasing accessibility to aggressive thoughts, feelings, and scripts” (40). Watching violent ads has negative influences on people in real life. Aggressive emotions can lead to serious violent problems to our society. One TV program reported that people pay more attention to those violent programs compare to nonviolent programs (Bushmen 2005). Inappropriate sexual images create aggressive feelings to the consumers, especially to men. Sexual assault of women by men is a serious problem in the United States because approximately one in five women are victimized in their lives (Hildebrand and Najdowski 1059). The culture of violence towards women specifically relates to television, which results in the increasing rate of rape of women in real world (Kahlor and Eastin 215). Sexual violence in advertising can potentially increase the rate of rape and violence towards women. Because the role of women having been portrayed as weak and subordinate, men’s reaction will be more likely to be violent and threatening in real life.

Media propaganda by advertising and manufacturers through the representation of women has throughout the human history. The sexualized portrayal of women in American history was significantly negative. Originating in the representations of the nude in Renaissance art, and gradually becoming more acceptable to mainstream audiences through such influences as sexual morality and the women’s movement during the 20th Century, sexually objectifying images of women have become increasingly explicit, resulting in the perpetuation of attitudes, which contributes to the subjugation of the violence toward women.

The phenomenon of sexualized women images has existed at least since the Renaissance (McDonald 6). John Berger described how people see women in different forms of media in his book,Ways of Seeing.Berger discussed that the methods being used by Renaissance artists were the production of female body image painting (qtd. in McDonald 5). The usage of sexualized female bodies was more and more commonly seen in their paintings during that period. For example, in Hans von Aachen’s famous painting,Bacchus, Ceres and Cupid, both the god and the goddess were completely naked.

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Source:, Hans von Aachen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, the naked woman takes half of the space in this painting. If we take a closer look at it, Bacchus is looking at the direction of Ceres’s naked breast which objectifies her. Meanwhile, Ceres is looking out of the painting towards the audience, which implies that she is aware of and accepts that she is being watched by the audience even though she is naked. The woman was self-objectifying herself as well by her gaze towards male spectators that are outside of the painting. In John Berger’sWays of Seeing,he points out, “He is the spectator in front of the picture and he is presumed to be a man […] Men look at women. However, women also watch themselves being looked at […] the surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object” (Berger 54). This woman is reduced to an object for the male gaze by being an object for a male in the painting, and for a male spectator who she acknowledges by her gaze. This painting does not only show the sexualized woman, but also the subordination of women’s position.

Sexual images of women have been seen in the popular media since the 1850s (Gudekli and Celik). When sexually objectifying imagery first appeared in advertising, it used the inventions that had appeared in pre-existing arts. Although the woman’s role back in the 1800s was primarily as housewives, their body image began to appear represented in sexually objectifying ways in advertising from that specific time period. In the attached ad for Pearl Tobacco Company in 1871, it is a painting with a woman who is standing on a wave of the ocean with almost a completely naked body.

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Sexual imagery in mainstream ads was rare, and this company was the earliest to use sex in advertising back in the 1800s. And they used a painting to transform sexuality from the art field into advertisement. When people saw this ad during that time period, they would think of this as a development of art in advertising instead of an inappropriate image of a naked woman. It is interesting that there is no single tobacco product which appears in this particular advertisement. They knew the strategy of getting people’s attention before convincing them to buy a specific product. The way of using sexualized women images can subconsciously remind the audience and create connective feelings corresponding with a specific product. This was the beginning of the common method that advertisers used to connect their products with provocative sexual imagery.

The period of 1930s to 1940s was when the U.S. experienced the Great Depression and World War II. Women’s fashion was a good indicator of American culture in the mid-nineteen-thirties. The images of women in social media were more likely to be body-focused than they were in the previous decades. Women’s figures at that time started to be slim, shaped, and represented as the ideal of beauty, which was based on physical appearance and body type.

