American Apparel and Sexism
by wd1999 on March 7, 2017 - 4:35pm
Sexism in American Apparel Advertising
American Apparel is a controversial North American clothing designer and retailer, selling men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. Since its founding in 1989, the company has run a series of ads which have garnered widespread accusations of sexism; one advertisement the company infamously ran in order to promote fair labor practices featured the bare breasts of a female Bangladeshi worker (Jezebel). The ad being analyzed here features a young woman lying on her back alone on a bed facing the camera, wearing only a pair of nylon leggings. Her legs are raised and spread, and between them is superimposed the logo of American Apparel (Dailymail). The logo covers the model’s genitalia, but the meeting of the model’s thighs to her buttocks can be viewed under the white logo. Aside from this, the advertisement has no other text. The ad does not feature any product names, prices, sale offers, or anything of the sort. This can be taken to mean that it does not sell any one product. Rather, the advertisement is projecting the image of the American Apparel brand in general. And American Apparel has here chosen to project itself in association with rampant sexism, misogyny, and the objectification of women.
The advertisement features the woman on her back, with her legs exposed. Here she is in a passive position, waiting to be acted upon as an object rather than taking action herself. The obvious subtext is that the woman in this position, with legs spread, is waiting to receive sex. She is not going to have an active role in sex, instead, her role will be entirely passive. Bluntly and somewhat crudely put, she is waiting to be f*cked.
This is especially concerning considering the harmful gender roles it propagates for both men and women: it encourages women to be submissively passive and encourages men to be dominantly active. As touched on in Miss Representation, ads such as these reinforce the notion that women have to be a quiet passive object, and that the implicitly male viewer of the ad has a responsibility to be sexually and often violently active (Siebel Newsom). This is especially concerning as it reinforces the rape culture which is already present in North America (where this ad was released). Though it is ludicrous to say that a man who sees this ad will automatically become an unrepentant rapist, ads such as these tacitly reinforce the commonly held North American belief that rape is the fault of the victim, where the victim is almost always a woman. More precisely, it reinforces the notion that women who are the victims of rape ‘asked for it’; that they tacitly invited such advances based on what they were wearing and how they were acting. This ad specifically reinforces the notion that the model is ‘asking for it’ by having her lay naked in a passive, receiving position.
Now we come to the question of how this ad can be fixed, that is to say how American Apparel can still sell its products and promote its brand without associating itself with sexism and without promoting rape culture. Because this ad aims for the promotion of a brand, and not of one particular product, the question more precisely becomes what type of branding will make American Apparel more popular. Indeed, this type of sexist branding used by American Apparel is wholly financially unsuccessful, as the company is experiencing severe hardships (Jezebel). Perhaps American Apparel could take a cue from another American clothing brand, Nike, which itself is currently profitable (The Wall Street Journal). The sports apparel brand recently released an advertisement entitled “Equality” featuring a number of athletes and celebrities taking a stand against racism (YouTube). By associating itself with the fight against one form of discrimination (racism), the company has received substantial praise, which will presumably translate into profit (The Washington Post). American Apparel could perhaps follow a similar tack, associating itself with the fight against discrimination on the basis of sex. In doing so, they would presumably feature body-positive advertisements and feature models in powerful, active positions which challenge commonly held stereotypes about sex and gender.
This may seem highly unlikely, especially for a company which has historically associated itself with the opposite side of this issue. However, the promise of profit might convince this failing brand to employ such a strategy.
“American Apparel to launch blog about social issues like LBGTQ rights.” Dailymail, 28 Apr. 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3059412/American-Apparel-plans... launch-enlightening-blog-social-issues-LGBTQ-rights-bid-revamp-controversial-overtly- sexy-image.html
“American Apparel Uses Breasts to Promote Fair Labor Practices.” Jezebel, 3 Jul. 2014, http://jezebel.com/american-apparel-uses-breasts-to-promote-fair-labor-p...
“Equality.” Youtube, uploaded by Nike, 12 Feb. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43QTjFCPLtI
Miss Representation. Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Girls’ Club Entertainment, 2011.
“Nike ad sends serious message about equality, opportunity and discrimination.” The
Washington Post, 12 Feb. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/02/12/nike-ad-sen....
“Nike Revenue and Profit Rise.” The Wall Street Journal, 27 Sept. 2016, https://www.wsj.com/articles/nike-revenue-and-profit-rise-1475008802
“What Are You Buying to Mourn American Apparel?” Jezebel, 18 Jan. 2017, http://jezebel.com/what-are-you-buying-to-mourn-american-apparel-1791340860