Perhaps the phrase background sexism seems a misnomer to some, but here’s the thing: While many of us—including men—would claim feminist sympathies in our outlook, it seems that a woman’s value is all too often integrally linked to her sex appeal.
Consider the image at right. While there is always something to be said for aesthetics in advertising, there are other forms of beauty—both generally in nature and specifically about women—that are not sexual. Yet advertising appeals to sexuality because marketing data suggests that doing so is somehow effective.
What, then, does this say about the people who compose the marketplace? Would the advertisement be nearly as effective if, instead of a “hot” woman, the spot used a buff, handsome man?
After all, what is a sexy man? The buff, clean, handsome man is often associated with gay appeal, and there is often a sort of Janet Weiss thing among women: “I don’t like a man with too many muscles.”
So what is sexy among males? Emo? Intellectual? Savvy? Archetypal physical specimen? What is the generic male equivalent of the “hot chick”?
Men can be successful or desirable according to a fairly diverse array of standards, but there persists, front and center in the culture, the necessity of a woman’s sex appeal. And perhaps front and center is a strange place to find background sexism, but more often than not, even those of us who would pronounce our feminist sympathies either look past the hot woman in the advertisement, or simply play along.