23 flavors of sexism

Writing about bullshit sexist advertising on a feminist blog can be tricky.

On the one hand, bullshit sexism makes me mad. So I want to condemn it,  shame it, and deconstruct it to take away whatever power it might have developed in the course of its million-dollar-ad-campaign life.

On the other hand, we’ve all heard the saying “Any publicity is good publicity.” How can you call out a bullshit advertisement for its negative qualities without inadvertently contributing to the product’s visibility, and thus the success of the ad campaign?

I think I have come up with the perfect solution to this heretofore unsolvable feminist blogger’s quandary.

Let’s just say there’s a soft drink out there. Not naming names, but it kinda sounds like Schmoctor Schmepper. Call it Sr. Schmepper for short. So Sr. Schmepper is rolling out a new low-calorie drink, and they’ve decided that the best way to peddle their bubbly sugar water is with an ad campaign that proclaims “It’s not for women” and “No girls allowed”.

Hmm. Why would Dr…errr I mean Sr. Schmepper want to alienate half of their potential consumers right off the bat?

Well it seems they did some research and found that men won’t drink something that is perceived as lacking in the “manly” department, so they went out of their way “to eschew women” in their ad campaign, as the AP puts it.

You might wonder what that looks like. I’ve gathered together a few of the more egregious instances of sexism in the company’s campaign:

  • Bullets on the packaging (because nothing says “manly” like gratuitous and pointless violence amiright?)
  • A “men’s only” Facebook page, fully equipped with an application that allows it to exclude women from viewing content (didn’t know there was an app for that).
  • Facebook games and videos aimed at being “manly” including a shooting gallery (for targeting high heels and lipstick of course) and a “man quiz” with questions on activities like fishing and hunting.
  • TV commercials featuring “manly” activities like snake battling and laser shooting, and this gem of a voiceover: “Hey ladies. Enjoying the film? Of course not. Because this is our movie and this is our soda…You can keep the romantic comedies and lady drinks. We’re good.” The ads will air on all major networks, FX and ESPN during college football games, of course.

These tactics seem so aggressively sexist and obnoxious that I can’t help but suspect they were designed to go viral for their controversial tactics. The drink already has an AP article written about it, after all. Here’s hoping that Schmoctor Schmepper’s plan backfires drastically, and their sexist prodding results in more discussion of sexism in the media than it does their actual drink. In the meantime, the product that could quite possibly take the cake for most sexist advertising campaign of 2011 is not getting the SEO boost off my back.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    I take offense to it based on lots of assumptions it makes about “men”. We’re not all deathly afraid of being thought of as feminine or homosexual, though ads like these reinforce some perceived standard.

    There is still a stereotypical and narrow notion about American Masculinity that exists. And unlike American Femininity, it does not actively acknowledge its progress, which is part of the problem. I know that masculinity has changed, and even since I’ve been alive, but one is never supposed to point it out.

  • http://feministing.com/members/shasty/ emmie

    Wow, are you kidding me?! Those ads are disgusting! And why the hell would they want to shun women in the first place? If they found out that some men find the drink “unmanly” why not just make ads that “try to appeal” to BOTH men and women. Why decide that male consumers are more important? Oh wait don’t answer. I think it’s already obvious…. Since the beginning of time it’s always been considered “cool” to be thought of as masculine but totally uncool to be thought of as feminine. So to them it doesn’t matter what the female sex thinks, or if we are offended as we are not as “important” as men are.
    And nazza is right, it’s also not just disgustingly sexist toward women, it’s sexist toward men as well, telling them that they all have to be what they consider is “manly” in order for them to be “real men”. Whatever the hell that means. Oh, and that “research” they did, well, most research they do for any subject, they only do it in one city usually, with really only a few participants, but they pass this off as how “most” people think. We learned about that in psychology. So really, with this particular subject they probably only had some men in one city where they did the research tell the researchers that they thought it was “unmanly” and turned them off, whereas a lot of men would disagree with that.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rileybrooks/ Riley

    I posted this in the wrong place the first time around >___<

    I actually came here just now because the Consumerist posted an article about the new drink.

    Apparently, no one was nearly as insulted as I was. It’s like the tactics in aggressive-male dating books. ‘Treat her like crap, she loves it.’

    As if. But since there are no girls allowed, I won’t buy it. They must not want my dirty female money.

  • http://feministing.com/members/sublimenade/ Theresa Faulder

    It sounds like they’re emulating those classic beer-commercial tactics that have so endeared themselves to feminists and intelligent-thinking persons everywhere. Thanks to Shmoctor Shmepper, we may now enjoy sexism in all its various liquid forms, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Hurrah!

    (BTW, Shmoctor Shmepper is, or was, my favourite pop. Why did they have to go and ruin everything?!)

