I was riding the 6 train today when I noticed some moderately disturbing Johnnie Walker advertisements. The ads consisted mainly of pictures of different Johnnie Walker bottles along with a catchy message about how this holiday season you can “Say it without saying it” — give thanks to your loved ones or let them know you appreciate them without actually verbalizing it. The sense of humor in the ads however, consisted of deeply rooted sexist ideals and prejudices about men and women.
One of the ads read:
“We only shake hands. We call each other once a month. Max. I still think you’re adopted. And even though I would rather streak across a packed stadium than tell you this, you deserve it. You’re a great little brother. There, I said it.”
When I first read this I thought “Ok this ad is obviously aimed towards men” and didn’t think much else about it. I continued to read the message content in the other ads, and came across the most disturbing one of all:
“Thanks for showing me how to count cards. Thanks for being honest. Thanks for not telling anyone about the time you caught me watching women’s basketball.”
And that was when the sexism bell rung loudly in my head. The fact that all of the messages appeared to be aimed for men seems typical. Advertisements about alcoholic beverages are almost always geared towards men — men are always found holding a drink while standing next to either a hot sports car or a sexy girlfriend. To hint that watching women’s basketball is an embarrassing act, however, is very sexist! How could such a popular whiskey brand let this one slide? What is wrong with watching women’s basketball and why should a man feel ashamed if he enjoys it? I am aware that this was meant to be a joke, but the idea that women’s sports are less worthy than men’s ins’t something new to our society. Men’s sports get so much more publicity and attention then do women’s. High schools for example rarely have a girls’ baseball team, but they will have girls’ varsity softball, boys’ varsity baseball, or intramural coed softball. Why not coed baseball to say the least? I don’t think I even need to discuss professional baseball. And what about football? Have you ever tried playing coed football? I tried playing a casual game with “the guys” once. The men tackled each other left and right but the minute I had the ball everyone simply backed off. This worked to my team’s advantage until the guys realized that my bones wouldn’t break if they pushed me out of bounds carefully enough. The idea that men are physically stronger and more aggressive then women is understandable. Hinting that a woman’s sport is unworthy of being watched, however, is unacceptable.
I also found other not-so-obvious gender biases in the content of the ads. “Counting cards” and “streaking” are often associated with men. Even the punchline– “say it without saying it” reminds me of how men in our society are socialized not to express themselves. It is as though the red label bottle is a little devil in disguise, whispering “now you don’t HAVE to say it, you can just give me as a gift and I will do away with that awkward holiday moment where your friends and family expect you to actually tell them that you care.”
The ads weren’t offensive per se, but they do show gender biased ideas that are deeply rooted in our society and can easily go unrecognized without a trained sociological eye. Have you seen the advertisements yourself? What did you think about them?