Guest post by blue milk (who knew there was so much to say on feminist motherhood?) where this is being cross-posted.
Spare a thought for advertising executives. Imagine trying to write a TV advertisement for chicken? Actually wait it gets worse, the client wants you to write a TV ad that will have everyone talking about their chicken? Your annual bonus is riding on it. You’re not feeling very inspired at the moment, maybe you missed out on the Grange this year, and you’re scratching for ideas. Looks like you’ll have to fall back on the oldest trick in your advertising text book.
Recently I posted on an Australian advertisement for Nando’s chicken featuring a busy working mother wanting chicken so badly that she has to wear a fictitious Nando’s patch to control her cravings. OK its novel, but not enough to get anyone talking about Nando’s right? Well, here’s the catch – the Mum works as a stripper – where to hide that unsightly patch? Fear not, Nando’s also does a line of fictitious gum to beat the cravings. Oh its hilarious and did you see her great tits, that’ll have the Dads paying attention? Laugh, laugh, drinks all round, we’re getting that bonus this year.
You can see the ad here on my previous post.
Multiple complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Bureau. How did Nando’s defend this ad? They successfully argued the nudity used “was essential to ensuring authenticity”. You see…
“The concept is to show somebody who, for professional reasons, can’t wear the Nando-fix patch,” the company reasoned, disputing the ad was degrading to women.
Pole dancing had become mainstream, Nando’s argued, citing the example of Martha, a character in Home and Away, who works as a pole dancer.
The board of the Advertising Standards Bureau agreed, ruling that pole dancing was ” “¦ a popular form of exercise” and “was not incompatible with family values”.
Nando’s is absolutely correct – pole dancing has gone mainstream. If you’re offended by this ad then you’re a fuddy duddy because nowadays pole dancing is everywhere, we’re cool with it don’t you know? Gym classes, lingerie parties, middle-aged wives going to classes for their husbands – everyone’s doing it. Women are so empowered that we find it liberating to pole dance. As Ariel Levy observed –
This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We’d “earned” the right to look at Playboy; we were “empowered” enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, that we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture where men had been enjoying themselves all along.
You know what else has gone mainstream? Sexist advertising, its like the 1960’s all over again. Sexist ads capitalise on ‘tongue in cheek’. You can’t be against sexist ads because that would mean you’re not cool enough to get the joke. Nando’s played to this culture perfectly. The ad tells a joke and somehow its alright to depict a topless woman if it is all part of the joke – but jokes were also the mainstay of the sexist advertising of the 60’s, it was all sly laughs and innuendo. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, geddit? This stuff isn’t new, its very, very old. We got sick of it once before and now we’re fighting the same old crap all over again.
So, why is this ad sexist and demeaning to women? Because men wouldn’t be depicted in this way. Because a storyline was constructed to show a near-naked woman to sell chicken. Because even when sexist culture goes mainstream it doesn’t stop being sexist.
Pole dancing is a mainstream recreation, as the Advertising Standards Bureau has observed. By all means pole dance if you enjoy it, if it gets you off, but as Ariel Levy asks, why are we so pre-occupied with this one expression of female sexuality? Why is stripping the one sexual fantasy we explore over and over again in popular culture today? Of all the incredible possibilities for sexual expression you have to wonder why we think stripping is the bomb. Do women really enjoy this sexual fantasy as much as men? Do all men really enjoy this fantasy as much as advertisers think? After all, strippers are synonymous with ‘faking it’ – with pretending to be engaged in a sexual experience for a paying customer. Is the sexiest possibility we can imagine, a woman being paid to pretend she is sexually excited?
The mother in this chicken ad is empowered – she heads off to work smiling confidently in a suit, you don’t see the intense gaze of her audience at the strip club, and she’s out of there before you know it, for dinner with her cute kids and husband. Strippers are real people, with real lives outside of our objectification. But this ad isn’t about that, its about leering at a topless woman to hold our attention long enough to hear about Nando’s chicken. My objection to the depiction of stripping in this ad is not about the women working in the sex industry, it is as Levy has described of our raunch culture –
about what we have decided the sex industry means … how we have held it up, cleaned it off and distorted it. How we depend on it to mark us as an erotic and uninhibited culture at a moment when fear and repression are rampant.
It is a shame something other than nudity wasn’t used in this ad to “ensure the authenticity” of pole dancing, but then maybe some elements of sex work aren’t so “compatible with family values” and aren’t quite so comfortable for laughs.