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?

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About Amanda B.

I'm a senior at Hunter College, City University of New York, majoring in psychology and minoring in sociology. Topics that concern me the most include the overall well-being of children with developmental disabilities, issues concerning women and minority rights, and the misconceptions and discrepancies of the media and its influence in our society. Some quotes that motivate me: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter" -MLK "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function" - F. Scott Fitzgerald “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind." - Ghandi

7 responses

  1. sarahatt says:

    Wow, I never seen the ads yet on the 6 train but I will sure keep an eye out whenever I see one. I am sure they have catchy messages/ pictures to bring attention to the audience and make them try this Johnny Walker drink if they never drank whiskey before. But mostly advertisements, do have catchy images and make people wonder if they should purchase such an item and make them feel the same way as that ad.

  2. Jin Ai says:

    Yesterday this disgusted me so much I made a petition – I hope you’re disgusted enough to sign! It would be great if you could spread the word.

    http://www.change.org/petitions/johnnie-walker-apologize-for-and-remove-sexist-advertising

    best,
    J.

  3. tugbaaksu says:

    I have seen this advertisement before. If I recall correctly it was a simple display with a quote such as the two you mentioned and a picture of the whiskey. I too find this quite disturbing. it is very unfortunate that in advertising this product they are sexist. How would their female consumers feel about this? If I were a user of this product, i would switch to an alternative.

    • Yes you did recall correctly. The ads are very simple, just the image of the bottle and a quote. I didn’t think the ad was too offensive, but I was shocked that they would publish something sexist to begin with. I wonder how female basketball players feel about the topic.

  4. afloyd11 says:

    Although I have never seen the ads myself, they do seem somewhat sexist and or even promoting being uncaring. Living in a society that really pushes the norms on how people should interact with one another can be very polarizing. No longer do we write letters or send post cards but rather post comments or pictures up on popular social networks. The art of writing a letter or being able to verbally express your feelings towards someone is becoming a lost form of communication.
    As regarding the sexist undertones the ads may imply, i think that is very prevalent within marketing strategies companies rely on. The stratification these ads put off just keeps up with the imbalances and stereotypes our society has been based on unforunately.

  5. I have never seen the Johnnie Walker advertisements, but I wasn’t surprised that you find it sexist. Today what sells best is sex and this is a common practice used by media. Music videos, advertisements and move productions are full of erotics sens. It scares me a lot. I think that society being constantly exposed to sexist content by media losing its sensitivity. What I mean by that is that they take this type of comments and behaviors, as they see in the medias, as a norm.
    From my own experience I thin that residents of the big cities like NYC are more likely to fallow this sexist pasterns. I’m an immigrant and I leave in NYC 4 years and only hear I was exposed to sexist behavior: at work ( bosses, coworkers, clients) and on the street (comments, weaseling or simply this type of looks). I felt very uncomfortable at the beginning, like I’m exposed all the time. With time I get use to, but it shouldn’t be like this. We should fight with this behavior not to learn how to live with this and accept it.