Even A Woman Can Open It
This article was first published in Pink Magazine – December 2011
When it comes to sexism and discrimination the past fifty years have seen us through a lot of changes. Women’s rights have certainly come a long way, but has the world of advertising caught up with the rest of us, or are women still being portrayed as ‘just’ girls?
Joanne* works with a thriving creative advertising agency. She is the account director for her company’s biggest clients and overseas more than 90% of the company’s business. Most would describe her as eternally switched on and as bright as they come. During a recent meeting with one of her clients, Joanne came up with an idea that would save her client money and improve his business dramatically. Delighted, the client (male), tapped her hand softly, smiled at the other people around the table, and said “that’s a great idea for a woman dear.”
Advertising messages from the early half of this century reveal how, at the time, women could only be thought of as oppressed housewives, mothers, or bimbo office girls, and though today, sexism certainly isn’t dead, progress has certainly been made.
In the 50s and 60s it seemed widely accepted that women’s only purpose in life was to get married and stay married. It was automatically assumed that getting hitched was every woman’s sole goal in life, and as expected, advertisers did their best to exploit this belief. Today, thanks to the many women who spoke up, thanks to the feathers that were ruffled, the boats that were rocked, and the traditional ‘values’ that were challenged, advertisers have realised that they would only insult their audience if they didn’t change their tactics.
As a result, advertisers moved away from the patronising messages of the past and adopted a new approach. The accepted norm today is that of using emancipated female bodies to sell everything under the sun – from matches, to cars, to villas and kitchens. To add insult to injury we also get to see giant pairs of jelly bonkers staring at us from everywhere – from the side of the road, from the side of our computer screens, from the side of magazines, newspapers and TV screens. So have we really come along that far, or are we just on a side track of new illusions?
Here’s a series of ads through different ages. Most of them speak for themselves and need no commentary. Together they reveal just how far or little we’ve really come.
Alison Bezzina is The Brand and Communications Manager for a major home entertainment and telecoms company. She’s a University of London graduate specialised in Media Studies, and has worked in the advertising industry for the past 15 years. Alison lectures about gender portrayal in the media at the University of Malta, and for three years she formed part of the Malta Broadcasting Authority’s Programme Awards jury. Her research areas include the use of humour in television advertising and gender employment patterns in the television industry.