eleftheria parpis’ postscript: Show and Tell

I am a 27-year-old woman and nothing gets my bra in a twist more than ads that try to appeal to me based on my estrogen level.
I empathize with the bloating my TV sisters feel in those feminine hygiene ads; I don’t appreciate the formulaic and the contrived. And nothing feels more contrived than women talking about the newfound freshness their feminine deodorant spray brings.
Moreover, personal and household products were noticeably absent from the ads critiqued at the Advertising Women of New York’s first The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Awards. The ads represented a sampling of the best and worst female images in advertising today. Overall, the show earned a half-hearted Rosie the Riveter thumbs-up, the show’s spiritual host.
In the Good category were ads from Nike, Reebok, Avon and Keds, among others. The best ads feature self-assured women. And few do so by taking an easy stab at men.
Consider: The women of Mountain Dew outdo the Dew boys in their action-sports bravado to a snarling rendition of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” Olympic athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee emphasizes her athleticism and femininity in a black-and-white campaign from N.W. Ayer & Partners for Avon. It earned the Grand Good, the club’s highest honor.
The Grand Ugly went to a spot for Rally’s Hamburgers, from former shop McCabe & Co., which tried to sell fast food with a penis joke. Other Bad ads also relied on tasteless bedroom humor.
But what I find suspect is the estrogen brigade deciding to cheer women on–and then seeing misogyny in innocuous places. A Candie’s ad showing Jenny McCarthy on the toilet is more about her own brand of humor than the industry’s insensitivity to women. Similarly, criticism of Wonderbra should be directed to the product’s designers and the women who flood stores to buy the breast booster–not the ads.
So where is the Dewar’s ad that tells women, when presented with politics as a cocktail topic, to smile and slyly switch the talk to movies? And how about the Izod ad in which a strip-poker game leaves a big-breasted beauty, strategically placed behind a fish tank, wearing nothing but spiked heels and a smile? Copywriters: Get a life!
One of the ads anointed Good, a Guinness ad out of Ogilvy & Mather, London, is extremely disturbing. Shot in a 1940s style, the ad depicts a world without men. The musical score–“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair”–is telling. Women in stereotypical blue-collar male jobs drink beer, play pool and arm wrestle.
While it may be refreshing to see a male-oriented product category focus on women, the spot climaxes with a shot of an empty maternity ward–a frightful, anti-female message. The barren ward is juxtaposed with a super of the ’70s mantra, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” the tagline, “Not everything in black and white makes sense” and the image of a fish riding a bike.
Is the ad saying women do need men after all? Is it saying women can fill male roles, but men can’t give birth? Or is it saying that women should not ignore their true role–procreation? Misogyny, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Nora P. McAniff, the association’s president, told The New York Times that AWNY “should take a leadership role because we consider ourselves a catalyst in the advertising community.”
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, gallant in its attempt, is timid in its debut analysis of the advertising industry’s portrayal of women. If AWNY really wants to flex its muscle, it should knock its opponents out.

Debra Goldman is on vacation.