Gender-Bending Ads

imagesWhat if you lived in a world where gender-as-we-know-it were switched?

As you drive to work you see billboards with scantily clad men drawing your attention to products that they gracefully caress. Other men bend over in ways that make you want sex with them. In some ads women lord it over submissive men.

You arrive at your ad agency, and as Creative Director you take a look at new ideas your copywriters have brought:

Nip_Tuck_ Season 31) A dead man lies in an open trunk with his legs hanging over the trunk’s edge to show off some Jimmy Choo shoes. A woman stands nearby holding a murder weapon.

2) The silhouette of a man with a beer body and a foam head appears. Copy reads, “You never forget your first guy.”

3) Two women surgeons sit near a male patient who is sprawled over an operating table, dressed in just a thong. A scalpel “knife’s” his body in an ad for a TV show called “Nip Tuck.”

4) A man didn’t make coffee right so his wife spanks him.

In this world women are the dominant sex consumers who expect men to “turn them on,” passively open to them, and submit to them — sexually and otherwise. And if they don’t behave, the men will be punished.

Here’s a video on how such a world would look:

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 6, 2013, in feminism, gender, men, objectification, psychology, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. It is interesting to note how our society would be like if females were dominant and males were submissive in a sexual standpoint. By imagining gender-bending ads, we are able to see how there is a significant difference between gender. For instance, the example of two women surgeons sitting near a male patient that is “sprawled over an operating table, dressed in just a thong” would be nothing but laughable in our society. This is because women are expected to uphold this sexy image whereas men do not have those standards to begin with. Of course the main surgeons of the show Nip Tuck are attractive men by society’s standards, but they do not have to pose in a way to show that they are attractive. The male characters are simply sitting behind a naked woman in a neutral pose. They are not required to be in a flashy or curvy position like the woman on the table. They are dominant men that are talented surgeons in well-tailored suits. The woman, however, is laid out on her back with her eyes shut and arm flailed over her head. She expresses weakness and vulnerability, the complete opposite of the men to the side of her.

  2. I really enjoyed this post and I thought that it was very insightful. I don’t think a lot of people are actually aware of the sexism and the horrible ways women are portrayed in the media and in advertisement because that’s all they have ever known. To see the roles switched and men in the same poses and outfits as women are, it looks ridiculous. I would think that the majority of society would agree. But then how come it isn’t ridiculous to portray women the same way? It’s quite disgusting and disturbing. I think people get uncomfortable when men look weak or vulnerable or in such a position. It’s interesting how sexual poses or object, it’s not usually just that, but to take in the viewer on sensuality the person has to be inviting and somewhat vulnerable or in such position. I think this was a great post! I’ll admit, it was strange seeing men posed the way that the women were. Some of the ads with the women shocked me as well. Hopefully this will open some more eyes!

  3. This video and the accompanying article bring about a very interesting question for me – why? What do fashion companies like Dolce and Gabbana, Valentino, and Burberry have to gain from hypersexualizing women in the way that they do? Often times the very things that they are selling – clothing, perfumes, shoes – are targeted towards women. Of course, they also target men to sell the same products, but what I don’t understand is why these companies think that a successful way to market towards women, to entice women to purchase their product, is by objectifying and hypersexualizing their own target audience, or visibly placing them under the control of a man (or men). Stripping them of power and respect seems to have little to no correlation with a new scent or a designer sweater. On top of this, there is often no correlation between the content in the advertisement and the actual product. This leads me to a possible conclusion that the media is, in fact, trying to actively shape how we think and view each other – especially women. It seems difficult to believe that both men and women in the industry are responsible for these ads, but that is the truth. However, the content of these ads are the result of the patriarchy. There is a long history of women being undermined, undervalued, and underpaid, but it is frustrating to see that the industry that controls how we view each other and the world is still actively trying to perpetuate this unnecessary and sexist perspective. Switching up the gender roles in the video above just goes to show exactly how ridiculous the ads often are, and how rather than pushing forward information about their product, they seem overly focused on pushing forward their own sexist agenda.

    • Historically the people who ran advertising firms were men. When they would say “Make that ad sexy to attract attention” they would think about women, not men. And then all of us internalize the idea that women are the sexy ones. So even when women get into positions of power they are also oftentimes more likely to Think about sexing something up with Women instead of men to draw attention.