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This particular ad was for the Chesterfield Cigarette Company (“After A Man’s Heart”). They used a naked-back women’s picture with traditional clothing that women wore at that time, perfectly made a connection with their audience and appealed to them with a woman’s pretty body. Meanwhile, a significant change during this period was the ad from Maidenform Corporation, in which they announced new national advertising campaign in August of 1949. In the announcement, there was a sexy model who was wearing a loose skirt and bra, without a shirt on blouse, disclosed to all with their slogan “I Dreamed I Went Shopping in My Maidenform Bra” stroke the advertising industry by putting a woman with her underwear in public space (Odom 2).

Besides that, they used photography instead of paintings compared to previous sexualization, and the women was explicitly undressed. The problem was that women were not only being sexualized in paintings, but also in photos that were shot of actual humans. Advertisements became more realistic and less artistic. Maidenform Company was not the first one to put a woman’s body image in advertisements, however, they were the first few companies that used more graphic and realistic representation of sexuality in advertising.

Great changes of women took place in the 1960s and 1970s because of the Second Wave of the Feminist Movement. According to Lynn Y. Weiner, women gained many rights during the 1960s:

By 1961 Eleanor Roosevelt had predicted that the equal rights amendment might soon become a desirable goal, and two years later President John F. Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women recommended such innovations as paid maternity leave and wider access to childcare, and the US Congress passed the Equal Pay Act. Feminist stirrings had also begun among women active in civil rights and soon after in the student and antiwar movements. (303)

Women started to question their status as more than stay-at-home mothers because of the awareness of sexual values in the 1960s. On the other hand, the sexual revolution of 1960-1980 changed women’s perception of sexuality in America as well. It brought shifts of women’s attitude of homosexuality and other sexual passions. Meanwhile, birth control gave women more opportunities among the work force. They were able to delay the time of giving birth and started their own businesses. With birth control pills, women were then able to control their time of pregnancy, and gain power of their own. Because of those rights that women gained during 1960s and 1970s, their social status and roles began to shift away from housewives and homemakers. At the same time, however, the availability of birth control for women drew attention to female sexuality. Before birth control pills appeared, sex was dangerous for most women because it was risky for them to get pregnant. Men, on the other hand, could have as much sex as they wanted with no worries of carrying babies. Things changed after the pill became available for women. Women had more freedom when it came to sex, which led to the sexuality of women to be more openly discussed and resulted in more sexualized women in real life, which ultimately led to the wide spread of sexual objectification in advertising.

However, the effects of sexual images began to be more serious in the 1960s. Critics consistently have raged against the way advertising treats women since the 1960s (Zimmerman and Dahlberg 71). Despite the women’s movement during the past forty years, advertising of women’s images had only gotten more explicit. Advertisements started to mislead young children and tell them what’s important is how they look, and the ideal of sexy beauty in real life. The sexual revolution caused women to no longer be seen as housewives, but rather than being portrayed more sexually. In all kinds of advertising, women’s bodies were turning into “things” and “objects” which led to violence against women in the 21st Century. According to Lina Salete Chaves, from the University of South Florida, “With the popularity ofPlayboy, Sex and Single Girl, and Cosmopolitan, these magazines sent women new cultural affirmations about their sexuality that tied together ideas of individualism and consumerism to sexual liberation” (1). It is clear that the usage of sexualized women images were common in different magazines in the 1960s. The attached picture forPlayboymagazine was launched in 1961.

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Source: f6692881df0e4b0c44c1cce81b6bbf5d/1961_01_Cover.jpg

There is not only one sexy woman in that picture, but six of them. The middle two are completely naked with a male rabbit sitting beside them. If we take a closer look at the subtitle, it says, “Entertainment for Men.” They were trying to link women’s bodies with entertaining male desires. What would men think when they saw this cover? They would probably consider women as an object that can please and entertain them. Sexual objectification of women started to become more and more common during that time.

