In previous Vintage Sexism posts, we’ve looked at some of the ways women are portrayed as objects of a “male gaze” in advertisements for everything from acne medication to deodorant. This week, I thought it would be fun to shake things up, and take a look at four different images in which these power roles seem reversed. These ads — which are for (coincidentally?) men’s pants — make me pause and wonder, who is actually “wearing the pants,” here?
Turns out, this kind of “role reversal” in advertising— that is, the existence of a kind of “female gaze” — is nothing new. We see it in the ad at above left, circa 1966, which reads, “We put something special in slacks,” and shows a girl on a motorcycle, checking out the two men wearing their super sexy Broomsticks pants in the foreground. The ad at right, which dates from the turn of the 20th century, depicts an elegant lady in a very poofy hat making eyes at a row of studly, trouser-clad gentlemen.
One might argue, then, that the men in these ads are the objects being perceived and judged by women, just like women in ads for acne medication or deodorant or what-have-you are portrayed in ways that suggest they should purchase a particular product in order to appeal to men as objects. I cannot help but wonder, though, if the women in these “reversed roles” only appear to occupy positions of power, while, in actuality, their images are being “bought” and “sold” as much as the slacks themselves?
If the first set of ads seems to place women as perceivers in positions of power, this second set of ads portrays women who are perceivers, yes, but perceivers in positions of powerlessness. The ad on the left features not just one woman, but two, and reads, “Chickers. Make the right jump and you’re king,” implying that women can be “collected” and “won,” just as checkers can. The ad at right for Mr. Leggs slacks is perhaps the most striking. The copy reads, “A display of affection is great…but enough is enough. She couldn’t keep her hands off him. Always the little hugs, the pats on the cheek. Sly pinches. It could drive a man to the license bureau. It all began when he wore his first Mr. Leggs Slack.” True, the woman in this ad may be exercising a “female gaze,” but she is doing so from a position of complete submission and utter powerlessness. She is buried up to her neck in sand, for crying out loud. Her eyes are the only thing she can move.
What do you think, ModLovers? Do you think such a thing as a “female gaze” exists, or are the women in these ads actually being exploited and used as commodities, even if they appear to be in a position of power? Do these ads demonstrate that sexism works both ways, or do they merely reinforce an age-old double-standard? Can you think of any ads or commercials today that reverse traditional power roles? If so, are these ads empowering to women, or ultimately detrimental to reaching equality of the sexes?