Respect Me For My Brains, Not My Body

Picture this. You are a blonde, caucasian woman. Perhaps you have large breasts. Perhaps you are frustrated with societal assumptions that because you are blonde, you must not be intelligent. Perhaps you are on the lookout for a company to purchase new glasses from, as you just got a new prescription. Enter Oogmerk Opticians, an eyewear company from Belgium. Their ad campaign, entitled “Get The Respect You Deserve”, contains a simple depiction of the same blonde, white, large lipped, large chested woman with one difference. One of the women is wearing a pair of glasses. In what is an extremely simple cartoon, both women are gifted a singular descriptive adjective below their depictions. The woman without glasses is labeled “easy”; the woman with glasses is labeled “hard”(See picture to the right). oogmerk_hard_rgb_1While the intended purpose of this advertisement is to get women to buy glasses, its main success is perpetuating effects caused by the sexual objectification of white women, namely through self-objectification. Furthermore, this advert does not even skim the surface on the wide ranges of stereotypes and objectifications unique to non-white women.

Culturally, women are objectified in a number of ways. The most prominent kind of objectification seen is sexual objectification, which occurs “when a woman’s body or body parts are singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as an object of male sexual desire” [1]. This dynamic is constructed through a society-wide hierarchy that places white, cisgendered, heterosexual males at the top. Sexual objectification of women can lead to a variety of outcomes on a scale from seemingly harmless to some of the worst experiences people will have to go through in their lives. A direct offshoot of this practice can be seen as the societal scrutiny of women’s bodies which create a wide range of standards and, often, unattainable images for how women can and should look and act. This analysis will focus namely on the experiences of white, heterosexual, cisgendered women, who exist at the top of the femininity hierarchy. However, it is extremely important to remember that these interactions and expectations exist in a wide range of unique ways the varying intersections face these challenges.

Stylistically, this advertisement makes its message crystal clear. The subtle nature of utilizing so few words in this advertisement draws up the image of a picture being worth a thousand words. The secondary sex characteristics, both the enhanced breasts and enhanced lips, depict an obvious statement about the assumed sexual behavior of the women. The viewer is then coerced in a simple manner to adopt this train of thought. Namely, that women who wear glasses are smart and/or stuck up, and therefore are “hard” to get into bed. This parallel structure seen is in no means a novel idea and claims its foundations around the segmenting of the female body. The females depicted are segmented so that the points of focus are their breasts and faces. Societally, women are commonly “seen as parts, rather than a whole”, namely their sexual body parts [2]. This stems from a depiction of sexual desire that reduces women to “a mere tool for sexual purposes,” or to a “sex object” [3]. While this conversation focuses mainly on cleavage, of any variety, as a depiction of a marker for essential female sexuality, the linking of the lips in this instance only aids in painting the portrait of a sexualized woman. Considering the unique role breasts play in conventional femininity, it is not a surprise that they are such sexualized part of the female figures in this advertisement. Breasts are utilized more than any other part of female anatomy in advertising and media images, that society “can barely catch a glimpse of side boob without thinking it’s sexual” [4]. However, an intriguing focus is made in this advertisement as well by enhancing the lips and linking these sex characteristics through color. This makes a subconscious association for the viewer regarding sexual acts that only works to underscore the overarching message.

This sexualization of secondary sex characteristics is solidified with the conquest related terminology applied to each woman. By stating the ease in which, if wanted, a heterosexual man could bed these two women, the objectification is internalized and able to cause a cascade of self-objectification and its effects. Furthermore, this diminishes the ability of women to appear educated, which reinforces the societal threat of women’s intelligence to the patriarchal hierarchy. By viewing these images in a sexual connotation, this concept of women being educated is erased from the thoughts of any potential customers, which allows the grounds for the tag line “get the respect you deserve”.

The language used, albeit simplistic, is probably the most problematic part of this advertisement. The message that women have to control their image in order to be respected, and that one can only be respected if they are “hard” to get into bed, constructs a pre-existing societal framework in which women are judged, as beings, solely for their appearance and not for their character. By evoking these images and concepts in this advertisement, the company is pining to tap into the appearance anxiety of the women viewing it. Appearance anxiety and body shame have been seen heavily in women who have been objectified, due largely to self-objectification [5]. The coopting of these symptoms of sexual objectification has one purpose: to trick women into feeling that they can change societal beliefs about their sexual promiscuity by buying Oogmerk glasses. This is a clear example of the rhetorical appeal of pathos, as its intention is to sway the emotions of its audience [6]. Through an explicitly minimalist approach, combining visual and verbal messages, these effects caused via sexual objectification are exploited to make sales and inherently reinforce these standards and requirements for existing as a “successful” woman. All of this ultimately ties to support the deeply ingrained societal dynamic of sexual objectification of women, which “no woman can opt out” of [7].

While ultimately this is not the most problematic use of objectified tropes surrounding the ties between female sexuality and female body parts, it highlights an overarching problem seen in the advertising industry today. Too often, there are problematic outcomes, like the power dynamics of rape and sexual assault, that stem from these beliefs that women exist as objects for men’s sexual desires.

 

[1] Szymanski, D. M., L. Moffitt B., and E. Carr R. “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research 1 7.” The Counseling Psychologist 39.1 (2010): 6-38. Web.

[2] Pappas, Stephanie, and LiveScience. “Our Brains See Men as Whole and Women as Parts.” Scientific American. N.p., 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.

[3] Papadaki, Evangelia. “Sexual Objectification: From Kant to Contemporary Feminism.” Contemp Polit Theory Contemporary Political Theory 6.3 (2007): 330-48. Web.

[4] By 50 Million Liters Since 2007. “The Sexualisation of Breasts – The Circular.”The Circular. N.p., 03 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. <http://thecircular.org/the-sexualisation-of-breasts/>.

[5] Szymanski, D. M., L. Moffitt B., and E. Carr R. “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research 1 7.” The Counseling Psychologist 39.1 (2010): 6-38. Web.

[6] “Pathos.” Writing Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.

[7] Fischer, A. R., S. K. Bettendorf, and Y.-W. Wang. “Contextualizing Sexual Objectification.” The Counseling Psychologist 39.1 (2010): 127-39. Web.