A friend of mine always says “In life, you can make choices that give you more choices or you can make choices that give you fewer choices”. If you are lucky, you have someone in your life that is helping you make those decisions. However, it is far more likely you have been kicked out of the proverbial nest to learn to fly before you hit the ground. Like most of us, you are left to make these decisions on your own.
So, how do we make decisions and where do we get our information from? Our friends? Our families? A gut feeling? The answer to these questions is usually “yes”, but they are not the only sources. One other I’d like to focus on is corporate America – the creators and producers of pop culture. You might not even know who they are by name, but I am sure you are familiar with their products. For example, you may not have heard of corporate giant Unilever. However, I bet you are familiar with one of their brands – Axe male grooming products.
Axe is a cultural icon as far as products go. It is the number one selling male grooming product line in the world according to Unilever. It is also one of the fastest growing brands in the Unilever family. It is no coincidence that it is so popular. Axe has gained it’s prominence by lots of advertising. Sadly, Unilever subscribes to the old advertising adage that “sex sells”. If you have ever seen one of their advertisements, you know that they try to sell Axe by making it seem as if women turn into mindless, sex-hungry animals after one whiff of any Axe product. In addition, they show that even “average Joes” become irresistible to these beautiful, barely clothed women by the hundreds. What is wrong with this picture?
Advertisements, like those created for Axe, actually do some pretty hefty damage to both women and men by helping form unrealistic and even dangerous gender roles. For women, their value and purpose in life are tied directly to their sexuality. In other words, without their sexuality women have no value or purpose. They are portrayed as sexual objects that are there to serve men’s needs and they are a dime a dozen. Women are also dehumanized by making them seem as if they are not in control of themselves or that they have lost free will.
For men, these ads connect men’s value to their sexuality as well, but in a different way. These ads reinforce the idea that as a man the more sex you have the more of a man you are. In other words, they send the clear message that men are supposed to have sex as often as possible with as many women as possible in order to thrive in male culture. If men do not adhere to this standard, they risk losing their social standing within male culture. In the end, we are left with the same message that is echoed throughout society today. The message is that men have all of the power and the only way for women to share in that is to be sexually available to men. Also, there is a double standard. Men are valued for having multiple intimate partners and women are devalued for the same thing. In society, men who have had a large number of sexual partners are labeled as “studs” or “pimps” – both considered to be compliments. In contrast, women who have had a large number of sexual partners are labeled as “sluts” or “whores” – both are obviously considered insults. It is this power imbalance between men and women that creates a culture of abuse that can lead to domestic and sexual violence.
When we, as consumers, support companies like Unilever and others that engage in similar marketing strategies, we are collectively sending the message that the objectification and sexualization of women are acceptable practices. Effectively, we are paving the way for dating violence and sexual assault to occur. Keep in mind that Unilever is certainly not the only guilty party. There are a large number of companies that employ marketing campaigns which degrade women to sell their products. Remember this the next time you go to buy something designed to make you smell better. You might just realize that it stinks.
Want to let Unilever know how you feel about the “Axe Effect”?
Visit their websites at:
Check out some of the Axe Print Ads: