Thursday, July 26, 2007

Billboard debate

This billboard has caused a firestorm of criticism in my community. The local newspaper featured several stories and the online forum for each drew pages and pages of comments.

A 37-year-old mother, Jennifer Dufner is at the front of a media campaign calling the billboard inappropriate. She has expressed concern over how the image will affect her 3 step kids (all younger than 10).

In this article, Dufner seems concerned about the clothing (or lack thereof) that is worn. I'm not offended really, this outfit is more than most women would wear for swim-wear. Rather than young children, I find myself worried about adolescent and pre-teen girls who see this billboard.

Young girls seeing this image will be very clear on the message. The sign says "THIS is what an acceptable, sexy woman looks like." And consequently, if you want to feel valued by men or if you want men to find you attractive, you will conform this beauty norm. I'm not saying this billboard alone does this. But this billboard paired with every other ad depicting young women, any every MTV image tells women that being thin, blonde, (and consequently, white) equals value. Not to mention that you make yourself sexually avaliable.

Young girls are told over and over through various mediums that they need to be provocatively dressed and sexually available. Interesting that in this billboard, the young woman has no head, no mouth no face-- none of that pesky personality. She's quite literally just a hot piece of ass.

What a nice message.

I can't see how this billboard breaks any obscenity law (our town's city council has agreed) but it certainly doesn't brighten my day driving by it. Just another disappointing ad in a trend of ads that cut apart women's bodies to sexually entice men and in turn, sell product. In this case, rock music. Not that women being sexy = horrible. Sure, entice the men-folk. But how about a hot rocker chick playing a guitar or belting out a song? Why is she this passive, faceless OBJECT?

On a related note, dehumanizing women in billboards has been a hot topic of late. There was a recent uproar about a much more disgusting billboard advertising for the movie Captivity. The sexualization of violence was so blatant in this case that the billboard was eventually pulled. And I must say, that if I had kids and they saw that atrocity, I WOULD be horrified as well. If my kid asked about the ROCK 102 billboard I could roll my eyes, but the Captivity poster is sick on a different level.

If you want a fabulous source for portrayals of women in advertising, look up Jean Kilbourne. Her video documentary series "Killing us Softly" is amazing.

The Rock station's billboard is relatively tame to be sure, but I wouldn't shed a tear if they all came down. I just think the advertisers could stand to stretch their imagination a little more. The sexualization of women's body to sell product is so overdone. Imagine doing something unique and actually clever.

Personally what offends me most is that she looks like she has the beginning of a wedgie.


Adrienne said...

I'm not personally offended by it, but would like to point out that my ex-boyfriend had lots of jpegs on his computer for 'personal use' that looked an awful lot like that billboard.

If I had kids, I wouldn't want them seeing it. I realize that it's just about the same as swim wear, but I also wouldn't want my kids seeing some swim suits that people wear these days. Not to mention that it's a different setting: sure, I can wear a bikini at a pool, but I can't to work. And if a kid associates that 'at the pool, we were swim suits' that's one thing.

I also don't have a problem with nudity. What I have a problem with is objectifying women. It's hard enough being an individual in a world that craves conformity. Every other form of media-- tv, print, internet-- wants women to bow down to some ridiculous standard so that we might be so honored as to have some sweaty jerk look at us. And now radio has succumbed as well? No thanks.

Everyone keeps looking around and asking where eating disorders start. Starting now we can point at billboards.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I don't get the whole "objectification of women" problem. I don't understand how anyone could point a finger at anyone but women themselves. What is it that you are after? I think you would not want to wear a burka like they do in Saudi Arabia. Would that solve the problem?

Do you have a problem with the woman who was wearing the skimpy outfit, the company, the photographer, or our society?

Some of the reasons I think this is a problem that starts and ends with women is that women spend such a great deal of time with their appearance. From clothes to makeup to hair, women spend huge amounts of money on their looks and then I hear complaints like yours. I truly don't get it. Women spend money and time to look their best and then they don't want to be looked at?

My wife quite often spends a good amount of time getting ready to go somewhere, even though she is a very attractive woman without makeup. One time in particular when she was going over to a friends house where it would be only women she went through her regular routine and I asked her why she would go to all the trouble and I got the standard "boy are you dumb about women" look. After that I began to notice that women are the harshest critics of other women when it comes to looks. When a woman describes in conversation another woman how cute or chubby etc. is often one of the descriptions given, on the other hand I most often hear men describe women in terms of job, such as "oh, she is the receptionist over at Joe's" of course I have heard descriptions that included looks between guys but it is not the norm.

I think that the real reason that our society is this way is because of the naturally competitive nature of women in the area of looks. How many times have you met a woman who just can't seem to get along with other women, they work in a male dominated business as the lone female and gets along great with everybody, but put them in a group of women and they just can't help but get in an argument. I think it is because when they are the only female in a group of men they are more comfortable as their is no competition for the attention of the males, they don't have to lift heavy things or kill the spiders etc. because there is always a guy around to help her out.

I think women objectify themselves, and the solution to your problem with this is to move to Saudi Arabia.

Otherwise if women are allowed to do what they want and dress how they want, they will. Welcome to the concept of freedom.

KeepAskingWhy said...

