Marketing to Women: Who Is the ‘Male Gaze’ For?

Debbie says:

ETA: Sociological Images apparently posted the piece this blog is about early by accident. It will be on their blog again tomorrow and I’ll link to it then.

I wanted to write about a post on Sociological Images called “The Male Gaze in Female Sterilization Marketing,” but that post has been removed. I’ve written to them to ask why; I’m curious about what they’ll say. The primary image they were talking about seems to have also been removed from the product marketing site they were talking about, but you can still see a small image of it here.

The product is Essure, a relatively new (and interesting sounding) form of female sterilization, using thin plastic inserts to block the Fallopian tubes without either surgery or hormones. The disappearing ad showed a young white woman sitting on the grass with a young white man’s head in her lap. The caption is the company’s slogan: “When Your Family Is Complete, Choose Essure.” There are no children in the picture.

As well as I can remember it, the post focused on the way Essure is targeting female sterilization as something men want. But what I’ve been thinking of is how, both frequently and stereotypically, advertising aimed at women is about making men happy. I would say that the message in the Essure ad is not so much, “Hey, fella, wouldn’t you be happier if your wife had this done and you didn’t have to worry about having kids? Wouldn’t you rather do this than have them cut on your dick?” as “Hey, lady, don’t you want him to be all relaxed and loving around you? Don’t you want the time and energy to take care of him? Don’t you want to spare him the stress of having his dick cut on?”

If the culture implants a hierarchical belief deeply enough in people’s psyches, as the patriarchal beliefs have been implanted in all of ours–and taken root in so many–then a given advertiser (without even thinking about what they’re doing) can leverage that belief in its target audience without targeting the dominant group.

Audre Lorde is famously quoted (though I can’t find a reference on the We) as saying “it’s easier to raise girls than boys, because it’s easier to raise children to fight oppression than to resist privilege.” Whoever said this, it’s probably true and only half the story: it’s damned hard to raise children to fight oppression, because of the relentless message that happiness comes from accepting your role.

As long as young women dream wistfully of having the opportunity to sit on the grass and massaging their husbands’ temples, it won’t really matter whether advertisements showing that dream are “aimed” at women or at men, or even whether anyone in the system that created the ad knows that “men” and “women” is a false binary. The advertisements play on almost everyone’s ingrained sensibilities, and they work across the board.

2 thoughts on “Marketing to Women: Who Is the ‘Male Gaze’ For?

  1. Hi Debbie! It’s Lisa from SocImages. I saw your post and wanted to let you know that we just accidentally posted that when we meant to schedule it for later. So it’ll be out for real tomorrow. Sorry for the mix up! :)

  2. The print image includes two children playing in the background.

    The post also links to a video ad that shows how men afraid of a vasectomy.

    I’d say that the print ad suggests both partners can relax knowing their birth control has been taken care of; the video definitely plays to men’s fears.

    Essure has been around for a while. Through a couple of childfree groups on LiveJournal, I know a number of women who’ve gotten it and are delighted with it.

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