Mad World: Who's Got the Right Idea?

Kelsey Wallace
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For the past several Mad World discussions, we've looked at ad campaigns that are somewhat lacking when it comes to progressive gender politics. It seems high time, then, that we highlight advertising that gets it right where gender is concerned. The only problem is, where the hell can we find it? Does mainstream, sexism-free advertising even exist?

We've been brainstorming possible examples of nonsexist ad campaigns around the office all morning, and we're having a tough time coming up with anything. Could this be simply because most of us get our television and reading materials from the Internet, which means we aren't seeing all of the awesome, progressive ads that are out there? Or are we as hurting for these advertisements as I think we might be?

To clarify, a nonsexist ad (for these purposes) still has to deal with gender politics, it just needs to do it in a non-stereotypical way. That means that a completely gender-neutral ad (say, an advertisement for a subscription to The New York Times) doesn't count. Not to say that those ads are or aren't offensive, just that they don't work for this particular discussion. Examples of what we are looking for here might include a commercial for something that is typically marketed to women (say, detergent) that flips the script in some way (say, by showing an interracial homosexual couple using the product). Is this too much to ask for?

The only example I could easily find (though I am vaguely remembering a few others that I couldn't easily find) is the new-ish campaign from Google, Search Stories. Yes, the "Parisian Love" spot from this series that aired during the Super Bowl was pretty heteronormative, but a few others manage to avoid gender stereotypes pretty well. Behold:

The description from Google here is, "A girl works to fit in." But this particular girl eschews the cheerleading team and the prom committee to be true to herself by starting a robotics club. Fun! Google could have easily followed traditional gendered high school tropes here and shown this girl searching for boyfriend advice or prom dresses, but instead she likes robot dinosaurs (which look awesome, btw).

Other ideas thrown around this morning have been that Swiffer commercial where the husband calls his wife at work to brag about his new Swiffer (we decided that one was a little degrading to the man in the relationship – who gets that psyched about a Swiffer?) and that Progressive Insurance ad that shows the gay couple shopping for insurance together (that one might work, but those Progressive ads bug me). Now we need your help: What nonsexist ad campaigns can you think of? Tell us in the comments section!

OH_Logo.jpgThis project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH's grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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7 Comments Have Been Posted

What do you think of this

What do you think of this Fatherhood Involvement PSA? Here's link in case embed code below doesn't work:

My students in Women's Studies 101 last year loved this; even though some were critical that the daughter's focus is on cheerleading, we (the class) liked that the dad was engaging with his daughter on <em>her</em> terms.

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Though it's kind of a sad commentary on our culture that we would cheer on a dad who is involved in his daughter's life (not because that's bad, but because ideally it would be so commonplace that we wouldn't feel compelled to cheer) I really like that PSA! I think the enthusiasm of the dad is what sells it for me. Fun example!

Few and far between

I still remember one of the first non-sexists ads I ever saw. This was about 13 years ago, and the fact that I still remember it highlights for me how few of these ads there are: It was for the Downy fabric softener ball (do they even still make this?) and there was a fairly generic montage of people involved with their laundry throughout, but right smack in the middle was a scene of a man doing laundry. Competently, on his own. It wasn't All About the guy doing laundry. He was just included in a range of images of people doing laundry and probably also, like, running through fields or something.

I haven't seen the Progressive ad with the gay couple of which you speak, but I would hazard a guess that it counts, even if the Progressive ads in general annoy you. They have one that really, really bugs me, though, with the heterosexual couple shopping, and the woman is all "whee shopping" and the man is carrying the man bag which he is embarrassed by and the whole thing enrages me whenever I see it. Even more so because I'm an Progressive policyholder.

Everything Nike does with a

Everything Nike does with a woman in it seems to uplift me, from more recent ones like "<a href="">Men vs Women</a>", "<a href="">Paula Radcliffe: I Am a Runner</a>", "<a href="">We Will Take on the World as a Team</a>", all the way back to "<a href="">If You Let Me Play</a>" (is that really 15 years ago already?). "<a href="">It's a Skills Thing</a> is so pro-woman it practically dares you to disagree. There have been many more. I even loved their <a href=" print ad</a>, which thanks Imus for "unintentionally moving women’s sport forward." Wow, Nike, way to be awesome.

"Delicious Training"?

Nike's latest ad campaign for women is called "Delicious Training," and I'm not comfortable that they're associating intense physical exercise with the enjoyment of food, when women's relationships with food and their bodies can be so complicated as it is.

Are you for real? The new

Are you for real? The new campaign has nothing to do with the ads the poster mentioned. Of course you're never going to find a non sexist ad if you find fault with every single little thing.

I admit, I laughed at the

I admit, I laughed at the Kotex ad, since it really is the kind of conversation my friends and I have. But oh, how quickly these ads simply become offensive. See this post about condom advertising:

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