Falling on Tone Deaf Ears
Well, well, well…Reebok, it seems, has themselves a new product called the EasyTone running shoe. It is said to use “balance ball inspired technology” to get “better legs and a better butt with every step.” So, how do you market this miracle shoe??? Take a look:
OR this one:
I wanted to discuss this from a couple of different angles. First, and the most obvious, these ads objectify and sexualize women. Like so many ad campaigns before this one, Reebok has bought into the idea that sex sells. In this case it is fitness wrapped in sex. In addition, the entire ad campaign spews the message that if you buy these shoes then men will be “speechless” (meaning they will be too busy staring at your body to bother talking to you) and other women will be jealous. Is that what being a woman is all about? Attracting men and making other women green with envy with by having a firm backside??? I don’t think so. Yet Reebok would like you to think so. Even Oprah is getting in on the act…YES OPRAH. It is plastered on the Reebok EasyTone website. Take a look…
While you were on their website you might have noticed another video. In case you missed it, here it is:
…which beings me to part 2. It bothers me that men in many ads (and other forms of media) are often portrayed as being mindless and only thinking about one thing – SEX. Now some of you may be saying that men really do think about sex all the time or that it is in our genetic make-up and we can’t help it. My response to that is that might be true to a degree. After all, we are sexual beings and we survive as a species by having sex and making more of us. However, we are not without the ability to choose when and where we are sexual. If this were not the case then people everywhere would be having sex in places like the cereal aisle at the grocery store. We’d have to step over naked, writhing bodies in the throws of passion to grab a box of Fruit Loops. It would be like like seeing two dogs going at it in the park or one dog going at it with a basketball or your leg. AND IT WOULD SEEM NORMAL!!! But we don’t and it isn’t because we were also born with the ability to choose – free will. We get to choose how we respond in any given situation. Unfortunately, we are socialized to believe otherwise. We are told what is masculine and what is feminine by society. Society tells us that “boys will be boys” and “nice guys finish last” and “diamonds are a girls best friend” and “girls just wan to have fun” and millions of other messages that slowly but surely define gender in very narrow terms.
If we can agree on that, then it is concerning when companies like Reebok produce ads that portray men as being mindlessly and completely sexually-minded – as if that part of us never shuts off and that we are powerless over its constant influence on us. This is just as problematic as portraying women as sexual objects. It is when these two things are working in concert that potential danger becomes reality. It is in the space where men buy into the notions that they must to be hypersexual AND that women are objects that exist for men’s pleasure and enjoyment that sexual violence lives. If men view women as sex objects and men are told that men are judged by their sexual conquests (quantity or quality), then it stands to reason that some men will go to great lengths to prove they are a “real man” – including rape. Also, if it appears that there are no real consequences for their “hyper-masculine” behavior (i.e. staring at a women’s bodies, cat calling, groping, forceful sex, etc.) then why would these men stop? What is stopping them from committing a rape? ***Please note that I am NOT saying that all men behave in this way. In reality it is a very small number of men that do these things, but it is these behaviors that have come to define all masculinity.
