Here’s another episode in advertising FAIL. What is wrong with this ad?
1. It objectifies a woman and positions her in sexual submissiveness to advertise men’s shoes, so clearly the gaze clearly is male. When sex is used to sell products, which it often is, the gaze is pretty much always male. Thus women in the ad who are objectified embody a “to be looked-at” ness in which their subjectivity and personhood is denied. They simply exist as sexual objects to satisfy (cis, het) male viewing pleasure.
2. Notice the racial undertones in this ad – the woman who is tied up is Asian. Two stereotypes are being perpetuated here: one is that women are submissive and available for the male gaze and enjoyment; the second is that Asian women are subdued and submissive. She is also wearing a kimono, something that is traditionally and obviously Asian, which speaks to the exoticization and eroticization of Asian women.
3. The woman has a sexy, come-hither kind of look on her face. However, what is sexy about this? She is clearly in a subordinate position (her movement in space is entirely confined seeing that she’s tied up and displayed), sexually available because she cannot resist. She is tied to a shoe, so she is literally attached to an object. Her passivity renders her personal and sexual subjectivity entirely absent. The conflation of female bodies with objects for consumption reinforce and perpetuate rape culture and violence against women by showing that women are readily available and accessible for male consumption. It makes female helplessness seem sexy.
Many people may argue that this ad is just a shoe ad and that all these criticisms are just reading way too into it. My response? This ad does not exist in isolation. It is important to situate it in our cultural context and see this as symptomatic and emblamatic of not only misogyny but racism. We are socioculturally conditioned to be blind to sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. So if you fail to see anything wrong with this ad, you are not examining it critically enough.