Forgivable Woman

by strawberry456 on February 24, 2017 - 9:05am

This image from 2007 is advertising a fragrance for women by Sean John called 'Unforgivable Woman'. In the photo, a man is forcing himself onto a woman. He is pushing her against a wall and kissing her neck. The woman seems to be attempting to resist him, since her arm is raised, but clearly he is too overpowering for her. There isn't joy in her expression; instead, there is pain. The picture shows a railing for a staircase leading down, meaning that she is perhaps being brought into a seclude and dark basement where she won’t be able to get help. It is insinuating that he is going to rape her.

This is problematic because this ad is objectifying women and suggesting that violence against women is acceptable. Advertisements “not only makes [the] sexual genre of violent abuse tolerable but also unmistakably glorifies it. Sexual violence has become romantic and chic instead of being seen as grievously contemptible” (Cortese 85). These ads are conveying the message that sexual aggression towards women is excusable. Sexual violence is essentially normalized in mass media. This ad is suggesting to boys and men that it is justifiable to have sex with a woman without her consent because it will allow them to fit into society.

The slogan of the advertisement is ‘Life without passion is unforgivable.’ This implies that the only way for a man’s life to be meaningful is for it to be filled with sex. It enforces the stereotype that men should be highly sexual. It makes men believe that they need to conform to society’s expectations in order to be accepted. It guilts men to think that their lives are meaningless without sex.

Because women are seen as objects, they must submit to men’s advances and obey them.  Jean Kilbourne, an expert featured in Miss Representation, made the observation that “these images are part of a cultural climate which women are seen as things, as objects, and turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person.” It allows men to justify their actions. The name of the fragrance, ‘Unforgivable Woman’ also implies that if women don’t abide to men’s impulses, they will not fit into society. It makes women feel guilty, just like with the men (as previously mentioned).

In addition, this advertisement also implies that women are the cause of rape. The perfume being advertised will attract men and will cause them to have the desire to have sex with the woman wearing the fragrance. This touches upon the controversy that women ask for rape and secretly want to get raped (e.g. by wearing revealing clothing). It makes women believe that they are responsible for men’s actions and it makes men believe that it’s women’s fault for sexually attracting them in the first place.

This is especially problematic for younger generations who are exposed to these uncensored advertisements with almost no mediation. From a young age, they believe that what they see in the media is conventional. For boys, it legitimizes male violence towards women. For girls, they learn that male dominance is perfectly normal and acceptable. Children and teenagers are not taught the right values and grow up to accept these commonly accepted ideas.

One way to fix this ad and still be able to advertise it successfully is to show a healthy relationship between two equal partners, instead of one partner dominating over another. Advertising actual love instead of just sex sends an appropriate message while still accomplishing the ad’s purpose. Love is a powerful tool in the media and will influence both men and women to respect their partners. Sex does sell, but it does not convey a proper message to the public, especially to younger individuals. 



Works Cited

Anthony Cortese, “Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising,” in Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising, Third Edition (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008): 57-89.

Miss Representation. Girls' Club Entertainment, 2011. DVD.


As said above, I give this two thumbs up! I really like the arguments proposed and this is the first text that I do not have any comments with the bulk of the post. I am in complete agreement with the advertisement sending messages about normalizing sexual violence. I think the one of my favourite arguments mentioned is that this also normalizes sexual violence among the thoughts of women, and often they will accept sexual attention even though it I truly not consensual simply because advertisements like this have brain washed society into thinking that this is alright. Because the discussion around rape culture, I really liked the way the text also embedded the concept of virility by mentioning how advertisements like these support the notion that men are and must be highly sexual creatures in order to truly be men. It points out how important virility is as it pops up all through our patriarchal society, even and especially our media. I love the proposed solution to this advertisement as it replaces the theme of non-consensual sex with a harmless more powerful theme: love. The only change I would consider making is in the final sentence, where the claim that sex does sell is made, seeing as studies show this to be incorrect. Though sex does capture the attention of consumers, it does not actually push consumers to buy products. This post is definitely a favourite of mine!