      It creates problems for all of us, Whether women are the objects or men are. The people who are objectified start feeling bad about themselves. And they can often get distracted from sex. And that’s not so good for their partners either.

  4. This posting reminded me of the film Miss Representation, specifically its exploration of advertising’s portrayal of women. The film opened my eyes to be better aware of the media I was consuming and how it used women to sell a product. I appreciated the video in this blog post for not only demonstrating how women are shown but also drawing the contrast by placing men in the same depictions. Through a humorous means, the ads seem almost silly and juvenile when men are in the same roles that women typically would be. We are so used to seeing women in sexualized or violent ads that it doesn’t yield the same response as seeing a man in the same exact depiction. The gender bending ads also help to raise the question of who the target audience is and how it would change if the roles were reversed. Maybe women are more comfortable buying the product if another women is sexualized vs. men buying the product if another man is sexualized. If not, will the advertising industry catch on?

  5. Catherine Flores

    It is great that there is a video attached showing the examples from the opposite stance. The video certainly helps put it all into perspective. To me, it feels as if will take a significant amount of time before women stop being overly sexualized and portrayed as objects rather than actual human beings. I still feel that even if it was the other way around, everyone who is against the sexualization of women, would also be against the sexualization and portrayal of men in such ads.

  6. I like reading magazines, but the ads always make me sick! For example, men always relax on sofa enjoying wine but women always busy cooking at the kitchen preparing meals for the family. More and more women entered the workforce and both of them contributed to the family. However, most ads try to promote a ‘harmony family environment’ by making men in a dominant and powerful position but women in a passive and secondary position. I like the idea of switching the gender in the ads so that women who want to enjoy similar respect, will not be blamed by the society as being misbehaved. That video made by students is fun! I don’t realize that so many ads can switch gender and I really feel “weird” after the switch of genders. Maybe I was affected by the ads too seriously that I already internalized in many of the concepts. Hope more and more such fun videos are made to raise public’s awareness☺

  7. I see the examples you wrote if in reverse. I think people get uncomfortable when men look weak or vulnerable or in such a position. It’s interesting how sexual poses or object, it’s not usually just that, but to take in the viewer on sensuality the person has to be inviting and somewhat vulnerable or in such position. We don’t think that because women are sexualized and used to it and we are used to seeing or expecting women in somewhat of a vulnerable position with a seductive pose. Often a seductive pose has a submissiveness to it. I don’t know if it’s because women are the nurturers and caretakers and beautiful as well as smaller” that it doesn’t shake you up or make you uncomforatble. After all , men are the breadwinners, macho, are supposed to be tough and strong. If men are acting like delicate little flowers posing like a woman, then isn’t it making him useless to society? What’s the point of sexual or gender dysmorphism as far as the physical differences and use of such differences? I’m not saying that but society is saying that. It’s like how you have a big burly man and his petite wife. But he’s washing the dishes while she’s cutting down trees with an axe outside and cutting the wood to be firewood and collecting it and putting the cord or so of wood away with such labourous heavy lifting and work that power is very useful or more can be done or quicker with brute force.

    Sure and obviously women can do work just like men, but society is going to look at that man as a wimp for doing the dishes while his wife is doing the “man work” outside. And not looking like a good husband or looking lazy. Why is the sex with the size and muscles (man) not doing the work that he probably would handle better and be easier on his body or more efficently done and have her do it? It’s not just actually doing something but the perception and image projecting that strength. A man posing vulneralbe or “like a woman” conjures up the image of that man being the guy that I gave an example of doing the dishes while wife cutting wood outside. Like people find it unsettling for a man to not project “his many use” and showing usefullness which being usefull as a man is utilizing his bigger body and his difference between a woman. I think society sees a man being useless if he’s not using his maculine size to uphold his duties as a man. If he isn’t than what’s his use, because women can do every other thing. People place people’s use to society and that can do to gender roles to. If you aren’t showing it, then it makes it looking like said person is lazy or useless. It’s interesting since women are seen as the nurturers or something they have on men. That I think it’s unsettling for people for women who don’t want kids because probably the fact of women are the child bearers and seen as nurturers. Doesn’t mean it’s right, but I don’t think women want women to be like men right so they like men to do their man duties and having use in that right? fixing things, home repair, heavy lifting/work, chopping lumber, etc.

