Empty minds, sexist advertising

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 September, 2003, 12:00am

We are living in a culture of increasing emptiness, despite the fact that it is full of tremendous achievements in technology, science and health. But, no matter how we disguise it, it is still a culture of materialism, superficiality, vanity and violence, poverty and pollution. Our culture is definitely sick, and advertising, to a great extent, perpetuates this.

A good example is the widespread sexual exploitation of the female body in advertising. It is poisoning our culture, and the unfortunate thing is we seem to have developed a taste for it. Through the ages, women have been forced to accept their bodies as objects. The consistent sexual exploitation of the female form in advertising remains unabated, despite feminist movements and sexual revolution.

In Hong Kong, female models are everywhere, in sexually exploitative and compromising positions, looking sexually submissive, and very often with suggestive looks and poses. Sexist adverts are on the MTR, buses, trams, billboards, TV, in magazines and newspapers. The advertising media continues to flaunt these one-dimensional women as the ultimate role models, promoting extreme thinness, large hips and breasts as the definitions of sexual attractiveness and even career achievement.

So why are women still portrayed in these roles? One of the problems has to do with men, who hold positions of authority in the workplace. They make most of the decisions about how women should be seen in the public eye.

And it is done without much thought that constantly exposing women to these adverts might have a long-term negative impact on their self-esteem and motivation. While women have to work and are still expected to be fully responsible for domestic duties, the inequality gap will never disappear.

These adverts distort the roles of women, as well as limiting the development of their potential. They are designed to reinforce beliefs that it is men who call the shots, making it difficult for women to fight the system.

Sexual discrimination should not be tolerated and women should not be exploited in everyday adverts. Consumers should boycott products that use gimmicks with sexist overtones to promote sales rather than focusing on the actual properties of the product. These gimmicks enforce gender stereotypes and portray women in a demeaning manner.

When companies exploit women, they are in fact exploiting human nature and our weaknesses. We all know that the most basic human desire is sex. So advertisers constantly use the image of sex or sexual pleasure to sell a product, which very often has nothing to do with sex. Women in these adverts almost always portray an image of sexual pleasure, pouting with desire, a dreamy look in her eyes - and she is selling a fax machine, a bottle of mineral water or toilet paper. It is not very sexy and it is certainly not an image of power for women.

The advertising industry, like other businesses, has a moral obligation to society and the public. On the surface, it might be promoting and selling products, but in this day and age it has become a relatively influential part of modern culture.

It shapes our everyday life, setting standards, values and promoting public opinions. Advertisements no longer just reflect our culture, they are shaping it. Advertisements create unattainable ideals in order to create business opportunities. A main part of their business is to make women feel insecure in order to create sales. It is that simple.

Until women are portrayed in more equal and diverse roles in advertisements, and in society as a whole, we as consumers should not succumb to the production of inequality and discrimination. Luisa Tam is the Post's Deputy News Editor