Meanwhile, the feminist movement had also made great contribution to the status of female athletes. Before the success of the movement, female athletes could play only in poor facilities, under numbers of different rules, and different dress codes compared to male athletes. According to the Student Pulse Website, “Society also largely ignored and discriminated against female athletes, portraying them as masculine and homosexual and further deterring women from participating in sports” (Liang). The progress did accomplish some goals of the feminist movement, and brought more consciousness of the importance of female respectfulness among athletes. However, numerous issues remained to be addressed and solved. The sexually objectifying images promoted by advertising, and the limited amount of money available to women athletes, caused women to be self-objectified as sexual objects, and perpetuated the idea of objectifying attitudes towards themselves. One of the most important issues in today’s society is the sexualization of female athletes. Female athletes were not been portrayed as skilled athletes, but sexual objects by displaying suggestive pose and clothing. The results were even though those athletes had great performance in their professional fields, they were more likely to be remembered from their sexual images that appeared in the magazines. It was not only disrespectful, but also was the ignorance of their achievements as professionals. As a result, female athletes got used to being sexualized and continually portrayed as objects, as well as the increasing of sexual objectification of women in advertising. The fact is that the majority of female athletes do not earn as much money compared to male athletes with same performance. According to Emily Liang’s study on “Media’s Sexualization of Female Athletes,” “Since only a few actually earn large salaries from playing sports, many embrace the media’s sexualization because they can show off their bodies while attaining exposure and endorsements (Student Pulse). The reason that sport magazines use objectified images so often is because females are sexually objectifying themselves. Because of the benefits female athletes could gain from sexualization, the consequences are that media sexualization of female athletes will only grow increasingly popular.

Sexual images of women became more and more frequently used among media in the 1980s. Research done by two students from Canisius College, Amanda Zimmerman and John Dahlberg, found that:

For women born in the early 1980s, sex in the media has been a constant companion. Sex is everywhere; on prime time television programs, movies, and music videos. It is rare to view an hour of television and not see a suggestively dressed or undressed female, whether in a program or a commercial. (71)

By the time of the 1980s and 1990s, the ideal of sexual images was used frequently and subtly. That was because advertisers began to notice the change of bring more profit through using sexualized images in their ads.

For instance, in this ad for the Big Mouth Company selling beer, however, it is obvious that the actual product that they are trying to advertise only takes a small position in this ad, while the majority of this image is the woman’s body.

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The slogan says “The first thing I noticed was her Big Mouth,” while the woman’s face has even been cut off from the image. The picture is left with her body with her hand holding the beer. It is clearly a sexually-objectified ad that portrays women as objects, which well indicates the development of women objectification in the late 1900s. Other sample ads that also show women as objects are Victoria Secret, Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford, and Calvin Klein. Most sexualized ads are being displayed as part of a woman’s body instead of a whole person. For example, in the Tom Ford Fragrance ad, there is a headless woman who does not wear any clothes and has their fragrance product between her breasts. The slogan declares “Tom Ford for Man.” Those ads only show part of a woman’s body making it easy to see their product by erasing the individual identity through faces, eyes, and eye contact. Moreover, their slogan gives the male audience a feeling that not only is the product for them, but also the woman as well. As media propagated nudity and sexuality, they became more common and more explicit, because industries needed to be more versatile to capture the same amount of attention. The media creates more sexualized possibilities, causes advertisements to respond to it by giving even more sexually objectified examples, which creates a vicious cycle of infinite sexual objectification in advertising.

Some people, such as Edward A. McCabe fail to recognize the dangerous effects of sexual objectification of women in advertising when suggesting that sex in advertising is actually just an innocent exercise that’s been unfairly criticized by people. In fact, the most common form of sex in advertising is sexual objectification, in which advertisers use women’s sexualized body images to sell products; the usage of such images in advertising is a real problem and damaging to women in real world.

Edward A. McCabe claims in his article “Sex in Advertising,” the use of sexuality in advertising, especially when it’s appropriate, is not harmful. He also argues using sex in advertising is not unscrupulous because there are more easily available sex representations in the real world. People get upset about advertising only because they are puritanical and over- reacting to the images.

