Thursday, February 25, 2010

Not Only Heterosexual Men Buy Things, You Know

While on my way to Gregory Gym yesterday afternoon, I passed by a small fair promoting a number of things, including apartment housing. I wasn’t paying it much mind until I passed an advertisement at the far right of the setup for the apartment complex/business Longhorn Landing. The ad had a tagline of "Get A Room (at Longhorn Landing)" and depicted three hardly clothed long-haired, skinny, attractive-by-mainstream-standards young women posed in said bed. I did a double take. Not because I was surprised to see an ad like that, but because I was disheartened to see it at UT. Not only does sex sell, but so do lesbians (of a certain look, of course).

Who was the demographic of this ad? College campus? Check. By the gym? Check. Attractive, idealized women (more than one)? Check. Sexual message? Check. Perfect platform for consumption by the male gaze? Check.

For those unfamiliar, the male gaze was first theorized by Laura Mulvey in the 70s, that in film (though applicable to other medias as well), men are constructed as watchers and women as watched. What we still find today is that the male gaze is so pervasive in advertising that it is assumed or taken-for-granted. Females are shown offering up their femininity for the pleasure of an absent male spectator. In advertising, more than just being an object of a gaze, the woman becomes what’s being bought and sold.

With that in mind, the ad is problematic in several ways:
1. It presents a stereotype of the ‘ideal’ look for a woman. In fact, not only do most lesbians not look like that, but most women in general regardless of orientation.
2. It delegitimizes both lesbian relationships and bisexual relationships. Women who date women normally do not do so under the pretense of trying to attract men.
3. On the heels of #2, it assumes heterosexuality (again, the male gaze). Considering the setting and the ad itself (and taking into consideration the ad industry in general, which tends to deal in stereotypes), I am skeptical that its audience was aimed at anyone who is interested in women regardless of gender identity, rather than just heterosexual (or bisexual), college-age men.
4. The ad merely suggests homosexuality in a way that allows the viewer to insert themselves into the scenario.

Overall, the ad presented a tailored and idealized version of women, for men. Ads like that are offensive to lesbians who men will assume are only so for their benefit, but also to heterosexual women who have no interest in women sexually and should not be pressured to act as such.

What is disturbing (apart from the obvious) is that we not only see this trend in advertising, but in television and film as well. I imagine a conversation like this has taken place before now.
“Our ratings are falling, what can we do?”
“Quick, to the emergency lesbian plot cupboard! “
My point is that lesbianism (or bisexuality, as it is often expressed so as to suggest the character is only temporarily gay) is only permissible as a throw-away scramble for attention. In the media world where stereotypically gorgeous women seem to be everywhere, more and more we seem some form of sexual shock tactics occurring, a suggestion of bisexual sexuality being one of the more popular (and mainstream permissible) ones.

Perhaps, instead of having the three women in the bed, the ad could have depicted simply an empty and messy bed that was suggestive but gender-neutral, encompassing a greater number of viewers to relate to the advertisement. But then again and more likely, the ad knew exactly who it was targeting and how. The LGBTQA community is not always left out purely because of oversight, and ads are often aimed at very specific demographics.


For anyone who is interested in, The Feminism 101 Blog has an ‘Overview of the Male Gaze’ piece:“male-gaze”/

As well, Gender is a collection of ads that seek “to provide gender studies educators and students with a resource for analyzing the advertising images that relate to gender.”

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