Fashion Ads are so Passé - The Persistent Problem of Sexualized Violence in the Media

by smileyface on September 26, 2016 - 10:27am

Everyone is familiar with the sexualization and objectification of women in the media. While is not a new issue, many people are under the assumption that this problem is a thing of the past. Taking a deeper look at the advertisements and all forms of media we are exposed to today will prove otherwise; this issue is still pertinent and is as alive as always.

Unfortunately, advertisements, particularly high-fashion ads, are into illustrating sexualized violence to sell their products. Often times women are found in a position of submission to men, and this becomes normalized.

For example; in 2010, Calvin Klein Jeans released an advertisement depicting three shirtless men hovering over an almost-naked woman by a chain-linked fence (Van Amberg). The woman is lying down and the scene almost resembles a gang rape, yet for some reason, she doesn’t seem to be resisting.

Illustrating the woman in a position of submission and conforming to the men’s wishes, and having images like this shown to the public numerous times, normalizes sexualized violence. This is so dangerous for so many reasons.

“Representations of men pushing a woman against a wall, throwing her onto a bed, or ripping off her clothes are supposed to be sexy, not scary. The women depicted in these situations often respond to this aggression with sexual arousal . . . We are told that it is what women want. In this way, both aggressive male sexuality and womens acquiescence to male aggression are normalized” (Wade and Sharp 169).

The message being conveyed in this Calvin Klein ad, as well as other forms of media that normalize sexualized violence, is not hidden: men may be aggressive, and the women must comply. Both parties are at a disadvantage in this situation.

The women, who are depicted as objects rather than women, face a grave problem. Not only is objectifying women degrading and disrespectful, but it can lead to scary outcomes. “Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person,” said Jean Kilbourne in Miss Representation, a documentary about the unjust representation of women in the media.

Men are faced with an issue as well. Miss Representation states that studies prove that TV or media violence enhances violent behavior in real life. Similarly, in his book Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising, Anthony Cortese states that “aggression is a learned behavior. . . The mass media produce, reproduce, and distribute aggressive, violent, intimidating, or coercive “scripts,” cultural messages that teach us how to behave. . . Advertising legitimizes such violence and in doing so glamorizes a form of violent masculinity” (Cortese 79).  

All-in-all, representing men as aggressive and women as obedient contributes to an even bigger problem: men and women both feel the need to comply to these normalized standards which can lead to violence in the real world. “Sexual harassment and rape, too, can be understood as responses [to the media standards] from men who see their claim to sexual subjectivity, and the accompanying ability to objectify others, threatened (Brownmiller1975; Connell 1995; Kilbourne 1999; MacKinnon 1989)” (Wade and Sharp 170). Perhaps this contributes to how 1 in 4 women will be abused by a partner in their lifetime, and how 1 in 6 women are survivors of rape or attempted rape, according to Miss Representation.

Violence and sexuality are two words that should never go in the same sentence. While it would seem logical for them not to, somehow violence and sexuality tend to go hand-in-hand in the media. The media creates an assumption that “sexiness is based on dominant and submissive roles, that one partner is a subject while the other is an object” (Wade and Sharp 170). As mentioned, this is alarming because it teaches men to be aggressive and women to allow it.

There are so many other ways Calvin Klein could have sold their jeans without making it look like a gang rape. As this is probably an ad for men’s jeans, maybe removing the naked woman (who isn’t even wearing jeans?) would be a good and relevant idea. Also, maybe having the men stand up so potential buyers could actually see the jeans would be a smart call.

It is a little ridiculous that high-fashion companies, who aim to be forward, innovative and modern, are still objectifying women and sexualizing violence this way. Thankfully, this ad was banned in Australia as viewers were upset about how gang rape-y it looked (Van Amberg). Hopefully high-fashion ads, and all ads for that matter, will get over this scary phase asap.



Works Cited

Anthony Cortese, “Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising,” in   Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Adverstising, Third Edition (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008): 79.

Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp, “Selling Sex,” in Susan Dente Ross and Paul Martin Lester (eds.)    Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2011).

Miss Representation. Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, appearances by Jean Kilbourne, Katie Couric, Geena Davis. Girls Club Entertainment, 2011.

Van Amberg, Jessie. “Are Calvin Klein Ads Sexual or Sexist?” Motto: From the editors of Time, May 12, 2016.