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10 questions you raised about sexist advertising

Sexist advertising is a new notion for the Republic of Moldova. The first complaints on sexist commercials were submitted to the Council for Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination and Ensuring the Equality back in 2014. At that time, there was no any legal provision which would define the phenomenon and the complaints were recorded as gender based discrimination. Later, Law no. 71 as of 14 April 2016 introduced the definition and the sanctions. Since then, more people started to talk about this subject.

Being a recently introduced notion, many don’t understand what’s the issue with the sexist advertising and according to which criteria an ad can or cannot be considered a sexist one. I tried to collect and explain 10 most common questions/comments/observations written by netizens regarding this topic.

“Will we avoid sexism in ads if we would replace women with men?”  

Absolutely no. The sexism doesn’t affect women only. It refers to those situations when someone is portrayed in a discriminatory way due to his/her sex. Men also could become victims of sexist commercials, especially when it is emphasized the masculinity, the so-called “real men”- tough, with no feelings, who treat other people as objects. The sexism in ads refers to objectification of human body as well. It doesn’t matter if we speak here about women or men, although women are those ones who are mostly portrayed as objects, without any will, opinion or voice. Just decorations.

In 2017, Suistudio- the company producing suits for women- launched a new social campaign called "Not Dressing Men"[1]. The developed billboards were reflecting men appearing as objects, naked, meanwhile women were presented as being self-confident and conducting men. 

Although we could take into account a company’s potential initiative to point out how women are treated in commercials, opting for another extremity is not a solution to solve the issues of sexism in ads. Despite the gender, any person should be treated respectfully, and his/her own body shouldn’t be considered somebody’s property. We cannot fight against sexist advertising striping men. The best solution is the balanced representation of all genders.

“Why do you consider that if a woman appears in ads scarcely dressed, this fact affects her dignity?”

In parallel reality, there is a probability that women would like to be treated as goods, to strip in front of somebody, to listen to somebody’s orders to pose lying down on the floor, on a table or sitting on a tyre. In a parallel reality, there is a probability that the women’s biggest dream is to clean out the house and the mess done by other family members during their whole life. As far as this made them feel themselves happy and fulfilled, women have the rights to decide to dedicate their lives to family and children, but this should be a benevolent decision, not an act driven by the idea that “this is normality”.    

In our reality, in an ordinary day, women are dressed decently, they drive cars and are able to switch on technical equipment by themselves. When they see a car, women don’t jump immediately to lay down on the bonnet. Your colleague doesn’t have drawn on her breasts announcements on discounts made by nearby shop. And women don’t undress near EVERY thing created by human mind. The ordinary women don’t identify herself with what she sees on billboards.

You will not blow women’s mind if you would use AXE, if you would dress in Dolce&Gabbana or if you would drive a Ferrari.

“In order to avoid sexism in ads, we have to dress women, to get them out of the kitchens and to encourage them not to take care anymore of their homes and children?”

The carpet is not like wife- it can be changed.To avoid sexism in ads, we should give up on stereotypes and on naked or half-naked people who advertise objects not related to human body. Women and men. As long as product or service is not directly linked to body, it or parts of it shouldn’t be exposed in an inappropriate manner.

We have to raise often the question “Would it look funny or ridiculously to have a man portrayed in the way women are? If yes, why is it a normality for women?”

We have to present women and men as equal partners, with equal opportunities and skills.

We have to make abstraction of gender roles. To show a woman who is fixing a car instead of a woman with a tyre between legs? To show a man advertising washing powders and cleaning products? To show two spouses cooking together, and not only husbands who offer kitchen as a present? These are only some examples how to give up on gender roles and avoid sexism.

“In the days when sexual freedom is promoted, when one can do with his/her own body whatever one wants, why we insist to ban the nudity in advertising?” 

