Our culture spreads ideas about sex and gender through our media that are predominantly inaccurate, but unfortunately perpetuate our realities and thus shape affect our experiences. In attempt to appeal to the dominant culture, a patriarchal society that historically and institutionally favors men, organizations have long exploited the image of women in their messaging. Advertisements that objectify and degrade women are not difficult to find, just try scrolling through the Internet or passing by magazines at the store.
A common example of this is when companies compare an idealized woman’s body to the product they are selling. Degrade a woman’s worth to her beauty, and associate that to the level of a car or cheeseburger in order to please a male audience. Carl’s Jr. is an infamous example of this, where the company has openly prided itself in using this tactic.
In response to criticisms about using nearly-naked models to sell hamburgers in commercials, Carl’s Jr. said, “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers” (Young, 2014). The fast-food chain has received so much backlash for its practices that nonprofits, such as Beauty Redefined and Miss Representation, have initiated campaigns against it. Regardless of the profits a company may be making, if charities and nonprofits are boycotting one’s advertisements, it strongly indicates that a company needs an ethical and brand-image rework. No company should want to be known as the one that women and nonprofits resent.
For decades now, people have spoken out against these media representations due to the social implications they have on our culture. These images get out of hand too often, and ultimately promote sexism, misogyny and rape culture.
With the rise of fourth wave feminism piggybacking on the power of our digital communications age, organizations can no longer create these messages without facing backlash. As people become more educated about the issues and effects of sexist media, many turn away from companies that participate in it. Individuals have the opportunities and forums to speak out against what they think are morally wrong practices, and few hold back these days.
It’s essential in the public relations sphere to keep audiences happy, and socially moral responsibilities ultimately trump an organization’s desire to appeal to the male gaze. Marketing, advertising and public relations employees are responsible for the messages they put forth. Public relations practitioners should hold themselves and their organizations accountable for the representations they perpetuate in the media. Good public relations seeks to ethically appeal to as many audiences as possible in order to establish a credible and honorable brand image. In our day and age where gender equity and respect is prioritized, organizations can no longer afford using questionable tactics such as these.