Man vs. Woman

In the world of advertising and mass media, perhaps no sales tactic is as rampant or as heavily abused as the usage of the female body and its associated connotations to move sales. Among the guilty suspects, the automobile industry ranks high as a serial offender. From print ads, TV spots to glamourized models during seasonal car shows, almost no other industry better substantiates Jean Kilbourne’s claim that in media, it is the woman who becomes the product beings sold.

However, the video I am linking here offers unconventional look at the way the “female body” is used in advertisements. (Warning: spoiler alert ahead). What appears to be a slender, attractive female model strutting towards what can only be the newest (and sexiest) model of the Toyota family, turns out, instead, to be a man at the end of the commercial. The tag line (I’m extrapolating from my knowledge of Chinese and its limited relationship to Japanese here) reads something along the lines of “dare to try a new direction.”

What’s interesting about this commercial is that it at once challenges and reaffirms the claims made by Berger and Kilbourne. While the initial appeal of the commercial lies in its portrayal of a semi-nude woman, the real driver of the message lies in the ambiguity that can exist between a man and a woman. It’s hard to say with certainty what the political message here is. Is it challenging the fact that only women can be the seller of sex and the object of advertisements, or is it only reaffirming that fact that unless you look like a “sexy” female, you are not likely to garner the attention of audiences for those precious few seconds?

Some people might argue that ads like this will only work in Japan, which has a reputation for absurdity in its media. However, you’ll note, that even there, the ad was banned. What does this tell us? What does the fact that even in a society as progressive and as quirky as Japan, people cannot swallow the fact that anything other than a female body can be the acceptable form of objectified goods?

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One Response to Man vs. Woman

  1. judithal007 says:

    I think this ad is extremely interesting. Even after having read your comment, I still deemed the figure a “woman” up until the last few seconds of the ad—where even then I was hesitant to switch my predetermined categorization of her. My attitude toward the video reveals the way in which this ad still reinforced the gender binary. While I agree with your claim, that there may have been an underlying message to challenge our gender perception, it nonetheless reinforced the gender binary. The trans person is still seen in gender normative women’s clothing and having long hair. Also alluding to the fact that outwardly the trans person must still conform to the binary system of society even if inwardly (as revealed in the last couple of seconds) the transition may not have been full and they may not physically fit the mold of a female.
    Likewise, I agree with the point you made that by doing this, it still oppresses women. Since the person is made to portray a woman, the “woman” is still objectified, revealing only parts of “her” body, not viewing “her” entire body. Like Kilbourne mentions, degrading women to only body parts, subjects them to be viewed as what is portrayed—only viewed for their chest, legs, etc.
    The idea that this advertisement reinforces gender binary systems also stems from the fact that we have become engrained to make sure everything fits into molds we have made. If they don’t fit the archetypes right away we “fix” the person to enter our mold, instead of expanding our mold.

    Jean Kilbourne, “Killing Us Softly 4″ (2010)

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