    • When people grow up seen the world in a certain way the patterns unconsciously get embedded in our brains leaving us thinking about the world as it is is natural and normal. When we see our reactions to these gender-flips it helps us to see what we have internalized, and consider how it might be limiting us. So it’s food for thought. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • You’re welcome. I know culture plays a big part, but do you think this “expectation” placed on men is also based on sexual dysmorphism too between men and women? We see someone bigger, we want them to act and be the part? We want the bigger person doing the heavy lifting and grunt work more so to prove and show their worth? It’s like how people who see a black guy who’s tall and toned and looks athletic, and therefore expect him to be good at basketball. Expectations sometimes being based on the look and physical make up of a person and how we perceive them and want them to be?

      • Women and men have different “physical superiorities” you might say. Mother nature made it so women are more likely to survive. They have more fat stores, which helps them in famines and helps them with endurance. Might help them in cold weather too. They are smaller so they need fewer calories to survive — again, helping them to survive a famine. Since men are bigger and stronger they typically make better warriors and hunters. And warriors and hunters are more likely to get killed. And early peoples who were worried about losing population might have preferred to lose men over women. I know you don’t like the idea that man are more expendable but when it comes purely to reproducing the species it’s true. Of course neither women nor men should be thought of as just baby machines but in early cultures when the population is small that will be more of a concern.

        The other hand there’s no reason why women can’t take leadership leadership in terms of asking a man out, or why men can’t act sexy. Then our discomfort is because it goes against what we are used to.

  8. If gender roles where to be switched, society would not give off the same reaction. Society sees women as objects and that is how companies sell their products. There is a lot more ads that use women in a way to sexualize their ad. For example, clothing ads have the women models in very little clothing while the male may be fully clothed or the way the women is placed makes the women seem powerless. If men were in ads like women are society would see that as normal and appealing. They would not care as much that men are being sexualized because it is pleasing to see. Many may not see this as an issue today but it is and it is happening everyday and society is letting it happen. This is teaching girls and women that it is all about have a good figure and that it is okay to be oversexulized in the media. This can also connect to the way some believe that the women belongs in the kitchen and that the man is the man of the house. If the roles where switched it would not be seen as normal, society seems to have a fixed mind set, it is like they have been brainwashed into believing that it is perfectly okay to oversexualize women and treat them as objects.

  9. I’m aghast at the media representations of women. I’m away from it so it’s pretty shocking all at once. The gender-bent ones made me smile.

  10. Rohan 7 Things

    Haha I love it 🙂 I think if advertisers are going to objectify they should at least be fair about it. And I don’t mean by having super muscly guys all the time either. I like seeing normal people posing like models, it’s good for my psychology 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!


  11. Disturbing how unequal the advertising space is. I remember seeing a video in the 80s about how music videos objectified women. Not much has changed in 30 years. One could argue that it has gotten worse with the depictions of violence against women.
    I think if these students really wanted to reverse the gender roles, they should show the men getting violated which would be interesting because only men can violate other men. A woman “raping” a man is almost impossible due to gender roles of sexuality.
    I would argue that rather than reverse these gender roles we advocate a push for empathy and compassion in advertising. Maybe something like a return of the Benetton ads of the 80s.

    • Yes. I think that these images that the college students put out are not to advocate for turning the tables but to help people to see something that is otherwise invisible. You can’t deal with something if you can’t see it.

      • True, Georgia, but I think that we are in desperate times in terms of gender relations, violence against women, and rape culture. In my opinion, we need to shift some scales. Maybe that was my point with the video from the 80’s. Intelligent women, academics, students, and feminists have been pointing this inequality out for decades, but we still have Saratoga, Steubenville, the bus rape in India, Savita Halappanavar in Ireland, etc. What else can we do to shift the scales?

      • Wasn’t it Pogo who said: We have met the enemy and it is us.

        I’m not interested in imitating something that I find horrendous. I suspect that we are still in some backlash territory so that it could take a while to become more humane. Keep with positive messages and educating people and I believe that we will move forward. We have already moved forward a great deal in terms of sexism, racism, homophobia…

    • “I think if these students really wanted to reverse the gender roles, they should show the men getting violated which would be interesting because only men can violate other men. A woman “raping” a man is almost impossible due to gender roles of sexuality.”

