FeminismMedia Skepticism

Neutral Words in Gendered Advertising

There are a lot of products that specifically market to one gender demographic over the other. I’ve noticed over my years of exposure to television and advertising that certain words aren’t directly associated with one gender or the other, but are sometimes exclusively used in advertising geared at one or the other. Let’s look at how some of these words are gendered for the sake of making profits.

Heavy vs. Light

“Heavy” is used in ads for “heavy-duty” trucks. Typically featured are dirty, rugged men driving the vehicle through all manners of muck and filth. Fast food restaurants and gyms target men with the hefty weight of their burgers and weights, respectively. According to this standard, to be a man is to eat a lot, then head over to the gym to work it off.

Conversely, yogurts and diet foods cater to women by stressing how light and fluffy they are. Food ads that target women will also stress how light in calories the product is–because all women count calories, since the most important thing about being a woman is looking good.

Creamy vs. Chunky

This is another one which is commonly seen with food. Creamy is also used with yogurts and other dairy products that are sometimes marketed for women. It’s not always used in this way, of course. I’ve never seen creamy peanut butter specifically marketed at women because it’s creamy.

The word “chunky” is the focal point of one of Campbell’s ad campaigns. They use football players (big, strong, meaty men) to advertise this soup which is so chunky that you have to have a big manly mouth to eat it. Some of their early ads portrayed condensed soup as inadequate for a man’s meal. (Honestly, they’re inadequate for most adults.)

Hard vs. Soft/Silky

Men are portrayed in all different media as fit, with defined, hard muscles. Men’s work is hard, and all sorts of products are advertised as the easy solution to these difficult hard problems, such as killing weeds, towing things, building things, etc. Man stuff.

Lotions, shaving creams, dish soaps (because dishes = woman’s work), and others are marketed to women as moisturizing and skin-softening. Women should be silky-smooth and touchable. Baby soft, even. They should also be silkily clean shaven, as per the beauty standard.

Less vs. More

Overall, women are portrayed as smaller. They eat less, perform domestic chores, drive little cars, and most of all, they’re physically smaller than men.

Men are big, beefy, strong beings who take on the dirty, difficult tasks in life. They eat a ton and then max-out repeatedly at the gym. So sayeth the TV.
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Lux is a female genderqueer weirdo, writing from Kansas. They happily identify as a militant atheist(+), feminist and liberal. Their time is consumed with Doctor Who, reading, and playing WoW with a cat on their lap. If you're lucky, you might catch them smithing jewellery or cleaning something.

1 Comment

  1. May 5, 2012 at 9:20 pm —

    So much agreement on this one.

    One female-targeted ad that really makes my blood pressure rise every time I see it is that TV commercial for Yoplait Light that has two women in a coffee shop. One buys a coffee and a pastry and the other decides to get a low-calorie yogurt instead. The last shot in the commercial shows the second woman enjoying the heck out of her first triumphant bite of yogurt while giving the coffee-and-a-pastry woman a condescending smile. Because what kind of a woman goes to a coffee shop to drink coffee, right? Why would women consume ANYTHING ELSE when they have the option to eat MORE YOGURT?

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