Reading time: 4 minutes
“You throw like a girl.” “You’re such a woman.” “Grow some balls.” At one point in my life, a much younger and far less wise version of myself (I hope), I thought these sorts of insults were tame and funny. I didn’t realize how degrading this kind of thing was, and thought equating a man to being anything like a woman was somehow an insult. I didn’t realize, nor was I ever taught, that this was wrong or degrading to women. For me, and for just about anyone, these, and many others like it, were almost innocent attacks. I’ve since changed.
What we’re taught
Nurture vs. nature is a somewhat outdated idea, but there’s something to be said about the nurture aspect certainly. How you’re raised, what your taught, and almost more importantly, what you’re shown, will usually dictate your world view. As a boy all these things tend to point you towards being strong and tough, to aspire to be the Alpha male. While these ideals don’t sound too bad, they can certainly have their drawbacks. However, that’s nothing compared to how a young girl is forced to view the world and herself. Be thin and beautiful, and use products to enhance your looks, this is how men take you seriously. Be submissive, yet sexually powerful, this is how men will choose you to be their wife. Be a homemaker and mother, for this is the end goal, and how you’ll make your man happy. This all sounds antiquated, and it is, but unfortunately that’s still how most marketers speak to women.
Are things getting better?
Well, somewhat yes. There are some campaigns now that try to combat these old ideas of what it is to be a woman, and indeed there are groups fighting it all the while. People are far more educated, and men are finally starting to become part of the fight for equality with the #HeforShe movement and other positive campaigns for change. However, for as far as we have come, there is still a long way to go. Simply open a magazine or go online and you’ll see fashion ads, make up ads, beer ads, all still focusing on the “ideal.” That, or you’ll be witness to controversies like #GamerGate.
A lot of this has to do with the idea that almost all media is structured around the assumed white male audience. The term “male gaze” coined by Laura Mulvey deals with this idea, and even though it was made famous in the mid 70’s, we still deal with it 40 years later. Jean Kilbourne is someone else who has been speaking about this issue for almost as long, at TED and beyond. It’s her belief that things are actually getting worse in advertising; perhaps she’s right.
It’s our responsibility as marketers to be the at the forefront of this and prove Jean wrong. We, unfortunate as it may seem, are a driving force in the world view of almost all people, especially young people. We help nurture their view of themselves, of the world around them, of everyone they interact with, and of society as a whole. We are part of the reason why they wear make-up, dress a certain way, or even choose their political affiliations. We have so much influence, why not be a force of positivity, why not help a little girl grow up confident and strong.
Be involved here at home
If this is a topic that you’d like to be more involved with, please check out #AdWomenYYT. This is a group of women in advertising trying to be that positive change in marketing agencies. Not only from the point of view of women in ads, but also the representation of women working on ads. They have a panel talking about this coming up on Nov. 5. You’ll hear from women all working in advertising in this province, including Amy Fisher, the digital lead for NL tourism, Jenny Smith, creative director of Ray Agency, Christina Adams, owner and strategist of Antenna, and Cassie Pittman, strategy director of The Idea Factory. I have the pleasure of being friends with a couple of these ladies and I think you would be remiss to miss them speaking about this important topic.
Do your part
More than this though, educate yourself, learn what you can from all sources and become a positive influence. And if you’re a man, it’s on you more than anyone else. Stand up for women, stand up for equality, and most importantly, stand up against the men that will challenge you.
If you’re looking for a campaign with a conscience; get in touch with us!