      If I have read your comment wrong then I apologize but it sounds like your suggesting it’s nearly impossible for women to rape men. In 2010 in the previous year the CDC NISVS 2010 study found 1.1% of men and 1.1% of women were raped, 40% of the rapists were female, 79.2% of the rapists of men WERE FEMALE. Women can rape men, and DO rape men in huge amounts. Envelopment, a woman forcing a man to penetrate her through threat of violence, coercion, use of drugs, or abusing then whilst unconscious.

      • “Envelopment, a woman forcing a man to penetrate her through threat of violence, coercion, use of drugs, or abusing then whilst unconscious.”
        Meant to add that envelopment is the most common form of rape a male faces.

  12. Myles Blackwell

    I had a great time watching the video. I absolutely agree with this and it has bothered me for quite some time. Everything being so overblown all the time everywhere I look really irritates me. I think the students that put this together did a wonderful job. That being said, when I go to the mall, I see plenty of ads with guys with perfect muscles lounging in banana hammocks around every corner, advertising sunglasses, fragrance or underwear. I guess it is the fact that there is no abuse or any kind of dominance portrayed. I can see the influence of media on my younger siblings and its unfortunately apparent that they buy right into these unrealistic perception of the world, being so young and that pisses me off a bit.

  13. As someone who has worked professionally as a model in the fetish industry, I often find it odd how similar many mainstream advertisements are to what you would find on a subscription site. Many of the campaigns in the clip above are so close to much of the work I have done (which is considered adult material), and yet the photos are readily available for any small child walking by. What is worse is that the average person is often unaware of the psychological effect such extreme sexuality can have on a persons stimulation appetite. The more frequently a person is bombarded with sexualized images of pain and harm, the more fetishized the idea becomes, to a point where an entire side industry could be created. This images are so inspirational that often fetish shoots will be requested to elaborate on an image which was supposed to be selling something as mundane as a new toothbrush. Why is sex needed to sell a toothbrush? To get back to the original point, however, it is only when the gender is switched (in this clip) that the audience has this aha! moment. It was ‘art’ or ‘hot’ or ‘edgy’ when a women is sexually abused to sell some expensive clothing, but when it is a man, the concept is ridiculous? It is not enough to ask that men be fetishized the way women are, because that would be pointless. Simply we need to keep our pornography and our advertisements two different industries.

  14. It was such a interesting ads! The one which the woman became the mat with her head on and was stepped by man made me umcomfortable at first, but when the ad switch to opposite one, I automatically laughed out somehow. Also for rest of ads which are men sexually portrayed were very interesting to see. Even though they seem weird, switched “stereotype” brought me to feel a new trend.

  15. Does that mean we’ll be gender flipping movies and I get to watch 1000’s of women die in horrible n gorey ways in the latest action movies so they too can become disposable bodies?

    Bumbling fool women treated as if they are a danger to kids and only father knows best?

    • Bumbling fool women treated as if they are a danger to kids and only father knows best?

      We already did something remarkably similar to that in the 50s: “father knows best” and I love Lucy. Lucy wasn’t a bumbling fool with her son but she was with trying to work outside the home, like get into her husband’s night club act, or work at a candy factory.

      I don’t care to see thousands of men die either. Men and women often face different types of negative portrayals. So thousands of men will in war. And hundreds (or thousands) of women will die in sexualized ways at the hands of men.

      • So it went bumbling female to bumbling male? Was it common amongst other tv shows n the 50 that father knew best or just that one? The ideal would be to either do away with the bumbling fool, or mix it up so often that there’s no stereotype.

      • Leave it to Beaver was similar.

        And I agree.

  16. I really enjoyed this post and I thought that it was very insightful. I don’t think a lot of people are actually aware of the sexism and the horrible ways women are portrayed in the media and in advertisement because that’s all they have ever known. To see the roles switched and men in the same poses and outfits as women are, it looks ridiculous. I would think that the majority of society would agree. But then how come it isn’t ridiculous to portray women the same way? It’s quite disgusting. Half of the advertisements I saw in the video I didn’t even know what they were trying to sell. All I was able to see was a naked women and this is why some men treat women as if they are objects or products; because society has told them for years that that’s exactly what they are. Women are viewed as sex objects, not taken as seriously, beaten, and raped all due to the images society sends to males. Young girls and boys grow up seeing these images multiple times every day and that effects both of views on how women are supposed to look and act. I hope that one day advertisers will become more aware of the effect their advertisements have on women and can change the way they portray women in their ads. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening anytime soon because “sex sells”.

