Advertisements on the New York City subway are obtrusive and unavoidable. Whenever I ride I look for the newest ads, the accompanying graffiti, and the elements of sexism in both media. Unsurprisingly, plenty of ads promote sexism even without the help of graffiti.
The most recent sighting has taken me a few days to swallow (especially since it happened just after seeing The California Milk Processor Board’s new ad campaign on women and PMS). But after seeing this ad about twenty times in various subway stations, I became increasingly bothered by the message it was sending, especially for the young people who are definitely viewing it.
The ad is for a new film called The Change-Up, and shows stars Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, split-screen, each man holding two people in his arms. For Bateman, it’s two fussy, diapered babies, and for Reynolds, it’s two women in their underwear. Reynolds is holding the women up by their rears and they’re giggling, in submissive, passive side-poses, just like the two helpless infants in Bateman’s arms. What first strikes people as an ad that is ‘innocently’ describing the premise of the movie (and it is) becomes quickly tied to troublesome and outdated stereotypes about how men and women interact.
There are a few layers to the sexism in this advertisement that have taken me a while to peel back, and I’m sure there’s more to do. First, the picture portrays the women in the ad as passive while the men are active, facing straight toward the viewer. While this is undeniably common in advertisements, this pose, combined with the fact that they’re dressed in their underwear (presumably pre- or post-sex) displays them as sexual commodities, not sexual agents. Sex sells, and the film is truly selling sex through these women in the ad.
After taking a photo of the ad on the subway, I compared it with the image on the official website and found that the website image had been slightly modified for the audience, perhaps a decision made after these ads were plastered all over the halls of the subway stations. Take a look at the women’s underwear in the image used on the film’s official website, and you’ll find the style provides a bit more coverage than in the subway ad photo I took. Even in the unabashedly exploitative film industry, they must know that hypersexualization and babies on the same ad can be a bit of a touchy subject. No matter what, the image of these two women promotes the same sexist roles for everyone riding the subway to experience; those in strollers included.
Emily is a contributor for The LAMPpost. You can find more of her writing on her blog, “Kids and Gender.”