Guest article by Briony Rawle
It seems to me that the new thing in TV advertising is to celebrate the ‘normal bloke’. Take a normal (or even a pretty ugly-looking) bloke and make him a hero. Centre the entire advert around him and his normal, normal life, and have a huge party for his mediocrity. To pick a couple at random to illustrate my point, here are a recent Money Supermarket ad, and a Southern Comfort advert from a year or so ago. Can you imagine the same adverts, but with a woman?
Now, these adverts are not inherently sexist in and of themselves, and I’m not criticising the promotion of ‘normal-looking blokes’. It’s a good thing. Of course men are expected by the patriarchy (and by all the other bloody adverts) to live up to standards of beauty, so it’s always a step in the right direction when the media acknowledges that receding hairlines and wobbly bellies exist without simultaneously trying to sell you something to reverse these monstrous deformities.
What actually makes me boil about these adverts is the lack of any female equivalent. These adverts cast a very long shadow where normal-looking women on adverts should be. Handily, this blood-boiling inequity is beautifully satirised in Mitchell and Webb’s brilliant ‘Women: Sort Yourselves Out’ sketch.
Yes it’s true that when adverts stop shoving models in our faces for five minutes we do sometimes see normal-looking women, but the normalness is always just a little bit fraught. They’re never perfectly contented with their normalness, never central or celebrated, they’re never awesome.
Normal-looking women in adverts are always working at full pelt to make up for being normal; removing hair, applying makeup, stopping themselves from eating too much, running after children, coming to terms with their thighs, trying as hard as they can to justify having your attention despite their unforgiveable normalness.
When it’s a guy, he’s not worried about any of this. He’s just having a great time. Dave from the Money Supermarket ad is a model of normality, from his bald head to the very fact they’ve called him Dave, but he certainly doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. He’s got a giant lady’s booty (let’s not even get into booty-objectification here), and Sharon Osborne thinks he’s “so Money Supermarket”. Clearly winning at life.
The Southern Comfort guy, meanwhile, glistens with manly sweat as he struts his magnificent spare tyre down the beach. He gives no fucks, he left them in his beer cooler. Can you imagine a female equivalent? She sashays down the beach in her saggy Per Una swimming cossie and broken flip flops, tits swinging proudly by her hips, cellulite rippling like the sea and her leathery skin gloriously shrivelled under the Californian sun. She slips out of shot (because she doesn’t even need to be in the shot, she’s so cool), and reappears with a glass of whatever they’ve told her to hold. Whatever. Off she walks as the advert ends, pulling the swimming cossie out of her bum, totally calm, happy and proud. Ludicrous.
The idea of this could never even be considered, because the media need women to give fucks. Lots of fucks. They need us to give dolla-shaped fucks for all the mendacious crap that they tell us will make us happy. What we take from this inequity in advertising is that female role models are always striving to be better, and can never stop trying until they’re perfect, beautiful gazelles wearing expensive jewels.
Women never have a great time in adverts unless they’re beautiful. When you’re hot, then you can stop trying. Then you get to go to parties and live in the beautiful house with your handsome, rich husband. Until then, keep buying things, you’ve got serious work to do. This was a problem way before these average-man ads started happening, but the message is now strengthened by the sheer disparity.
But you know, while I’m fuming at the lack of a female equivalent to this happy-go-lucky, I-don’t-need-to-be-hot-to-matter male advertising trope, I’m glad it exists. History says that women generally end up getting what men have, but just a long while later. I have a faint hope that now we’ve made the leap to celebrating Average Joe, it’ll only be a couple of hundred years before we can start doing the same for Average Josephine. And I’ve got my saggy swimming costume all ready.
Here are a few more examples of this advertising trope that you might recognise:
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