I decided to look into Reebok’s philosophy as a company to see what they stand for (if anything other than making money). What I found is worth sharing. I found that Reebok is owned by Adidas Group. Adidas Group, who also owns Taylor Made Golf, has a very strong belief in social and environmental sustainability. They have a “Social and Environmental Programme” (they are a European company) that is dedicated to promoting social and environmental sustainability as the name suggests. While I feel like this is a great step in the right direction, I had some questions for them. So, I wrote them a letter. Here it is:
My name is Ted Rutherford. I am the founder of an organization in Austin, Texas called Responsible Men which is dedicated to promoting gender equality and ending men’s violence against women. I am writing today to thank you for your dedication to the concept of sustainability through your Social and Environmental Programme. I am glad to see that you are making a public commitment to this on your website and that large corporations like Adidas Group are leading the charge so to speak. I’d like to also ask you if you have considered looking at sustainability in terms of gender. I recently came across your ad campaign for the Reebok EasyTone shoes and was sad to see that some of the video and images objectify and sexualize women. Also, in one ad, there is an off screen character (presumably male) who repeatedly stares at the on-screen woman’s butt despite her redirection, which reinforces the gender stereotype that men only care about sex. While I get that the campaign is telling women that they can have a sexy butt and legs by wearing the shoes, I think these ads reinforce the notion that women’s primary value lies in their sexuality and sex appeal. In addition, the entire campaign reinforces gender stereotypes (men are always thinking about sex and women are out to make other women jealous) which simply aren’t true. In my opinion, it is ads like these (when combined with other ads and other social factors) that help build versions of masculinity and femininity that are not sustainable. In fact what we are left with are very rigid, narrow and oppressive options for expressing our gender that have much larger social ramifications. If men are taught that all men care about is sex and if men are taught that all women are sex objects, then we have a “perfect storm” for things like sexual assault to occur.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Reebok EasyTone shoes cause rape. That is obviously ridiculous. However, I am suggesting that this ad campaign is part of a much, much larger system that helps create a culture where sexual violence exists on a large scale. What I am asking you to do is to really do some soul searching as a company to see if you care about the sustainability of your customers. While you cannot change the actions of other companies and other social influencers, you are responsible for your own actions.I must tell you that I purchased a new pair of basketball shoes today. Because of this ad campaign, I chose to leave Reebok off of my list of options. I liked the shoes that I saw, but opted to spend my money elsewhere because I can’t support a company with sexist advertising practices. I know that may not mean a great deal to you, but it is an example of how I may not be able to change your actions, but I can certainly be responsible for my own.Please consider marketing the EasyTone shoes and all of the Adidas Group merchandise in a way that promotes gender equality and sustainability. Thank you for your time and consideration.
The idea of gender sustainability is one that I have been pondering for some time now. In fact, when I think about it, gender isn’t actually a real, tangible thing. It is a social construct, to which most of us subscribe, that is one way to organize and make sense of the world. It is the way males and females are supposed to look and behave according to society’s definition of “normal” in gender terms. In other words, we are not born with our gender predetermined. It is largely imposed on us by society. When babies are born we wrap them in a pink or blue blanket (according to their sex) and assign them a name that usually indicates whether they are male or female. We encourage them as they grow older to look and behave in a way that is consistent with the way society defies “normal” in gender terms. We throw around phrases like “boys don’t cry” and “that is not how a lady acts” in order to teach the next generation to ignore their true selves and assimilate into the gender binary world. Companies, like Reebok, market products to us in a way that leverages our socialization to maximize their profits. This Reebok ad campaign is a great example of that. Reebok is banking on lots of females buying these shoes because they want to be successful at playing the role of “woman” – meaning that they want to have a great butt to attract men with and to make other women jealous. After all, many of us are just acting the part of “man” and “woman” so that we are not ostracized from our gender culture. Throughout our lives we are pushed into very narrow gender roles that ultimately are not sustainable. We are pressured to be something that we frequently are not. That is a very fragile and precarious state that will collapse sooner or later.
The take away from all of this is hopefully that it is the job of conscious citizens to embrace gender diversity and stop perpetuating the gender binary that society has created. While it is becoming cliche, it is true that if we want to change the world we must first change ourselves. It is our job to demonstrate to corporate America that we embrace our diversity as human beings and we expect them to honor and accommodate us by acknowledging our differences rather than denying them. If we choose to live outside the gender boxes they have built for us, then they will have no choice but to shift their approach in order to reach us. Never forget that it is our money that is lining their pockets and informing their decisions. Perpetuating narrow gender roles is just a strategy that corporations use to manipulate and control us in order to maximize their profits. If they can convince the majority of males to buy into one version of masculinity, then they only have to create (and pay for) marketing strategies for that one type of man. That means less money spent on advertising and more money in the bank. In the end, it is our money and we can choose to spend it in a conscious way that will send a clear message to corporations that we are tired of the same old song they are singing and they had better change their tune.