We hear it all the time: sex sells. And it’s true. As the art critic John Berger has suggested, advertisements are effective when they sell a fantasy: buy this product, and you will be envied by all. Women in both art and advertising are often posed for the male gaze; in other words, even if there’s a man in an ad photo, the woman is shown facing the consumer, promising to be just as attainable as the product she sells. Her body is symbolically up-for-grabs to anyone who can afford the wristwatch or cologne she markets.
Of course advertisements that use female sexuality to sell goods are damaging to the way we view women, and in the last few decades, people have started catching on. Where it was once the norm, a suggestive ad is now more likely to be seen as an offensive faux pas, right? Well, a new study startlingly suggests that women are more likely to be turned off of a sexually charged ad if it markets a “cheap” product. Over the course of two experiments, the University of Minnesota’s Kathleen Vohs found that women were less offended by explicit ads if they sold an expensive product. The men participating in the study didn’t change their opinions on the ads based on price point.
So what does this mean? Vohs and her team suggest that female attitudes towards sex trigger the women’s responses; in their eyes, women want to see sex as valuable and precious. To the scientists, we want to see our sex as a luxury item, not something at the bottom of a bargain bin. But doesn’t that just sound like a stereotypical generalization?
New York Magazine’s Kat Stoeffel sharply notes that this conclusion assumes that women are hardwired to value sex more than men. Stoeffel sees the results of the experiments as an indication of nurture overcoming nature, pointing to the way women are unjustly trained to view sex as a commodity. She writes, “until very recently, [women's] sex was a good (period), not to mention their only social value.” The results of this study are discouraging because they point to the damaging ideas about money and sex that women are asked to internalize. This study isn’t really about female desire versus male desire; it’s about sexism and the way modern society views women’s sexual power. What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks to New York Magazine and Pacific Standard Magazine
Image via New York Magazine and The Beer Sessions
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