  17. Elizabeth Wright

    Over a year ago a friend showed me this post that had photos taken of men posing as pin up models. You look at the photos and think it’s really funny because the men look ridiculous.

    What’s interesting is that women doing crazy over-sexed poses doesn’t seem to cause the same reaction. I believe that is because we are so used to seeing those images in our day to day life. I’ve come to the point that I enjoy trying to guess what product commercials are selling because often, everything leading up to the reveal of the product has nothing to do with it. What does a half naked woman have to do with selling shoes? What does domestic abuse have to do with selling coffee? According to advertisers, it’s not a matter of simply selling merchandise, it is a matter of selling sex. In fashion magazines, advertisements have impossible to reach beauty in order to make the readers feel bad so that they will buy products to help them become prettier. The ads are saying, “If you don’t look like this then there is something wrong with you and you need to buy our acne cream” or diet pills, or whatever.

    Men should not be used the same way that women are used in advertisements. However, it is satire photos like the ones I linked as well as the ones in the blog that can help bring people perspective. If men look ridiculous doing the same exact things that women are expected to do in ads, then maybe it is time to change the way advertisers/corporations/the media portray women.

  18. But they didn’t use the same attractive men in the beginning of the video as they did in the second half. If they are going to make a “turn the tables around” type of video, they might as well use the same attractive men or sexier. If they were to use fat ugly women in all the ads,…it would look ridiculous. So I would say its not the best comparison.

  19. This really made me skip a beat when I saw it on (twitter, FB?) Something. Your commentary makes it so much better. Disturbing stuff–and WHY don’t we see it as disturbing when it is the women portrayed that way?

  20. Some other examples…

    Women are portrayed in movies as having to commit murder (and most likely be killed or injured themselves) in wars between governments. Any woman aged 18 not keen on stepping out of a troop carrier into machine gun fire, or going ‘over the top’ into machine gun fire or having to fly bombing raids in heavy flak is depicted as a coward and a traitor (and unattractive to the opposite sex).

    The message is that accepting (and even embracing) the role of a paid terrorist or assassin is what defines your womanhood, and is the only way to prove your worth to men, to your family, to your community and to society. Even your husband who supposedly loves you dearly will never try to talk you out of putting on a costume, flying to some second world nation thousands of miles away and risking your life blowing the arms and legs of children there in order to boost the profits of military industrial corporations and spread the empire of a criminal government. In fact everyone will call you a ‘heroine’ for doing this…. that is until you’re no longer fit to perform this task at which point NOBODY will want to know about your physical injuries and mental scars, the horrific things you had to witness and endure.

    And when you’re still having nightmares every night even 60 years later, about the horrific experiences you endured when you were 20 nobody will care. Absolutely nobody.

    All sitcoms and movies about domestic suburban living depict women as either abusers, layabouts or ‘grown up children’. The basic message is that women have no real role inside the family home. They just ‘get in the way’. Men will get together in coffee shops and if one of the men is having marital problems the other men will suggest a quick divorce, kicking the wife out of the marital home, keeping custody of the kids and ‘taking the wife to the cleaners for every cent she’s got’ … all while laughing………. Well, she deserves it.

    Women are depicted as robotic, hierarchy/ status obsessed, materialistic, shallow, idiotic people in adverts, with no deep feelings or needs. Women only care about work, extreme sports, fast cars and gadgets. Women don’t need supportive, empathetic friends….. women don’t need to discuss and work though their feelings with anyone.. women don’t HAVE feelings…. women are just happy to just work all day and then watch sports or play with gadgets in their spare time.

    And when, after years of living in an emotional vacuum, these women develop deep psychological problems (depression, anxiety, anger, stress, withdrawal, violence etc) nobody offers any sympathy or support to them. Instead they are quickly divorced and kicked out the house and ostracised by society. ….. well, they deserved it.

    I’m glad the video showed the male perspective too. I am not one for pitting men and women against each other in a war of “who’s oppressed the most”…. although my comment might appear that way.

    In the final analysis, men and women are BOTH subjected to a barrage of psychological warfare in modern society. Pointing it out and understanding how it works is the first step, but in the end it’s up to us to just stop buying these magazines, stop watching TV, stop going to see the latest Hollywood movie….. and start defining ourselves on our own terms for a change 🙂

  21. Great post! I’ll admit, it was strange seeing men posed the way that the women were. Some of the ads with the women shocked me as well. Hopefully this will open some more eyes!

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