In “Sex in Advertising,” McCabe uses loaded terms and poisoning the well to make critics of advertisers seem like they are coming up with irrational ideas; he misrepresents critics of advertising:

Far from being demonic manipulators who slip subliminal sex images into ice cubes--a charge leveled of advertising people by those who have nothing better to do in their lives than to imagine such nonsense--ad people are too busy, too responsible and too scrutinized to waste a second thinking of such crap. (592)

He represents criticism of sex in advertising as attacking advertisers as “demonic manipulators” and advertisers on critics are concerned primarily with sexual images. He is suggesting in his criticism, that sexual objectification of women in advertising is to slip subliminal sex images. He is criticizing the critics of sex in advertising as a concern with the use of sexual subliminal images, which he believes is absurd, suggesting that they are concerned with absurd, non-existent problems. He is attacking the critics themselves. However, critics of sex in advertising aren’t necessarily claiming these things. He makes use of loaded language to attack critics of advertising in addition to making his claim. However, sexual objectification is a real problem as he later admits, not “crap.”

McCabe is making a straw man argument by saying that people who criticize advertising “have nothing better to do” than to “imagine such nonsense.” He also thinks that critics of advertising are “wasting” time and “thinking of such crap,” unlike advertisers who are “responsible.” Do people think that the fact there are critics of sex in advertising means they have nothing better to do, implying that this problem is not significant? He is suggesting that criticism of sex in advertising is not worthwhile. In fact, what people are concerned about is the real problem. He ignores the fact that sexual objectification in advertising does have a negative effect on women. There are reasons that people think of sex in advertising because it causes substantial harm to real people, which can lead to sexual objectification of women, and ultimately, violence and crime against women. The problem is not just subliminal sex images in ice cubes, but also serious social issue.

Edward A. McCabe also claims that since there are so many sexual images in the real world, people should not make a big deal of sex in advertising. He comments on Channel 35, a pornographic channel on cable TV, arguing that sex being displayed on television is worse than anything that one sees in the ads; therefore, sex representations in advertisements are relatively better in comparison, and thus not harmful. It is true that there is more sex on pornography channels than in advertisements. However, there are differences between these two media sources. First, people must actively search for the pornographic channel 35, in order to watch it. The action of tuning into a sex channel requires people’s intention to locate sexual materials. People are directly looking for things to satisfy their desires through television. On the other hand, sexually objectifying images of women in advertising are out there everywhere for everyone to see. Often people look at magazines, sexually objectified images of women are blatantly on the covers. People are forced to see these images, so they are subconsciously implanted into people’s minds. There is a big difference between watching a pornographic channel, and happening to run into sexual images while flipping through magazines. People who open a sport magazine are not looking for sexual ads. These images are been pushed onto them against their will or at least without their intention. McCabe compares two different mediums of propagating sexual objectification of women and concludes that one is worse while they are two entirely different mediums and cannot be compared. Children are less likely go to channel 35 to watch sexual explicit movies, while they could see sexual advertisements on a street billboard.

In addition, this is also a “less bad” argument. Sex in the real world may not necessarily be a good thing; just because sex in advertising is not as bad as on a pornography channel, doesn’t mean that it’s good; just because it’s not as bad, doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem. In fact, many of the problems of pornography are also issues of advertising causing objectification towards women.

According to McCabe’s article, “Yes, on television, too many spots continue to demean women or insensitively threat them as sex objects. And yes, even some of today’s magazine advertisements may be going too far” (McCabe 592). In other words, he is arguing that there is “innocent” pornography, in which the representations of women in advertising are innocent; and only pornography that treats women as sex objects is bad. Although it seems like a concession for his argument, there is a contradiction there. His claim is lacking of support because representing women as a sexual objects is almost always a form of sexual objectification and dehumanization. He is making a claim that only “some” advertisements do that while any representation has negative effects on women.

