Sexist E-Mail: So, Why Are Your Ads So Sexist?
In an e-mail last week, Sexist reader Ari Sahagun wrote in objecting to some "incongruous" advertising accompanying a Sexist blog post. She writes:
So I was reading some articles in The Sexist blog; mostly about feminism, women's rights, women's issues, etc. I came to this page, where I was shown an ad about weight loss with a skinny, busty, blond woman in a bikini. I'm attaching a screenshot for your reference [it's above -ed].
Can you, writers and hosts of a feminist blog, create a healthy space for feminist discussion, or must our entire lives be littered with this unhealthy imagery of women?
Good question! The short answer, unfortunately, is: No, I can't create a safe space here free from the encroachment of busty advertising. But I can write at length about my thoughts on that busty advertising! Below, a more involved rumination on sexist ads on a feminist Web site:
At the Washington City Paper, the newspaper that employs me and hosts this blog, the editorial and advertising ends of the paper are completely separate operations. The two sections of the paper are so uninvolved with one another that I generally have no idea who advertises in the paper; I simply pay no attention to it.
In many ways, this is a very good thing. Because the ads have nothing to do with my job, I can write about any subject I like in any way I like without fear of offending an advertiser. And if I do offend an advertiser, I don't care. Last year, for example, I wrote a long story that took a critical eye to Catholic University's student sex ban. At that time, Catholic U. had a healthy advertising contract with the paper—a contract that was severed when my story hit, the university immediately ceased advertising in the newspaper, and all copies of the City Paper were removed from its campus.
The busty dieting ad is far from the most problematic ad you'll find in this paper. After I wrote a blog post mocking local prostitution enthusiasts, one so-called prostitution "monger" informed me in the comments section that he had "found out about [several] massage parlors from their ads in the City Paper, and I have paid for sex with several prostitutes whom I found through their advertisements in the City Paper." If I cared about who advertised in the paper, I would have to determine that, because my salary is paid by these ads, it is in my self-interest to encourage support for massage parlors that offer "happy endings," and not write blog posts mocking people who frequent them. Thankfully, I don't care, so the mockery stands.
What does the City Paper's advertising department think of my blatant disregard for the advertisers who pay my salary? I don't know, because I don't care enough to ask, but I do know that no one has ever approached me and asked me to print something positive about an advertiser, or to not print something negative about an advertiser. And I afford our advertising department the same professional courtesy: I don't take issue with the ads they decide to book. And so, when an advertisement appears next to my blog which tells readers to "Learn the FREE tip discovered by a mom to turn their flats into a sexy body that they dreamed of," I have a lot of personal reactions to that ad. Like, how does a "mom" have "their" flats? Who are "they"? What are "flats"? Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that this tip is not truly free? I might even deem the ad enough of a train wreck of misogyny and copy editing to warrant commentary on my blog. What I won't do is go down to our advertising department and ask them to remove it.
Our advertising department does have its own internal standards that it uses to determine which ads are acceptable and which ones aren't. Again, I don't generally concern myself with those standards, but City Paper managing editor Andrew Beaujon did unearth some of the paper's classifieds guidelines last year: "In a City Paper ad, says [Classifieds director Heather] McAndrews, you can't post a photo of genitalia or penetration. 'Nipples are kind of on a fence,' she says." That being said: If you, as readers and potential consumers of the products advertised on our Web site, are ever turned off by any of the ads here, please contact our advertising department and let them know. I'm sure they'll be happy to hear your concerns.