The “Sex Sells” conundrum

Just read this interesting article with Jean Kilbourne, and as always, she continues to inspire me with hope. I know things are looking grim in this field, but it’s a matter of spreading awareness, of voicing your concerns, of saying No when you’ve had enough.

I think there is a paradox surrounding the world of sexist ads: they all seem to stick to the cliché that “sex sells”. However, there is no real way of knowing how true this is. Since advertisers sell “sex”, people buy “sex”. It’s as simple as that. And when they stop selling it, people will stop buying it. This is the conundrum, kind of like the egg and the hen; which came first? Which is the result of what? Just because A: people buy products with sexist ads, does not necessarily mean B: sexist ads increase product sales. I mean, I don’t really believe that people way-back-when started to riot on the streets and demand that the ads be sexier, rather, the ads became sexier, and the people adjusted, more or less, to this kind of imagery. Nevertheless, even the ads that do not use the “sex sells” argument manage to sell their products. How on earth they do that is beyond me, I mean really, no sexual imagery, no objectification, and people still buy things?! Wow.. (I am re-he-heeeally trying to underline my sarcasm here, hope it shows..). So, basically, there is no proof that ads using sex should sell more than those that don’t, however, they might well sell a whole lot nowadays, since this is the imagery we have gotten used to. BUT, just because you are used to something, does not mean it is good. It does not mean that it shouldn’t change. So instead of clinging to the “sex sells” argument, how about trying to prove it wrong instead?

I remember a couple of years ago I was watching television, the Swedish channel 6, when this ridiculously sexist commercial came on. It was about the fact that the channel was now going to show two films each Friday, and for that, they decided to cut in images of half naked women in between the clips of the movies that were airing. Their tagline was something like this: “Do you like double-sandwiches? How about this double-sandwich?” (Cut: half naked lady, clip from movie, half naked lady). Very clever indeed… Needless to say, I was shocked in disbelief for about a minute after seeing the commercial, then the shock dissolved into complete rage and frustration. I immediately sat down by the computer, googled the channel to get hold of their contact info and then I set out to write an e-mail voicing my disgust and anger towards their utterly stupid and degrading commercial.

The next day I got to read an article stating that the channel had stopped airing their commercial due to many people contacting them and accusing them of sexism. I was happy to read that there were more people than me who got upset and took action, cause that is exactly what is needed in situations like these. Just as Kilbourne argues:

“The best bet is to put your money where your values are, and if you don’t support Calvin Klein, tell them you can’t stand the way they advertise.”

Really, it’s as simple as this: When you see sexist and objectifying ads and commercials that upset you, instead of ignoring them and moving on, why not speaking up about it? Explaining why they bother you directly to the source, demanding that they stop using the same tired imagery that degrades and dehumanizes both women and men. If more people did this, I am sure we would eventually see some changes around us. If more people expressed their concerns and frustrations, the advertisers would not be able to get away with the “sex sells” argument anymore. And how nice would that be, for a change?