He also blames the rules of advertising as a cause of sexualized images: “A lot of people who attempt to put sex into advertising are just trying to stretch the rules to capture your attention. And to a large extent, they’re doing a damned fine job of pushing the edge of the envelope that contains the rule book” (McCabe 591). He is implying that if we didn’t have rules, advertising wouldn’t be a problem because people are just responding to the rules. He thinks sex in advertising is not the advertisers’ fault. He is arguing that rules are responsible for people’s misbehavior, when, in the real world, if people violate the rules, they blame other people instead of the law. What is true in real life is that, many women are affected by the representation of sexualized images in advertising, not by actual rules behind it. Rules are often designed to prevent sexual objectification, not the other way around. These rules do not say specifically that the only way to draw people’s attention is through linking women’s bodies to certain products. The result of having so much sex in advertising completely depends on an advertiser’s decision. They have the power and the choice to determine whether to follow rules or transform the way people perceive the rules; advertisers contribute the most to sexuality in advertising.

Edward A. McCabe also argues that sex in advertising is not as a serious problem as many people think it is. He says that in Scandinavia and England, there exist numerous sexually-explicit ads in commercials to get people’s attention and no one gets troubled about it (McCabe 591). However, his claim is not well-supported and there is a false association there. Even though no one gets upset about it, it doesn’t make his evidence valid; just because no one is upset about it doesn’t mean or prove that it’s harmless. He is claiming that when no one gets upset about it, the implication is that the use of sex in advertising has no negative influence on people. Logically, this is not convincing. The question is, if causing violence against women is not a bad thing, what will be?

He is also factually wrong by saying that people who live in England and Europe don’t particularly care about or even get upset about nudity in advertising (McCabe 518). Statistics fromStatistashows that 78% of female respondents believe that the way brands and advertising depicted women was as too sexualized in advertising in the United Kingdom in 2015 (“Advertising Depicts Women”). It is clear that women in the U.K. do care about sexualized images in advertising. In England, there are specific times of the day when people are not even allowed to talk explicitly about sex on TV which indicates that people do are aware of the effects of sexuality in media. In British broadcasting, there is a certain term called “watershed” which is the point of time that adult programs are allowed to be broadcast. It is the timeline that divides between family-oriented programs suitable for children and adult content. For example, sexual intercourse, nudity and violence that are inappropriate for children are included in the pre-watched prohibition. Meanwhile, he made another factually wrong statement claiming that people don’t get upset about sexually-explicit ads in Scandinavia. Research has shown that laws in Scandinavia have very strict controls on gratuitous use of women in advertising (Romaine 287). People in Scandinavia must be upset about sexual ads in advertising; otherwise, there wouldn’t be any law to restrict it. Therefore, his claim of people in Scandinavia and England not reacting to nudity and sex that much is false.

In addition, further research and clear actions need to be taken to solve this problem. People’s attention and their willingness to fight against sexual objectification must be brought up. In response to its proliferation in our society, it is important to focus on educating the public and teenagers and show them the real dangerous effects of sexual objectification in advertising, as well as educating advertisers to protect women from further objectification. Lastly, more women in the advertising industry is necessary as well.

It is important to alert and educate young females that sexual objectification is a real problem and what’s important is not how they look, but their abilities. Education of young adults is effective because teenagers believe what the media tells them is true. Young females are more likely to be affected by sexualized information. People are living in a sexualized world. Sexual content is all over the media. It is essential to show young females that the representation of women in advertising misrepresents their values and capabilities. Schools can offer classes to help students distinguish different sexual, objectified ads and teach them how to resist them. It is necessary for college campuses to provide ongoing prevention and awareness education. Comprehensive sexuality education can help address negative media messages, and acknowledge girls’ senses about sexual content (Juntunen and Schwartz). Research from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that “By promoting sexual literacy, sex education can contribute to psychosocial development and well-being throughout adolescence and adulthood” (Shtarkshall, Santelli and Hirsch). Stacy Khadaroo, a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, points out, “Ultimately, campuses need to prevent sexual content not just through education, but also through ‘reckoning with how their policies and procedures and ... their physical spaces are either contributing [to] or condoning or preventing ... violence’” (qtd in Khadaroo). Schools can offer much more than education as well.

