Objectification and Sensibility: A Critical Look at Sexism as Subtext in Postfeminist Advertising

  •  Stephen T. F. Poon    


This paper explores the phenomenon of sex in advertising to understand the relationship between objectification of gender, sex, sexuality and representations of femininity through advertising subtexts, processes and discourses. Literature shows the usage of sexism in advertising and marketing veers in extreme scopes between blatant explicitness and stylish subtlety, depending on the cultural contexts and norms of the target market. Using qualitative case examples, advertising campaigns highlight objectification of sexual desires as an antithesis of postfeminist thought. Rhetorical analysis was performed on advertisement samples, building from postfeminist perspectives in marketing theories. Examples of visual rhetoric in beer, feminine product commercials and social cause campaigns are discussed. Findings demonstrate cultural expressions of postfeminist sensibility adapted for specific femininity contexts. Overall, sexism subtexts are shown to be a continued challenge in developing persuasive advertising rhetoric for the postfeminist era. Non-translatability and cultural adaptations to consumer segments suggests that the use of sex to visually communicate marketing information to an increasingly diverse marketplace face much social pressure today than in the past. Femininity themes in postfeminist advertising could be more effectively portrayed through subtle techniques such as irony and sarcasm, and in more inclusive, diverse, pragmatic and respectful femininity representations.

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