Sexuality Feminism and Advertising Essay

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Gender, Consumption and Ideology: A Look at Three Ads


When the nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays became the father of advertising, he used a simple trick that he learned from his uncle: sex sells. Bernays understand, as Freud did, that sex is one of the most powerful motivating forces of human nature (Jones). Sex and gender thus took center stage in advertising over the years. In this paper, the way that gender, consumption and ideology are tied together in advertising will be shown. This paper argues that sex and gender stereotypes persist in advertising media and that sexuality has become more provocative over time. This has happened in spite of feminist movements. Today, sexuality is something that women feel they can use to dominate men. These ads show that sex and gender in advertising is still a powerful force no matter what ideology is held by men and women. Human nature appears to still be the same, and so do the ads. They have gotten more sexual over time and they may not be as sexist, but they are definitely sexual. In this way, advertisers are more sensitive to the idea of equality but also more aggressive about the idea of getting the “male gaze,” as Laura Mulvey called it (Turrow 195). So whether women are empowered by ownership of their sexuality is hard to say because the object still seems to be to get the man to feel good. It is uncertain how that benefits the woman in terms of gaining power, unless the idea here is to enslave the man to his desire for the woman, as E. Michael Jones says is the idea. Looking at some ads of the past few decades can help to at least see how gender, consumption and ideology intertwine to communicate a message, whatever it may be.

Schlitz: “Don’t Worry Darling, You Didn’t Burn the Beer!” vs. Budweiser Sexy

The first advertisement to look at is this ad from beer maker Schlitz. It was produced in 1952 and features a woman in a blouse and skirt weeping at the stove where she has obviously just burned dinner. Her husband dressed in a dark suit is happily consoling her with a hug while pointing out the plus side—his beer on the table—as he says, “Don’t worry darling, you didn’t burn the beer!” She looks up at him with gratitude as though she were thinking what did I do to deserve such a wonderful man! The ad recommends that the viewer buy Schlitz beer. The ad uses humor to convey the message about gender. The ad is both condescending to women and funny in its appreciation of a commonplace—the idea that a wife might burn a husband’s dinner.
Instead of getting angry about it, he himself is consoled by beer. So a woman is consoled by a husband and a husband is consoled by beer. The woman is there to serve the husband, and the beer is there to serve the husband. The ad indicates that all things are there to serve the husband. He looks neat in his suit and tie and is very handsome. It appears that the whole world is…

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…necessary to see woman from the point of view of the male gaze. Instead, ads can be seen “as a fusion between neoliberal subjectivity and a feminist politics reimagined through the logic of consumerism” (Evans and Riley 16). What matters then is that everyone is buying—and that is all.


In conclusion, it is difficult to see how sex and gender ideas have changed over the years in advertising. Ideology has changed and the way women think of themselves, their ownership of their bodies and the male gaze and their relationship to it. But in the advertising the ideology disappears. One is left with just the blunt object—the woman on the beer bottle, sex selling beer—just as Bernays figured it would. Sex is the motivating force of human behavior, Freud taught. While there are other forces no doubt, sex is still a powerful one. The fact that gender is still depicted according to this idea in ads suggests that ideology is only something that people talk about. When it comes to consumption and to actually spending dollars, men are still lured by women and by ideas of being the leader and the most important thing. Ads seem to say that men are what matter most. However, there is an argument that can be made about the women too, for they are the ones who using their sexuality to help sell the products. So maybe they are happy to be sexualized. Maybe they are empowered. Maybe they are dominating the man. Or maybe the companies know that sex sells and they want women to think they are empowered….....

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Works Cited

Attwood, Feona. Mainstreaming sex: The sexualization of western culture. IB Tauris, 2014.

Evans, A., & Riley, S. Technologies of sexiness: Sex, identity, and consumer culture. Sexuality, Identity, and Society. UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Jones, E. Michael. Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2000.

Kearney, M. C. (Ed.). (2012). The gender and media reader. NY: Routledge. Turow, J. The advertising and consumer culture reader. NY: Routledge, 2009.

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