Young adults can also learn to prevent objectification through media education. Erica Scharrer and Srividya Ramasubramanian’s research shows that, “media literacy efforts with young people can, indeed, help to address prejudice and racial bias and promote an appreciation for diversity and multiculturalism” (183). If media education works to limit racial and bias issues, it is likely that it will work against sexual objectification as well. Media education is efficient because it “remains contemporary and responsive to students’ changing interests and experiences, without becoming merely arbitrary in its selection of material […] it should enable students to realize the connections between them, and to transfer insights from one area to another” (Buckingham 10). Media education also helps teenagers increase their knowledge and shape their attitudes towards media roles (Scharrer and Ramasubramanian 172).

Moreover, parents should also play positive roles of teaching their children about the appropriate attitudes towards sexual content. Parental education is as important as school education, especially in teenagers’ adolescence. Research has shown that “Parental monitoring and parent-adolescent relationship quality—forms of socialization—are strongly influential on adolescents’ sexual behaviors” (Shtarkshall, Santelli and Hirsch). Teenagers who describe their relationships with a warm family environment, are less likely to delay the initiation of sexual activities (Shtarkshall, Santelli and Hirsch). Parents should give their children a little bit of a different perspective, so that when they are talking about sexuality with their friends, there are at least some other voices that they’ve heard (Khadaroo). They can also talk to their kids about specific articles on sexual objectification, communicate with them, and reinforce to them that it’s okay to accept appropriate social values in their early childhood.

Meanwhile, more women are needed in the advertising field. Even though women are taking creative roles in advertising, they are still far behind male counterparts in leadership positions. Statistics show that 68 percent of all advertising industry managers were men (Kokemuller). According to a survey by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, “women continue to make up approximately half of the advertising workforce but account for only 15.1% of managing directors or chief executives” (Lepore). Once more women are employed in the advertising field, ads agencies will be more aware of sexualized ads and more likely to review sexualized ads. Because of the women that are in the advertising industry, it is less likely for advertisements to be targeted against women. Participating in the creation of advertisements, with more women getting involved, will reduce future objectifying images of women effectively. It is easier to get the National Advertising Review Board, which is an organization of National Advertising Review Council appeal board, to review sexualized ads since presumably, there are more women working there.

In addition, advertisers should be well-versed through the consumer’s resistance of such ads. All mass media are dependent on consumers’ support in order to be successful. If people are not buying products with offensive and sexualized ads, advertisers and manufactures will have to adjust their marketing methods to more appropriate ways. People should buy products with positive advertising images to reinforce advertisers to stop objectifying women. People who are and are not included within offensive and sexualized ads can also write letters to manufacturers, as well as magazines and other media which display them in order to prevent further production of these ads.

Research about this issue is important because of the negative influences that sexually-objectified images bring to women. Sexual objectification causes women to be seen as sexual objects, subordinate to men, and even as objects of violence, which contributes to a series of problems in our society. Women are also objectifying themselves and other women by focusing on their physical appearances. As a result, women are usually the victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse of male perpetrators. It is not only important to emphasize education and self-regulatory advertisements to stop objectification, but also the process of bringing up social awareness among the public. Women make at least half of the population in the world. Therefore, they deserve the same respect and opportunities as men do. This issue must be addressed in order to prevent further subordination and objectification on women.

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Sexual Objectification of Women in Advertising
Irvine Valley College  (Irvine Valley College)
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advertising, sexual objectification, women in advertising
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Yiqiao Wang (Author), 2016, Sexual Objectification of Women in Advertising, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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