Advertising the Battle of the Sexes

Debbie says:

We won’t discuss the long blog post that I wrote 90% of and then accidentally deleted on Thursday night. Fortunately, Peggy Elam has written a superb post on the subject I had in mind. Here’s a taste:

… the research was consistently reported as indicating that the body mass index of “friends” (no gender indicated) influences each other. (Yes, they confused correlation with causality. That seems to be standard in “obesity” research.) Every photo or video or audio clip purportedly illustrating that “obesity” is socially contagious among friends featured women. … But the original study found that the so-called “influence” of friends in regard to BMI only existed in male same-sex friendships. “Among friends of the same sex, a man had a 100%…increase in the chance of becoming obese if his male friend became obese, whereas the female-to-female spread of obesity was not significant…”

Yet not one of the media outlets reported this fact. Indeed, by illustrating their stories with female friends, they falsely implied that the friends-make-friends-obese “connection” was true of female-female friendships.

I would only add two things to this: first is that even though I hate this study and also how it’s being reported, I think the social networking method of examining issues is going to be very rich and valuable. This makes me especially sorry that this particular study is so badly flawed.

Second, major kudos to the Toronto fat activists for organizing a same-day protest of the study and its coverage!


So I thought I’d mine the blogroll for something else to write about. I randomly started with The F-Word, and I found this there:

I watched this four times to get these details. I did this for you. Honestly, you don’t need to watch it even once.

The scene is the “epic battle” of the sexes. Men and women are ranged against each other like humans and orcs outside the gates of Mordor. As Jess McCabe at The F-Word notes, men launch the attack by kicking balls across the no-persons-land. The women respond by throwing handbags, which the men divert with some sort of shields that might be laptop computers. The men then retaliate with radio-controlled cars, and the women’s response is a horde of yappy little dogs. Then the magic of the Daily Mail‘s divided Sunday magazine section (one for men and one for women) makes temporary peace. (For those not familiar, the Daily Mail is a United Kingdom newspaper known for its superficial and popularized reporting, mostly of what’s happening in the lives of movie stars.

Jess does a fine job of tearing this to shreds (not that it’s difficult). “So, no surprises if both magazines are full of the most banal tripe imaginable. Let’s see: fashion for the girls, sport for the boys?” Score another point for hypersimplification.

What she doesn’t mention, however, is some of the subtler signals. Almost all of the women we see are wearing dresses, or skirts and blouses. Most show a lot of shoulder and upper chest skin. The ones who are wearing more are wearing high-fashion outfits: stoles and matching hats (to match their tiny dogs). One fixes her lipstick before she catapults her pocketbook across the field. Every single woman is thin (not just average-sized or normal, thin). The men, on the other hand, are in very ordinary short-sleeved shirts. The man we see longest in close-up is fairly nerdy-looking, with mussed hair and a not especially neat beard.

Perhaps more important, though the men launch the first attack, the one-minute video is stuffed with close-ups of really angry women. Mostly, we don’t see men’s faces at all (the men are most often bent over, shielding themselves from an attack or preparing the next one). When we do see men’s expressions, they look … confused. Out of place.

So in this stereotyped war, rage belongs to women. Men, even if they cast the first volleyball, are the victims. And the solution is separatism. (Okay, a happy couple reading separate magazines and leaning against each other isn’t very successful separatism. Nonetheless, the point is still there.)

Oh, and the final note of the commercial? The war begins again at dawn on Monday.

So, gentlemen, get out your volleyballs and your radio cars. Don’t dress for the occasion. We’re standing over here in our sexy outfits, purses in hand and chihuahuas at the ready. Are you scared? The Daily Mail certainly wants you to be.

gender, feminism, advertising, media, gender stereotypes, fat, body image, size acceptance, social networking, Body Impolitic

2 thoughts on “Advertising the Battle of the Sexes

  1. The use of yappy little dogs in wartime is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Blair and Bush have a lot to answer for about the growing acceptability of barbarism.

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