  • hyenaxena

    These ads are a manifestation of effemania–the fear, mystification, and hatred of femininity. Generally, for a man to be associated with anything womanly is a great offense. Our society doesn’t simply prefer men over women. It prefers masculinity over femininity. Therefore, if a man exhibits any feminine behaviors, he is persecuted and ostracized. This is also one of the reasons why butch lesbianism is slightly more accepted than the so-called “fairy boy” lifestyle. Even some of the gay guys I know despise the gay man who is flamboyant and hyper-feminine, and doing so is no different than the larger society creating a set of acceptable behaviors for males and females. These ads are only reinforcing hatred for the feminine. A man can go through life without understanding women’s experiences, while a woman must navigate both male and female experiences. There is no attempt from our society to encourage the feminine in boys and men, which is depressing and enraging.

    • honeybee

      I don’t agree with that at all.

      Our society clears prefers women to be feminine and men to be masculine.

      Society doesn’t like masculine women just as much as it doesn’t like feminine men. Perhaps it is less openly vocal, but it’s clear all the same.

      Basically society and the majority of people living it prefer the gender binary and wish to keep it that way.

  • http://feministing.com/members/aicha/ Aicha

    Perhaps someone could write an informed letter of complaint to the company? Send a message that this is NOT acceptable without giving them the benefit of web coverage?

  • http://feministing.com/members/malaise/ Malaise

    I love this technique, and have been using it for decades. Schmuh-prefixing is a glorious thing.

    Anyway, I am dismayed by the utter stupidity of this campaign. I could see the appeal for misogynistic frat boys, or 5-year olds who think girls have cooties, but otherwise I really hope most rational men would see this ad campaign and, like me, shake their head in dismay.

  • http://feministing.com/members/juliette/ Juliette

    I feel like they’re alienating more than 50% of the population. There’s an increasing amount of guys who don’t go for that kind of BS stereotypes anymore.
    I pointed out to my boyfriend one day that Coke Zero and Coke Light are the exact same product, the only difference between the two being ridiculous marketing. We’ve then agreed to ban Coke from the house – his idea, not mine.
    This will backfire on Schmoctor Schmepper. They’ll get 10% of idiotic neanderthals going for it, but luckily for all of us, most men don’t fall for that crap anymore.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dilatte/ Lucy

    Dr. Pepper was my favorite soda. Does that make me less feminine?

    I don’t care. I won’t be drinking it anymore.

  • honeybee

    Coke and Pepsi have been doing this for years.

    Coke Zero is marketed almost exclusively to guys and the vast majority of drinkers are men. While Diet Coke is marketed to women and the vast majority of drinks are women.

    Coke figured out awhile ago that most men won’t drink “Diet” pop but WILL drink a low calorie drink if you call it something else. Their sales results are remarkable and do clearly show this to be true.

    That’s why I’m not against this campaign as it’s just using proven business tactics. It does however sadden me that men and women have such different views on the subject. Maybe we should be discussing the root causes for this.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cupkate/ Kate

    I guess that even though I’ve been a regular customer for years, I haven’t been valuable to Sr. Schmepper. I guess the bottle in my fridge will have to be my last for life then. How sad for them to have lost a Sr. Schmepper addict.

  • http://feministing.com/members/tylerdurden/ Tyler Durden

    We’re a generation raised on advertising. Massive cooperation have sold us our dreams, our goals, and our desires. It’s obvious that they would pull something like this. The sexist part should be the least of your worries. There’s no use blaming them, it’s we who buy into it, it’s we who must make the extra effort to resist. Having the moral high ground isn’t going to stop a company making billions of dollars a year.

  • http://feministing.com/members/joannavirginia/ Joanna

    Facebook games and videos aimed at being “manly” including a shooting gallery (for targeting high heels and lipstick of course)

    Does anyone else find this especially disturbing? Way to normalize misogynistic violence.

  • http://feministing.com/members/shasty/ emmie

    I forgot to mention that they talked about this in Shakesville, one of the users wrote a letter to the people in charge of the ads which is hilarious and incredible! Another thing that bugged me was how they say that only men and women watch certain kind of films which is complete bull. There are lot’s of men of all sexualities that like romantic-comedy’s or thought provoking dramas, as well as lot’s of women of all sexualities that like action packed films, thrillers or horror films too. It all has to do with the idea of “femmephobia”. Hatred of all things feminine. The whole thing is so disturbing indeed. However like hyenaxena was talking about, even though I agree with you about society being more accepting of masculinity, I think it might be more true for the heterosexual crowd. I too have known quite a few gay women who likewise despise the gay women who are butch and hyper-masculine. So unfortunately in the GLBTQI communities prejudice in that aspect can go both ways.

  • http://feministing.com/members/floatboth/ Grigory

    This junk is offensive to any gender. I’m a guy, but I don’t like snake battling (eww), fishing and hunting and I don’t want to shoot high heels. Also, I like some romantic comedies and lady dr… WHAT? GENDERED DRINKS?!