Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Eyes aren't on the prize, they are closed to sexism of ads

Cheap: Sexualised advertising
Cheap: Sexualised advertising

Sixty years ago, the Pill revolutionised sex. Sex was separated from reproduction for women in a way that made it an end in itself.

And while the Pill is by no means perfect, it's undeniably linked to a change in the way that women could enjoy sex, earn a wage and no longer rely on being kept by men.

Or so I thought, before I was kindly corrected by a study into women's reactions to sexual advertising conducted by the University of Minnesota.

The psychologists concluded that women are not attracted by adverts that feature sexualised bodies. A separate study in 2012 rubber-stamps what we can intuit on a daily basis: that 22% of adverts depict sexualised women, while only 6% feature men in the same light. But there's a catch: the researchers at Minnesota found that women are less put off by sexual imagery when the products being shifted are luxurious and expensive.

To Kathleen Vohs, a psychologist from the study, the answer lies in how high-end products are aligned to how women view sex: "infrequent, special, and rare".

Infrequent? Special? Rare? My female friends certainly don't have sex infrequently, or see it as particularly special.

Why should they?

The study's conclusion suggests women reacted to the advertising in this way, because sex is the currency where our worth lies. Maybe they received the minutes from a meeting cavewomen had, where they agreed to keep the level of sex women dole out nice and low.

Raise it, and another woman might offer more and steal your oh-so-covetable man.

And so the study reduces female sexuality to a tool to lure men, the truly voracious sex. "Women generally show spontaneous negative attitudes toward sexual images," writes Dr Vohs, which is scientific lingo for: "No sex please, dear. I have a headache".

But a study published in May 2013 shows that, if anything, women aren't reserving sex as another casino chip they put forward in hope of winning a man. Instead, it found women love sex, but are bored of monogamy.

When they had sex with their long-term partners, however loving and kind they were, it soon became a chore. But when heterosexual women and men were shown X-rated images, male and female arousal spiked in the same way.

However, in a separate study, when women were asked about their sex lives on and off a lie-detector; when they could lie, women reduced the number of sexual partners they'd had. Could it be that women don't actually want to keep sex exclusive, or infrequent, at all, but rather feel pressured by studies like the one conducted in Minnesota, to uphold a reserved and respectable reputation?

What the team at Minnesota are confusing, is the myth that women are gold-diggers – only interested in sexual advertising and sex in general if it is connected with a prize – and the fact that the study's subjects are most likely bombarded by adverts on a daily basis like the rest of us.

Adverts have hard-wired us to want to buy things, with luxury brands being held as the most aspirational and sought-after items available. It seems more logical to conclude that women aren't so bored of sex that they're bargaining with it – rather, they're bored of being cheapened in the majority of sexual advertising.

Maybe it's not that women don't mind sex being sold for luxurious goods, but rather that aspirational consumerism and sexism have shaded into each other.

If the two options are being sexualised for Pot Noodle, or Gucci, with not a lot else in between, then it's a no-brainer what we'll choose.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz