There are so many areas in the modern world where sexism is still pervasive, but one of the most visible has to be the advertising industry, which is probably why you still so often hear that old adage: “Sex sells!” When you think of sexist ads, you probably imagine a scantily clad individual beside a product with no real connection between the two. And that sort of ad certainly makes our list, although it could be argued there is a fine line between objectifying a woman’s body to sell a product and women freeing themselves by revealing their bodies as much as they want. Either way, sometimes the implications are also disturbing in other ways that perpetuate gender stereotypes that are not necessarily sexually related.
There are also instances where attempts at humor may cross the line into sexism, which is a more difficult area to discuss because what might be one person’s humor is another’s prejudice. Think about some of your favorite comedians who make jokes about difficult subjects, like Louis C.K. in his “It’s Great Being a White Male” bit or Sarah Silverman on, well, basically every issue you can imagine. Where is the line between comedy and bigotry?
There is an ongoing war of political correctness that is bound to divide opinion. Is this ad funny or sexist? Is that ad sexually liberating or sexually objectifying? We don’t pretend to have any answer. Instead, we’ve compiled a list of modern ads that could be viewed not only as sexist, but as shockingly sexist. We’d be interested in hearing your opinion in the comment section!
15 Sega Saturn
This Sega Saturn ad clearly uses sex appeal to draw the viewer’s attention. The background is entirely the blue of the Saturn logo and everything on the ad is darkly colored except the light skin of a naked woman, her hip thrust provocatively to the side and her head coyly tilted away with a suggestive expression on her face (which is actually the position we usually play video games in...).
The use of color and light suggests the focal point is actually meant to be the woman, not any of the small screenshots of videogames that are used primarily to cover just enough of her body to ensure the ad is appropriate enough for publication. And then there’s the slogan “Nothing else matters.” The implication here is that when you have video games, the main other things that matter (apparently the areas of this woman’s body the gaming screenshots have covered) are no longer important because gaming has overtaken them.
This is a bit ironic, of course, because the woman’s body is still being used to sell the system. Nonetheless, the implication that one of the most important things to matter in life was the naked body, before gaming dethroned it, is more than a little sexist in its objectification of the female form.
14 Courage Beer
We can certainly see what Courage beer was going for here, combining its name and slogan of “Take courage my friend.” They’ve got that clever play on words where you should “take courage” to do something brave, while you should also “take Courage” beer in order to succeed. The ad campaign pretty much writes itself from there. Now, this is one of the examples we mentioned in the introduction where the company has clearly made an attempt at humor, but it could be argued that they should have done so without objectifying women’s bodies while also degrading their worth if they happen to be overweight.
The guy on the couch, presumably the partner of the woman in the purple dress, appears to be pretty upset about the fact that his partner is making advances toward him, which makes sense since he's so clearly a modern Adonis. The woman is positioned provocatively, her hands on the hips of her tight dress, as she positions her backside toward him and looks coyly over her shoulder toward him. Aside from the sexual objectification in general, because she appears to be a bit overweight, her value to men has been clearly negated and any man would need to be drunk to want to sleep with her. We realize that beer commercials often play upon sex appeal, but this one, trying to create humor by going in the opposite direction, sends an arguably much worse message.
13 Carl’s Jr.
This particular shot comes from the commercial that ran during the Super Bowl and was quite widely discussed for its provocative nature. Carl’s Jr. has famously done this with all of their recent ads, featuring the likes of Kate Upton and Charlotte McKinney (from the above ad). The women appear scantily clad in every commercial and the focal point of the commercial is on these women’s bodies, while at some point they probably eat a burger or something. The focal point is, however, always the female form.
In this McKinney commercial, she walks around, presumably naked (until it is revealed at the end that she is wearing a bikini top and short shorts), while various things shield the viewer from this presumed nudity. At one point, a fruit shaped like a bum blocks the view of her posterior as she walks away, while a man’s hand enters the screen and pinches the fruit. Another shot has melons covering her breasts (apparently they weren’t particularly concerned with being clever). Overall, we aren’t really sure what this ad has to do with burgers…
12 Battlecruiser 3000AD
If you know much about older videogames, you are probably familiar with Battlecruiser 3000AD and its advertising campaign. This one is a perfect (probably not the right word choice, but hopefully you understand what we mean) example of using sex to sell. She’s wearing nothing but a black leather bra and boots, while she sits with her legs spread wide apart. Clearly, the model is not wearing any underwear and the only thing covering her is a copy of the game.
We aren’t really sure what holding a videogame over your genitals has to do with gaming, but someone clearly thought it was a good idea. Then there’s the slogan: “She really wants it.” They weren’t even trying to be clever with this one. And another thing we noticed is the stool. It looks like the metal pole running through the middle is probably meant to be phallic imagery as it disappears suggestively behind the game. Overall, we can only assume the game wasn’t that great since we didn’t learn one thing about it from this ad.
11 American Apparel
A lot has been said about American Apparel’s overt sexism over the years, so it should come as no surprise that the company has found itself on our list for using a particularly sexist ad. This particular advertisement is for bodysuits and thigh-highs, so one might argue that the use of a series of images of only those body parts is understandable. However, it could also be said that by focusing the entire ad on floating body parts without a face or complete torso serves as a means of sexually objectifying those particular body parts. Additionally, basically every position is highly sexualized, such as an above shot of the woman (or the womanless hips and butt, in this case, we suppose) on her hands and knees or the shot of her with her legs crossed and being closed lustily. Even the shots that aren’t as provocatively posed involve the woman holding her thigh-highs suggestively in her fists.
10 Got Milk?
This sexist advertisement comes from a somewhat surprising source: the California Milk Processor Board. The image itself is actually not the sexist aspect of this ad as it is with so many others. We’ve just got a somewhat dopey looking guy passing off a carton of milk (which is weirdly not a bag of milk, which we Canadians are more used to!).
However, the sexism comes out when we understand what the man is saying: “I apologize for letting you misinterpret what I was saying.” This plays on the stereotype that suggests women irrationally get upset by reading too much into what their partners say, leading the male to have to apologize even though he has, bastion of angelical manhood that he is, done absolutely nothing wrong.
And then the main line comes in: “Milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS” and we learn that the woman has, obviously, turned into an irrational monster due to her monthly visit. Again, this is a sexist ad that is an attempt at humor. And we shouldn’t be surprised if a few of you laughed at this one, but underneath it there is certainly a sexist message.
9 Van Heusen
We realize that this ad is by no means modern, but we couldn’t resist adding it because who knew that tie advertisements could be so sexist? Somehow, without revealing any of the woman’s body, this ad has managed to be more sexist than a Snoop Dogg video.
The slogan, “Show her it’s a man’s world” is offensive on so many levels that we don’t even really feel a need to make much comment on it other than to point out that we suppose the slogan is meant to suggest the tie symbolizes that only a man would need to dress professionally as women have no right to claiming a spot in the workplace.
And then there’s the fact that the man is lying in bed with his arms behind his head and a smug look on his face while the woman serves him food. And not only does she serve him food in her housecoat while he’s dressed for work, but she offers the food by getting on her knees and looking up at him plaintively with her mouth open and a look of subservience on her face. To be honest, this ad could almost work as humorous parody if it wasn’t so upsettingly real.
Apparently Brad Pitt is the only man alive capable of attaining physical arousal, which is not really great news for the rest of us. The image is of a soaked, fresh out of the ocean Angelina Jolie as she pushes her arms behind her and thrusts out her chest while staring directly into the camera seductively, her lips parted slightly.
The intent is to sexualize her in a way that appears unattainable for most of the population as the slogan, “Because not everyone’s married to Jolie”, suggests that most people have to trudge through depressing sex lives with people they couldn’t possibly be attracted to. In reality, people that take Cialis usually do so because of a medical condition causing impotence, so this ad not only sexualizes women but also makes light of a condition that can be quite upsetting.
Our takeaway? Impotence is hilarious and women can’t really hope to look like Angelina Jolie, thereby causing a nationwide need for Cialis because anything less than perfection probably isn’t good enough to arouse a loved one.
7 Old Spice
By putting this ad in our list, we don’t mean to suggest that sexism in ads is equally distributed between the genders, but as you can see from our list, we have heavily weighted it in favor of where most of the sexism has been targeted. However, advertising has clearly objectified men as well and the Old Spice ads are great examples of this.
Sure, they are done in a comical way, but there is still the suggestion that men are expected to be in incredible shape while portraying an image of being good at everything they do. And remember, you need to “smell like a man, man” if you want to get the girl. And in case you weren’t clear that the ad is targeting your masculinity, they made sure to say the word “man” twice.
Now, these commercials are so over the top that we aren’t really sure if they are overtly sexist or parodies of sexism in advertising (feel free to help us figure it out in the comment section!). Either way, they certainly point out the sexism inherent in the advertising industry.
6 American Apparel
American Apparel has made our list for the second time and, truthfully, we probably could have made an entire list of 15 shockingly sexist American Apparel ads. This one is similar to the previous entry as it focuses on objectifying body parts in a series of close-up shots.
This ad uses the image of a pair of disembodied legs again, as they lie provocatively on the bed. However, this time, American Apparel actually showed the model’s face in one shot. Spoiler: it didn’t make things any better. In this ad, the woman appears to be topless. She has her arms pushed tightly inward, which creates two effects.
