Sexism in Tech Ads | Feminist Law Professors.
Thanks to Feminist Law Professors for blogging about this and Jessie Daniels (@JessieNYC) for tweeting about it (and introducing me to a new blog too!). Be sure to check out the link on Feminist Law Professors to their list of other sexist tech ads.
What really strikes me in this particular ad is the tension between the construction of technological hypermasculinity and the disavowal of femininity. We’ve seen a similar masculine/technological vs. feminine/decorative binary played out in multiple arenas. One of my favorite examples is a parody done by a British sketch comedy show that features a computer for women that has a lipstick holder and tissue dispenser (I can’t find the link for the life of me. Please comment if you know the video to which I’m referring! Update: the skit was from the show Look Around You, Season 2, episode 5 and introduced the world to the “Petticoat 5,” the first computer for women).
The nature of this commercial, however, seems to be particularly violent. Here’s a short list of reactions to the imagery and tone. I apologize for the bullet format but my to-do list was overflowing even before I saw this video and felt compelled to comment upon it:
- The film burn at :05 sets the tone as suggesting that pretty things should be burned. I can’t help but notice that this includes a long-haired male and an Asian male.
- The hostility in the speaker’s voice as he sputters “tiara-wearing digitally clueless beauty pageant queen” implies that femininity and tech-savvy are mutually exclusive. The repeated use of these chained-together inventive compound adjectives also gives the voiceover an enraged and ranting quality that suggests anger against pretty things.
- I am additionally creeped out by the male hands pulling out a length of duct tape. The image is a reference to the voiceover describing the speed of the phone as “race-horse-duct-taped-to-a-scud-missile fast,” but the image of the tape recalls kidnapping and torture imagery while of course the missile is a weapon of destruction.
- And women are not the only ones under attack. Around :19, a masked hoodlum figure (note the baggy clothing and backwards baseball cap) is shown violently hurling objects at mannequins that are framed as effeminate males (note the difference in how the mannequins are dressed and the stances with hips cocked, etc). Either way, the “feminine” is under violent attack with one mannequin shown taking repeated hits to the face by what appear to be balloons filled with black liquid.
- As the hat is knocked off one of the mannequins I am reminded of the recent controversy surrounding Mitt Romney holding down a high school classmate and cutting off his hair. The black liquid also makes me think of fur protestors who throw paint on people wearing fur coats. But what is under protest here? Tight t-shirts and accessories? Arms on hips? Femininity, whether it be women or effeminate men. Women are merely dismissed in the video while effeminate men are assaulted.
- The white mannequins are immediately juxtaposed against images of porcelain lamb figurines being crushed in a vice, indicating a desire to further obliterate anything perceived as “delicate.”
- In the next shot at :21 the “pretty” phone explodes, but not into flames. It explodes into a spray of white fluid. The ultimate pornographic assertion of masculine power?
- “It’s not a princess, it’s a robot.” Why can’t it be both? Or neither? As this phrase is being uttered, an image of a women putting on lipstick is juxtaposed against a presumably male arm holding the phone (note the cuff of what appears to be the sleeve of a men’s dress shirt). The hand holding the phone then bursts through a brick wall as it speeds through a night-time cityscape, associating the manly phone with reckless speed and destruction.
- The phrase, “a phone that trades hair-do for can do” brings us full circle and reinforces the ridiculous dichotomy between femininity and technological/masculine power. Feminine phones are frivolous while masculine phones get things done.
Again it’s not the tired masculine-technological / feminine-luddite dichotomy that is unusual here. It’s not even the way the hyper-masculinity ties in to recent trends in “brogrammer” culture. What is unusual and disturbing here is the particularly violent nature of the technologically masculine disavowal of femininity that is framed as vacuous and delicate.