Femvertising: two steps forward, one step back

Last weekend I was watching the finals of the Women’s Euro 2017, with The Netherlands (the home team) playing against Denmark. Besides mentioning the victorious Dutch ladies winning the championship, worth acknowledging is that they broke another record – there has been an unprecedented record of spectators, TV viewers, and online users in following the tournament.

I would imagine that, considering such ‘record number’ of TV viewers, the advertisements aired during the commercial breaks would only be of high quality with interesting narratives, aiming to make a good impression on their audiences. Indeed, I particularly liked the UEFA TV ad for its #WePlayStronger campaign, which promoted women’s and girls’ participation in football. It sent a positive and energizing message, accompanied with very upbeat music. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice how the #WePlayStronger ad was followed up a commercial of a dating site, which featured a women in lingerie frolicking sensually between sheets. There is nothing wrong with dating site commercials per se, but I must admit that I found the pairing of these two commercials quite ironic. I don’t think this was necessarily a coincidence, because these two commercials aired together on multiple commercial breaks. For me, it was ironic because we first see an advertisement portraying women and girls as strong, empowered, and taking charge, and immediately after we see a women depicted through “the male gaze” – sexualized and objectified. As a female, I may be a bit sensitive to the juxtaposition in the portrayal of women by these two TV commercials, and I wonder if other viewers noticed this or experienced the same way as I did.

In recent years, there has been growing discussion around the topic of gender representation in the media. While I think there has been great strides made in improving the representation of women in “femvertising”, I think it is nonetheless good to stay on our toes and keep this discussion, and importantly, progress going… especially when research shows that a majority of women still do not feel represented or depicted accurately by advertisements.

– Tracy Cheung

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