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Harmless fun? Violence against women in advertising

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Last week saw the much publicised divorce of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi. The first the world at large knew of the situation was following the release of “that photo” – the one where Saatchi was snapped grabbing Lawson by the neck in full public view at a London restaurant. The events have not only received extensive news coverage both here and overseas, but also, as one would expect, coverage from numerous women’s groups.

The subject of abuse is a very emotive and important one (and not only towards women, of course), but a particular worry has always been the glamorising and glorification of violence. This ties in very much with Prime Minister’s recent proposed crackdown on internet pornography, some of which disturbingly centres around “rape porn” and other horrific search terms.

With all this in mind, it seems all the more incredible that advertising still exists which quite blatantly does glamorise violence towards women. And we’re not talking edgy small enterprises either: we’re talking mainstream high-street brands.

I’ve chosen ten images here, but the list is endless. These images are, in many people’s eyes, shocking – mine included. And yet they are often dressed up as humorous, artistic and tongue in cheek. If you’re easily offended, you may want to click away now…

1.) Calvin Klein jeans: it may look like it's been filmed on the set of Grease, but "summer loving" this certainly is not.

Calvin Klein

2.) Burger King: for me, this is disturbing on several levels. First of all, it really is explicit because it's just so obvious. It isn't even innuendo. Secondly, the look in the girl's eyes: it may be excitement or amazement, but it could just as easily be fear. And finally, is the girl...just a girl?

Burger King

3.) Tom Ford: his new fragrance for me. Because if you splash this on, chaps, this is where you're headed...?

Tom Ford

4.) Jimmy Choo: we know the shoe brand from Sex And The City. What we didn't know is that you might end up dead in the back of a car if you buy a pair.

Jimmy Choo

5.) McDonald's: in the second of our fast-food chain brands, although this is not sexually explicit per se, it is nonetheless tasteless to use an image which is more suited to a rape or abuse phone helpline.

Big Mac

6.) Dolce & Gabbana: not wanting to be left out, Dolce & Gabbana have thrown their hat into the gang rape ring.

Dolce and Gabbana7.) Relish: this one is reminiscent of the film Crash starring Matt Dillon - in which police officers sexually assault a black woman following a car incident. I wonder whether the ethnic reversal - the black officer and white woman - was deliberate.


8.) Broomsticks (slacks): she's laughing, so that makes it ok...?


9.) Calvin Klein: their second offering in the list, the sinister shadow looms over the woman in a masculine pose. Is that right fist clenched, or is it my imagination?

Calvin Klein

10.) Ford: depicting Silvio Berlusconi driving off with women bound and gagged in the back of his nice big car, this ad was actually banned in India where it was created. 


It’s worth adding that I have indeed seen adverts where women are abusing men. FCUK, for instance, displayed a massive image in their Oxford Street store of a woman throttling a man in a headlock. And more graphic S&M images are not uncommon either. But undoubtedly sexual advertising is much more weighted towards women being the victims, as one would expect. Well, I say as one would expect; personally I would expect it not to happen at all in this day and age.


by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a blogger, copywriter and editor.



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