A Critiques on the Subtleties of Sexism

When I begin a college class in philosophy, I tell my students that the course will change their lives. I inform them that, while we are going to study the thoughts of some old philosophers, it is equally important to be able to address issues in their lives from a philosophical position. Instead of parroting back what they heard others say, they will develop critical thinking skills during the semester. I conclude by telling them about their 12-page term paper, which will address and begin to resolve a philosophical issue that concerns them deeply.

Last semester, one of my students picked the advertising slogan for Dove cellulite-firming lotion, "Campaign for Real Beauty". The ad features non-anorexic models with silly smiles while coyly posing in their underwear. Dove seems strangely proud of their ad campaign; one sees these half dozen average women everywhere.

However, not all has gone as expected. The Chicago Sun Times columnist, Richard Roeper set off a brouhaha in his column with these less than politically correct comment: "When we're talking about women in their underwear on billboards outside my living room windows, give me the fantasy babes, please."

Roeper's column ignited a firestorm of controversy. Some journalistic flamethrowers shot back that Dove's choice of non-anorexic women freed the average American women to be happy with their size, weight, and looks. Others responded with napalm of negativism stating that none of these women were examples of the average American women in either size or weight. The truly observant commentators threw Molotov cocktails upon the inferno citing the hypocrisy of using women with little or no cellulite to advertise their cellulite-firming cream.

My student joined the chorus of complainers. Roeper's comments ticked her off. She wanted to shove some Dove soap into his journalistic mouth for his unabashed sexist comments. Roeper's wish for "fantasy babes" boiled her blood. She also was took out after Roper and the other Neanderthals who walk in his shadow because of his less than tactful comment, "I find those Dove ads a little unsettling. If I want to see plump gals baring too much skin, I'll go to the Taste of Chicago."

I paused from my grading her term paper and pondered this firestorm. I recall Andy Rooney, 60 Minutes' journalistic resurrection of Ebenezer Scrooge, got into a similar conflagration. Rooney got his bushy eyebrows singed over his comment about hot babes on the sidelines of NFL games; he was upset with their attempts at providing lucid and illuminating insights about plays, players, and other jock-talk. Rooney wants this sideline eye-candy gone from the game.

I too rebel at this sexist pandering, but I would extend the discussion to news anchors-especially those on the cable news channels. I can't name one female anchor that isn't made-up to look like a discreetly sexy fashion model with a 20-something perfect body and a probing and erudite mind. These news-babes drive me nuts. Are there any dullards out there that believe that they would have gotten their jobs without their pristine Miss America-esque look? This too is packaged corporate sexism.

After my Rooney-esque hiatus, I returned to the term paper. Dove's advertising campaign looks a little more self-serving than a true attempt to liberate the American women from bondage to perfectionism. However, this repentant corporate mindset seems deeply tinged with hypocrisy considering their uses of "average" American women are thinner than their average consumer. This commercial is hardly groundbreaking. Rather, it coyly repackages sexism in an attempt to lure American women into a more subtle trap-aspiring now for the pseudo-average American woman. I'd love to hear what Gloria Steinman thinks of this ad campaign.

Beyond the blatant pandering to the "needs" of women, Dove's ad reinforces the sexism and outdated notion that women are to be a 21st century version of Twiggy. Dove needs to get real instead of feigning liberation.

However, women need to get real also. You can't continue to buy products that reinforce sexism and decry sexism and victimization. Don't buy into Madison Avenue's self-righteous exploitation. It still is sexism only this time with the façade of liberation.

Finally, I finished reading my student's paper. I filled the last page of her paper with my rant on the corporate repackaging of sexual exploitation for profit. I told her that I applauded her outrage at sexism but always look a little deeper. If she does, it will change her life. Dove's ad campaign is merely sexism masquerading at liberation.