The perspective engendered by #MeToo has ‘inspired’ The Australian Association of National Advertisers to update its code of ethics with “racy” advertising campaigns subjected to increased scrutiny, according to an article in The Australian newspaper on 5th February, 2017. Headlined “Advertisers lift their game on sexist commercials”, the gender of the headline writer is unknown as is that of the article, written by a person called Dana McCauley which could be either male or female as Dana can apply to both. The person wrote: “the rule against excessive focus on women’s bodies and sexual appeal will be more strictly enforced…” The choice of the headline word “sexist”, equating overt displays of female sexuality as sexist is erroneous, but it’s a common and constant connotation of sexism as sexual in the media. Sexism is discrimination against a person of the opposite sex according to the Macquarie Dictionary, and while it may ensue because of a person’s, usually male, focus on sexual issues to the exclusion of all others vis-a-vis gender, it must be emphasised it does not intrinsically subsume a sexual aspect, rather one about gender with sexuality per se possibly irrelevant. The portrayal of female sexuality is what advertisers are apparently going to be apprehended for which I stress is not necessarily “sexist”.
The belief that sexual is sexist in both the mainstream and online media is compounded by mostly female social commentators and writers failing to distinguish a difference between them and the sequent repercussions. This is not about semantics and we need to clarify this significant difference. Why? Underlying the association of sexual as sexist is to sully female sexuality and regard it as somehow “untouchable, even unmentionable” in our social milieu, implying that female sexuality should be and needs to be shrouded in oblivion, ‘silenced’ as socially unacceptable and hidden from any visible discernment. It’s all a private matter of consenting people behind closed doors in domestic boudoirs. Females it’s asserted, simply feel ‘uncomfortable, even unsafe’ affirm some claimants when their sexuality is in focus. It seems they are unable to accept their sexuality as part of being female, an attitude, however subliminal, reinforcing traditional, puritanical attitudes of the Victorian era that decried female sexuality and its expression. It’s as if females and sexuality are a contradiction in terms; social mores wanting, even needing, to shame sex for females yet again and sadly, even depressingly, so many females are buying into it. They are the vociferous voices clamouring to remove and/or deny their female sexuality, damning men who even cast a glance lecherously in their direction. Females and sex is a taboo, although some older, female movie celebrities have slammed the #MeToo onslaught as misguided and misplaced.
Of course it is alleged, by mostly females, that it’s males making reference to female sexuality; the guilty and reprehensible gender to punish for any visual display of female nudity, let alone any bare skin in sexy, tight apparel. The banning of the Grid Girls at the Formula One Grand Prix just one example of how any presentation of sexy females is akin to sin, to be banned and banished from sight. I’m not denying that some women, maybe many, have experienced unwanted sexual advances and sexual harassment, even perhaps sexual assault and predatory behaviour from some men, but this doesn’t make these men “sexist”. They may be obsessed with sex, focused on nothing else about women, but this does not ipso facto translate as belittling these women’s intellectual, professional and social abilities and talents in the belief that men are the best for the job, be it as surgeons, police, fire-fighters or football commentators. The latter is sexism, when a woman’s sexuality is assumed to epitomise her worth and value with consequent discrimination against her for no other reason. Try proving it however!
At the same time, some women do consciously “use” their sexual appeal to advantage; for a career promotion, more money and more prestige. Sleeping your way to the top is not a 21st century phenomenon but is too often cast as derogatory and demeaning. Maybe for some women, but ‘using’ everything you’ve got, including your sexuality, to achieve your ambitions may appeal to these women. I don’t blame them, not that I wanted to fashion my success on that basis, but I certainly did dress sexily on occasions because I felt good, uninterested in denying my sexuality as I had once done. The Grid Girls, in gear, and many other females who graced the pages of Playboy nude, weren’t coerced; it was their choice and flaunting their sexuality, even beauty, must have earned them far more money than I ever did. Why should a few conservative females, probably ashamed, in denial and/or frightened of their own sexuality, dictate what other females do, providing it causes no “harm” to others? And sadly, it is usually females demanding this change in the guise of harm caused by female sexuality in public view. It is tragically ironic that what some women do using sex to get what they want is castigated mainly by other women, unless it’s camouflaged by conventional conformity called marriage.