Sexual freedom is equivalent with the right and opportunity to take decisions by yourself on your body and sexuality. Sexism in advertising doesn’t refer to freedom of choice, but it’s related to imposing of already existing stereotypes. One of these stereotypes is that woman should be stay anytime at man’s disposal, that woman is inferior to man when it comes to logic and skills. This stereotype is perpetuated by commercials.

Probably you will say that actually women are free to make their own choices.

Yes, they are. But when you, as a woman, are daily suggested by all existing means and are daily exposed to the idea that your supreme life goal is to take care of children, husband and house, that your biggest achievement should be cooking a tasty soup, and you should be nice with everybody, we cannot talk here about freedom of choice. There is no freedom in case your opinion is formed based on only one source.  

“Sexist advertising doesn’t affect society’s opinion towards women and men”.

Many studies and researches in the field of advertising show the linkage between commercials we are exposed to and our perception on the surrounding world (we bring as examples „Think of me as evil? Opening the ethical debates in advertising” developed by Public Interest Research Centre and WWF-UK in 2010 and theory of social study launched by Bandura & Walters in 1963). The researches show that it’s hard to escape from the unconscious influence of commercials, because it is so deep “that we have a small choice to reply or not to advertising”.

 When we see daily certain patterns imposed by advertising, we start to believe that this would represent the normality. What we see every day is neat, young women, with perfect skin, with quite small weight and body size, and muscled, self-confident, suntanned and styled men. The ordinary people don’t recognize themselves in these models, thus, on the one hand, the lack of self-confidence appears because you don’t fit certain standards, on the other hand, you expect for the opposite sex to correspond to such patterns.

“Can sexism in advertising provoke discrimination, violence against women?”

Sexism as such is already a gender based discrimination and should be treated accordingly. Sexism in advertising can’t be compared in no wise with violence against women and girls, but the last one prevails due to existing gender stereotypes which are promoted including through sexist ads. What do we see in commercials? Women who always are mostly naked, with no opinion, will, voice, who could be carried, who could be touched how you’d like, who could be tied, etc. – these are images which often appear in advertising. Respectively, this contributes to the creation of the opinion that namely so women should be/behave.  

“What would happen with freedom of opinion and of creation, in case the sexist advertising would be banned?” 

Advertising developers are free to use their imagination when preparing an ad. The main condition is not to perpetuate the gender stereotypes. As well as law, the market and the public opinion forbid the advertising which affects the children’s rights, the one which discriminates certain categories of people. The sexist advertising is forbidden due to same causes, because it “helps” society to perceive (most of the time) women as an inferior person.

Besides sexist advertising, the legislation prohibits also the dishonest, inauthentic, disguised and non-moral commercial. In fact, the questions as “Why I cannot use non-moral commercial?” aren’t raised, because, logically, it is non-moral and the advertising developers don’t complain that this prohibition diminishes their creativity. In this respect, why the question “Why is sexism in advertising prohibited?” is raised?  

“Women are paid to be photographed/shot in ads in a lewd way?” 

The responsibility is held by those ones who give orders, who take decisions or who place an order. Thus, ultimately, the guilty one is that part who holds control and power. But control and power don’t belong to women models who appear in commercials. We cannot know for sure if women who are filmed or who are photographed in ads have a real possibility to decide or not on their profession. Sometimes, they are imposed by financial or any other types of circumstances. Last, they undertake a work, receive certain tasks which they should assume. 


“Advertising is not the most serious issue of sexism. We should pay attention to video clips which portray naked women rather than otherwise.”

When we talk about human rights and discrimination, we cannot classify the violations as being “serious” or “less serious”. Gender stereotype is a stereotype, in this respect measures have to be taken in order to eliminate it from advertising, media, TV, etc. Besides this, if we can switch TV channels when we don’t like what is broadcasted, there is not the case with billboards or posters, so that we cannot close the eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist there.

“Are those ones who identify in each commercial any type of discrimination towards women people with no personal life, with no other interests?” 




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