First, it gives the illusion of a possibly intense sexual reaction and secondly, it serves to push up her cleavage so it’s more pronounced. She also has her eyes closed and lips slightly parted in a look that is meant to hint at sexual arousal. And, of course, like with all the ads in this series, the women are posed on a bed to suggest the act of intercourse, in case the body part images weren’t quite enough to get the job done.
5 Virtua Fighter
This ad manages to be disturbing without even having a female appear in it. We aren’t really sure who thought that making a joke out of domestic violence was a good way to sell video games, but it seems ill-advised at best. The words “Domestic violence” are splattered across the top of the ad in red to mimic bloodshed. Below it, a father and his son play Virtua Fighter on their Sega system, looking at each other fondly as they enjoy a little father-son domestic violence bonding.
Obviously this is meant to be a joke as they are being violent in the game, but the deeper meaning of the ad kind of comes across as a father teaching his son that domestic violence is not only acceptable, but enjoyable. And the slogan at the bottom, “The game is never over,” could even be seen as serving as a suggestion that the violence shouldn’t stop with just in-game violence, because the game should never end. This ad may not necessarily be directed in a sexist manner toward women, but we can’t help but feel unsettled by it.
4 Pinnacle Whipped Vodka
This ad manages to be sexist against both males and females, which, if advertising trends are to be believed, probably means it was highly successful. Why be sexist against just one gender when you can go for the double?
To begin with, the man is ironing with his shirt off, and that would make sense if he were ironing his shirt, which he isn’t. He’s ironing some towels. So there is the typical physical objectification here, but the ad also hinges upon the idea that women should make sure their men are “whipped.”
The entire premise of the article relies upon the idea that a relationship isn’t symbiotic, but dependent upon one partner forcing the other to be whipped and do things for the other while simultaneously being in great shape and doing it all in a sexually suggestive manner. Basically, just do my bidding, shut up, and look good. This message isn’t great from any perspective, for any gender, even if the ad is clearly making an attempt at humor.
You have probably been waiting for Axe to appear on our list and it’s no surprise it’s near the top. This one’s upsetting on quite a few levels. Not at all a surprise, they managed to fit in quite a few women standing around in their underwear (just like most change rooms we all use…). There is also a man helping them choose their clothes along with the words, “If you help her choose the clothes someone else will tear, she’s seeing you in braids” and the slogan, “Stop being a friend. Start being a man.”
We aren’t sure if we’re missing the joke on this one, but the former is poorly worded and not really clever in any way. Aside from that, there is the idea that women exist to have their clothes torn off, if not by you, then surely by someone else. Additionally, if you’re male, you can’t possibly be friends with women. If you are, then you’re not a true man. The only way to be a man is to be the one tearing women’s clothes off, so put on some Axe body spray and women, being the vapid olfactory sensitive creatures they are, will instantly be unable to resist you. Got it.
2 Skyy Vodka
For some reason, ads love to depict men in suits and women in bikinis, their underwear, or unclothed with private areas cleverly covered. This Skyy vodka ad shows a woman lying on her back while a man stands powerfully above her. Oddly, the ad tries to suggest the woman is in control, as men are really only good for blocking sun and pouring drinks.
The statement comes out as quite sexist against men while the image manages to objectify the woman (whose cleavage the viewer has an ample view of from the top down perspective) via her positioning in relation to the male. And, once again, why does the man always have to come off so well-dressed, suggesting an importance in the professional field beyond the ad, whereas the woman has such little clothing suggesting little importance beyond the sexual objectification appearing here? And is this ad even being clever with the blocking sun and pouring drinks? We suppose there’s something to the brand being “Skyy” but it doesn’t even come together well.
1 Burger King
If our list is to be believed, there’s something about the burger industry that just brings out sexism in people. We can’t even begin to understand how this Burger King ad was approved. We suppose it’s an attempt at humor, but even so, we can’t begin to picture what kind of person would look at this and laugh. Hahaha, it’s meat and there’s the word “blow.” Lol. Lmao. Poop emoji. In any case, the image depicts a woman with her mouth open wide and a somewhat bewildered look on her face as she prepares to eat the new Burger King burger, while the wording suggests she won’t exactly be eating it, as it says, “It will blow your mind away” below the slogan “It just tastes better.” Then, in a particularly phallic moment, it shows the lengthy burger and describes it as the “BK super seven incher.” They couldn’t be content with just one double entendre and had to be sure to put in 3, just in case its audience missed the original joke. Although, maybe it makes sense because if we’re correct in picturing the kind of people that might enjoy this ad, they just may need all 3 entendres to really get it.