Around the Super Bowl, a GoDaddy ad featuring race car driver Danica Patrick in a body builder suit rather than a robe inspired me to predict that sexist ads might be on the decline. But after this week, I take it all back.
As some big-name TV shows wrap up their seasons (Scandal, How I Met Your Mother) and others premiere (Mad Men, Game of Thrones), commercials are competing for the precious little time we spend watching live TV. One easy way to grab our attention (and YouTube views)? Sexist ads. You decide which is the most offensive.
DirecTV: Women Are Literally Objects
It's easy enough to objectify women in ads—just ask RadioShack. But putting a woman in skimpy clothes to sell something is so old news. How about just turning them into literal objects?
Take the new DirecTV ad that advertises the Wireless Genie Mini device by juxtaposing wireless cable with a wired wife. In the commercial, the man's wife is actually a marionette — because everybody knows that men just want their wives to be puppets. The puppet wife even dons a sexy negligee while trying to woo her husband because she know he thinks her wires are unattractive.
Our suggestion to the wired wife? Cut and run.
Woodford Reserve Bourbon: Women Are "Cool Girls" Who Probably Shouldn't Talk or Use Tools
In the ad for Woodford Reserve bourbon that premiered during Mad Men on Sunday, a woman narrates the hipster fantasy of a man who sips bourbon while wearing a well-tailored suit and Warby Parker glasses in a forest:
When I see a man drinking bourbon, I expect him to be the kind who could build me a bookshelf. But not in the way that one builds a ready-made bookshelf. He will already know where the lumberyard is. He’ll get the right amount of wood without having to do math. He’ll let me use the saw, and not find it cute that I don’t know how to use the saw.
The commercial reinforces the gender roles of the Mad Men era: the man using tools, drinking whiskey and being a man's man; the woman watching and finding it sexy.
The real kicker is the saw: Saws are not complicated tools. Wouldn't the obvious (non-sexist) copy have been "He'll let me use the saw, and not find it cute that I DO know how to use the saw"? As Jezebel put it, "Actually, it felt like the commercial version of an issue of Southern artisan revival mag Garden and Gun."
And that's not even the worst commercial from Woodford Reserve. Another ad narrated by a man about a woman drinking bourbon goes to a different type of sexist place:
When I see a woman drinking bourbon, I’m prepared to tolerate a lot of her business. In the end, I figure, she’s got that rare thing that makes her not just tolerate but enjoy my thorny mess.
Men know it's worth "tolerate[ing] a lot of her business" if she's the cool, understanding, hot type that likes to drink whiskey just like them. The commercial reminds me of the mythical "cool girl" archetype that Gillian Flynn takes down in Gone Girl:
Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, s*** on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists.
Carl's Jr.: Women Are Hot and Shouldn't Eat Manly Burgers
Nobody's surprised that the new Carl's Jr. ad blatantly traffics in sexism. The notoriously unapologetic fast food company—they previously referenced this in a press release: "We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don't sell burgers"—has teamed up with X-Men for its latest commercial. In it, a blue-boobed Mystique can't handle the big juicy burger, so she transforms into a dude.
Thank goodness it's not actually Jennifer Lawrence playing Mystique in this commercial (as she does in the current X-Men films). It would be a little too ironic if an actress who's been so open about refusing to adjust her eating habits for Hollywood wasn't allowed to have such a "manly" burger.
Snickers: Women Are Empowered When Men Manage Not to Objectify Them
Perhaps the worst offender is a recent commercial for Snickers that's trying to be empowering and in doing so turns out to be—you guessed it—sexist.
As my colleague Oliva Waxman pointed out, the ad manages to be sexist to both women and men. The women are still props being yelled at by men. The men are acting "not like themselves" when they yell feminist things. Once they eat that Snickers, they'll go back to cat calling. As Adweek writes, "“By saying blue-collar guys ‘aren’t themselves’ when they’re being polite, it pretty clearly implies they’re otherwise a bunch of misogynistic boors."
Well done, advertising world. You've outdone yourselves this week.