When I put out the call for topics, my friend Mike suggested “the female equivalent to the misogynistic Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. commercials.”

I love that he suggested this, because my heroes over at Beauty Redefined have this great hashtag, #CutTheCarls, to protest Carl’s Jr.’s representation of women in their commercials. If you’re not following Beauty Redefined on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, the RSS Feed, then you are missing out. One of my favorite days in the Pop Culture class I teach is introducing kids to their website.

But Mike didn’t want me to write about Beauty Redefined. He wanted me to write about the female equivalent of those Carls’ Jr. commercials. And it took me all of five seconds to recall the first time I remember seeing a man objectified in an ad:

I don’t remember what year it came out–I want to say I was at BYU, so early 90s–but I do remember my dad being upset at it. At the time, I lacked the vocabulary and ideology and world view to understand his problem with the ad, but now, it’s obvious to me.

The women in the ad are objectifying that man. And if I want Carl’s Jr. to stop objectifying women, then I need to be equally sensitive to how often men are objectified. It doesn’t matter that systemic patriarchy has been objectifying women for centuries; in this realm, turnabout is definitely not fair play.

I’ve become more aware of how I do this–I’ll say in passing how I watch The Voice whenever I can because Adam Levine is yummy, or that I’d watch Robert Downey, Jr. read a phone book because he’s so hot, or that ABC World News Tonight is worth watching solely because of David Muir’s chiseled face. If I make those statements, then I don’t think I have a moral leg to stand on to complain when a boy (or, sure, a man) talks about how Transformers was so awesome because Megan Fox is smokin’. 

Here’s an updated version of that diet Coke ad:

And right away, my cultural studies training kicks in. For some women, the trope of the worker-as-lover is quite titillating. In both diet Coke ads, the men are physical laborers. The women are presented as professionals (or at the very least, white collar assistants). The men are clearly valued for their bodies–bodies they have worked and shaped to fit an ideal that many men do not or cannot maintain. The women honestly aren’t presented much better–they aren’t necessarily filmed in an overtly sexual way as they would be in other ads (Axe, for example)–but they are still being governed by their bodies. Their primal attraction to the men clearly elicits sexual response, and “slumming” with a day laborer makes it “okay” because his body is his only worth–not only for the women, but also for how he makes his living via construction or landscaping. There’s no commitment because of the lack of income potential. For a long-term relationship, we expect those women to do “better.”

The arguments in the Carl’s Jr. article work similarly in these ads as well: they teach women that it’s okay to reduce men to sexual objects, they teach men that their value is primarily in their body and sexual desirability, and it makes it easier to mistreat anyone viewed primarily as an object. 

So dad, I get it now. I get why the first diet Coke ad bothered you so much. And I get why it drives you nuts when I talk about seeing a movie based on an actor’s hotness instead of his talent for acting. Because it drives me crazy when the value of women are reduced to their looks, so it follows that I need to stop doing the same to men. 

That said, if anyone wants to connect me with Adam Levine, Robert Downey, Jr. or David Muir, I will apologize to them personally. And I promise to be respectful and kind and not talk about how hot they are.

Leave a Reply