It may be that some men use their power, money and status to get sex, a la Harvey Weinstein among others, while women may use “sex” to get power, money and status; albeit vicariously for both genders. Is there a difference? This reality seems more pronounced among men who are less than physically attractive and women who are more than average attractive; go figure, when mutual attraction may just be obfuscated by more important factors than pleasurable sex. For some men, a beautiful woman on their arm is an ego attachment, while for many women, a socially successful man, as defined by power, money and status, is an ego attachment for them. Commonly, men seem to “marry down” relative to power, money and status, with their women “marrying up”. Rare indeed are the couples who are real equals for each other in these aspects. Is sexual compatibility and enjoyment even significant?
American psychologist, Jordan Peterson, commented on this reality in his current book “12 Rules for Life: An antidote to Chaos” writing: “The Pew (research) data…indicates a spouse with a desirable job (translate as sizeable income and prestigious status) is a high priority for almost 80 per cent of never-married but marriage-seeking women (but for less than 50 per cent of men). However, most high-performing and high-earning females have high-performing and high-earning partners- and that matters more to women.” My experience suggests that as a high-performing female, minus the high-earning quotient, I was a “threat” to the men I worked with (not that they’d confront that, let alone admit it as a possibility; far more self-endorsing and comfortably reassuring was to label me as aberrant, even sick, with something “wrong” with me), leaving me questioning why power, money and status are the defining qualities chased by women. Indeed, I reflect I was as much a “threat” to some women as men.
So what are the really significant factors in good relationships? Are they all about external trappings of so-called success, particularly for women, while for men, they may be more about appealing sexuality with possibly many women using this to lure men as an exchange for other things out of sight, disguised and deluded as love. A sexually appealing partner certainly can enhance a man’s own attractiveness; Trump seemingly an example as well as his current wife, Melania, but history is replete with many of these types of couple. Maybe as I’ve posited before, many people feel circumscribed by some inner sense of inadequacy, transcending their impotency (not sexual) into supposedly well-recognised and respected successful achievements. What’s on the outside shrouds the inside, deceiving others into affirmations of applause for them. Sex, power, money and status reign sacrosanct as politically and socially admirable and desirable.
However, we seldom read about women honestly admitting using sex to get what they want, yet it’s paraded about male patriarchy as a fact of life that’s damned, denigrated and disparaged by women. It maybe that’s the way equality vents itself, however inversely, depending on your perspective. Furthermore, what’s the difference about nepotism, where both genders use family networks to obtain promotions, jobs and status. Marrying for advancement is but just one feature of a nepotistic mentality. It’s who you know, isn’t it, and who wants to know you?
Moreover, on a seemingly more trivial level, I have seen many ads for couches in interior magazines such as Belle and Vogue Living, mostly read by women who usually buy the furnishings for their home, with these couches adorned by women looking sexy; not in bikinis but glamorous garb. I’ve often reflected on why you need a woman or anyone on a couch (casting couch subconscious?) to augment its retail appeal, likewise for cars and many other goods. At the same time, the handsome George Clooney advertises Nespresso so I’ve pondered: do good-looking people, subsuming sexy, enhance people’s desire to purchase the goods? Daresay the answer is yes; we all seem to enjoy looking at good-looking people, be they models on a catwalk or movie and TV stars, gender irrelevant. I put my hand up to that too.
Essentially, people’s appearance will always arouse emotions in onlookers some may not morally or ethically approve of, but ‘looking’ is not sexual assault, harassment or necessarily even lecherous. It may just be appreciation of another’s beauty as I look at beautiful people, including females, without even thinking about sex, at least consciously anyway, similarly as I appreciate a beautiful artwork, fashion garment or natural landscape. The problem can be, as I’ve detailed previously, when people see only our appearance to assume and judge other less obvious qualities about us, gender irrelevant. This reality can inadvertently engender a sexist mentality between women and men and within the sexes too.
This sexism can be complex, confusing and oft contradictory as it’s manifested at home, at work and at play, and imperative to developing understanding between and within the sexes to ensure genuine equal opportunities is to comprehend the BIG difference between sexism and sexuality in our society.
I hope advertising with good-looking men and women continues as well as being able to enjoy beauty wherever it appears. Sexy can be beautiful but sexism is always ugly.