I listen to KFGO at work so have been following this debate. Personally, I'm not offended by it. I don't have a problem with swim wear, nudity, etc. as long as done in the right setting. As Adrienne pointed out, most of us can't or wouldn't wear a bikini to work. But let's face it, what she's wearing is common work out material nowadays and a lot more than on a beach or clothing magazines, etc. etc.

My issue, though, is about only women being used in the ads. I want equal time and the station should be wanting males AND females to listen. They'd better get a guy up there showing his six pack. That's the problem I have with the ad.

Tobes said...

It seems like you didn't read my post at all. I make no comment that women should wear burqas or stop being sexy. But this ad bothers me becauste it's ever so typical -- a skinny, blonde, half naked, woman, who's not even a full woman -- she's cut up to show just an ass --- this image of typical "sexiness" is so boring.

Why don't we ever let women be sexy on their own terms? Let's see some variation in the media on what makes a woman sexy. And try not to objectify women constantly.

Seriously... you're gonna pull out the "why don't you move to saudia arabia" argument?

If it hadn't been for that comment I might actually have taken you seriously and tried to engage in some discussion about women in the workplace politics, the beauty culture and it's impact on women etc.

But since you've so clearly revealed yourself to be nothing but a conservative, sexist prat... I think my time would be better served ... hmmmm... painting my nails? Ha!

And people say feminists have sense of humor.

Adrienne said...

Anonymous: Although I hate giving this answer, it is absolutely true: if you were a woman, you would totally get the whole 'objectification of women' problem. Imagine your wife having to go out in a skimpy tank top and boy shorts with an impending wedgie in order to get a fair deal at a car dealership. If the thought makes you uncomfortable, imagine how we feel-- especially if you do not, for whatever reason, fulfill that sexual stereotype. Is it fair for me to walk into a store and not get service, while my five foot one hundred and ten pound sister gets helped immediately? Call it human nature, and I'll buy it, but that doesn't make it right. My money is as good as anyone's, so is my time, and-- attention please-- so is my body. Same parts, same functions. In fact, I may even use some of my parts better than others.

Admittedly, the problem is, at times, stemming from women. I've commented on this before on this site. But lets examine that, shall we? In my experience-- as a woman-- women who pull me down because of my appearance do so because of some insecurity of their own. Why? Because we all see each other as competition. The fact that the sexual stereotypes (thou must be skinny, full breasted, with long blonde hair and ruby red lips) perpetuate in our heads is not our fault (even if it is our problem).

Looking at things from a generational stand point, let us take a small look at the women who we gained most of our insight from: Our Mothers. Our mothers, who were raised watching TV shows where girls were told that being a woman was better because it meant less responsibility and decision making. Mothers who took high school courses on making perfect roasts and how to fold napkins, while the boys learned accounting and managerial skills.

And, above all else, mothers who were taught by THEIR mothers that they needed to be a certain sexual stereotype in order to snag a bread winner for their empty little heads. It's no secret that since the beginning of time men have been choosing women based solely on their looks: if she's a virgin and she's beautiful, then she's worth every penny of the bride price. If she's 'soiled,' or ugly, then she better come with an awesome dowry. You may think times have changed, but the women of my generation-- when both eating disorders and teenage sexuality are at an all time high-- know differently.

Again, the fact that the stereotype perpetuates is not our fault, even if it is our problem.

The stereotype stems from, was created by, men. I have actually been broken up with because I am overweight. I have lost roles in musicals because I do not fulfill the 'romantic lead' appearance. I have been overlooked for PR positions because I don't have a 'public face' (look at the number one college major for beauty queens: communications).

The problem with this billboard is that it is selling sex. What a tired, overdone marketing ploy. This billboard tells me nothing about the radio station except that it is run by men, for men, who are willing to exploit and objectify women in order to get more listeners (read: money). What kind of music do they play? Soft core porn?

The question is: where do we draw the line? At what point have we crossed it? What negative outcomes could possibly outweigh the gains of this billboard?

Will all the teenage girls with eating disorders, trying desperately to look like this bill board please raise their hands? Continue raising them if you have also purchased ridiculously promiscuous clothes in an attempt to attract attention to your pubescent body?

And, PS-- it doesn't make much sense to have sex so blatantly on display for all to see and then to make contraceptives and abortion illegal. Just saying.

Leah Wolter said...

I drove past the Rock 102 ad earlier this summer and said, wow, what a great ad.

Rock 102 reached their "target market" by getting there attention with a clever billboard.

I find it humorous that parents say that they monitor what their kids watch on television or hear on the radio. Great for now, but in a few years, they are bound to come across cable or satellite television. My point is, what happens when they see this for the first time? What then?

What if the billboard would have been a male? It probably wouldn't have reached their demographic group as well, but this controversy probably wouldn't have started.

I am 20 years old, female, and Asian. I am not offended by any means by this billboard. If you don't want to see "scantily clad" women then good luck. Because they're everywhere, in addition to shirtless men.

Andrew said...

hey, i've seen this billboard and actually entered their contest in order to get a better looking billboard up there, from what i can see, the majority of them are still sexual or have sexual references...mine on the other hand is clean of all of that...

but i need votes in order to win, and in order to keep some of the trash that could be nominated from going up, voting ends this friday (28th)...just go to the rock 102 website to vote, mine is the 6th down on the enteries list with the guitar player saying everything that for Andrew Hegg's billboard please!

that or, if you don't like mine the most, at least vote for one that isn't obcene like some on there...