Objectification of Women: Subliminal Messages and The Media ~By Ashleigh Driskell

My theme of choice is the objectification of women.  The combination of being a woman, and living in a world completely saturated by relentless advertising and the overwhelming effects of the media has led me to the unfortunate and embarrassing conclusion that women are, in fact, often portrayed as objects rather than human beings.  This passively-accepted, widespread, silent epidemic, is fluid across genres.  Human beings have the ability to shed light on, and work together to end this disease, however, if it continues to be ignored, we may never truly experience equality.




The level of objectification going on here is painfully obvious.  Her pose on the bottle combined with the label doubling as her bathing suit makes her appear as though she is, in fact, a part of the product.  “Advertising promotes images of what the audience conceives of as “the good life” (Jhally).  Beer is often associated with having fun or partying.  Budweiser, more specifically, is often a man’s choice of beer.  Therefore, this woman is associated with something that a man consumes, while having a good time.  “Beer can be connected with anything from eroticism, to male fraternity, to the purity of the old West” (Jhally).  The revealing nature of her bathing suit and her vulnerable position on the bottle suggest that she is being sexualized.  This is consistent with the assumption that the advertisement is targeting a male audience.



This woman is being objectified to highlight the convertible feature of a particular vehicle.  Although the commercial is an advertisement for a specific car feature, that particular feature is not recognized until the woman’s bathing suit top is snipped off by a scorpion.  Not only is this woman being portrayed as a car feature, but her body is being used as a tool to draw attention, specifically, to men.  As a result, she is dehumanized and categorized as a sexual expectation.  “The marketplace cannot directly offer the real thing, but it can offer visions of it connected with the purchase of products” (Jhally).

Thus far, this woman has been viewed as a car “feature”, and also a prize, or reward, associated with this vehicle.  Objectification is clear.  Her bathing suit being snipped off and her body lying in the sand sexualizes the message.  Clearly, this advertisement, or “message” is geared toward the straight male.  I would like to take this opportunity to look at the message a bit deeper.  Not only is this advertisement meant to capture the attention of men, it is more specifically, intended to capture the attention of STRAIGHT men.  “To break down the barriers and eliminate oppression, we must acknowledge the privileges we receive, invisible though they may be” (Katz).  Although it is not painfully obvious that this advertisement is intended to capture the eye of a heterosexual male, the “bait”, or “captivator”, is in fact, an attractive female.  If the true meaning behind this car advertisement is, in fact, to simply promote the vehicle, why is there a need to incorporate a woman?  More specifically, incorporate her in a sexual manner?  Are homosexuals and asexuals simply uninterested in car advertisements?  Or has the media over-saturated the world with the idea that cars are a representation of “masculinity” and “masculine men”?  I did extensive research, and could not find one vehicle advertisement that targeted anything other than a heterosexual, predominantly male capturing message.




This advertisement represents a more complex form of female objectification.  The message here is much more subliminal.  The women are being used as props to showcase the flavor of the vodka.  Although the advertisement itself is about vodka, the women are not only incorporated into, but seem to take over the picture.  Not only are they being used as props, but also as the selling point of this product.  While there is no male figure present, the cherries on the lips of these women suggest that they are anticipating, waiting, or lusting for something more.  The image is captured in such a way that sexuality is present, yet seemingly incomplete.  “The image-system of the marketplace reflects our desires and dreams, yet we have only the pleasure of the images to sustain us in our actual experience with goods” (Jhally).  This advertisement is meant to stimulate the mind of a man.  When incorporating sexuality into the picture, I may argue that perhaps the image of these women with cherries on their lips is not intended to highlight the product being advertised.  The “product”, is merely a prop for the subliminal message at hand.  Cherries are associated with virgins, girl on girl action, or even “lipstick lesbians”, and are a sexually arousing image/fantasy for men.  Finally, the headline, “Go Natural”, is a message associated with unprotected sex.  Another subliminal message could be that if a man gets a woman to drink enough, perhaps he can sleep with her without being asked to use protection.  This advertisement may also be targeted towards a younger generation of women, perhaps young, vulnerable women having less experience with drinking and also with sexual activity.  Berger says, “She turns herself into an object-and most particularly, an object of vision; a sight” (Berger).  It is not uncommon for women, especially younger or insecure women, to feed into this advertisement, with the idea that “maybe if I drink this type of liquor, men will see me as sexy as these women.  And maybe if I sleep with him and allow him to “go natural”, maybe he will think I’m even sexier.”  Advertisements such as this Skyy Vodka ad have the ability to harm women emotionally and physically.  Unprotected sex is very dangerous, and should never be advertised, especially in connection with an alcohol advertisement.



Save Second Base

This advertisement is especially offensive to women.  While it may be true that this man is “advocating” for Breast Cancer Awareness, he is clearly referring to her breasts an “objects for male pleasure”.  Thousands of women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, many of whom have to get their breast(s) removed, and sadly, many lose their lives.  I cannot understand, then, how this shirt is a form of true advocating.  To me, it seems to capture the attention of men, in a humorous manner.  “Advertising does not always mirror how people are acting, but how they are dreaming” (Jhally).  Second base clearly represents one of the “four bases that men get to” with women.  Now, she is viewed as a baseball diamond.  If he makes it to second base, he has had some sort of encounter with her breasts.  If he “hits a home run”, he has slept with her.  This represents a game that men play.  Men are the players, and women are the “game board”, essentially, an object.  One question I asked myself is, “Is he genuinely concerned with saving a woman’s life, or is he more concerned with saving her breasts, ensuring future pleasurable encounters for him?”  Contrary to how breast cancer is often portrayed, it does affect men as well.  Because men do not have “visibly, sexually arousing” breasts, the shirt he is wearing is a perfect example of a sexualized and objectified view of women.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Oppression of women is also present here.  This shirt is reinforcing the idea of authority or control that a man has over a woman’s body.  He is advocating that her breasts be saved, in order to ensure future sexual encounters with her, involving her breasts.  Her health, and even her life, are secondary to his male pleasure.  “The statement that women are oppressed is frequently met with the claim that men are oppressed too” (Frye).  I do not agree with that claim.  While men belonging to a particular group, (i.e gay men), may experience oppression, I do not see anything regularly advertised in the media that men, as a whole, are oppressed.  Women, however, are an oppressed group of people.  Women are constantly being portrayed as the passive, subordinate, or lesser one.  Having said this, the already oppressed woman, is now being advertised as the butt of a joke, and the product that puts a man’s “four base game” together, simply because her breasts are at risk.



“All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe”.  This statement, about women, is completely disregarding anything and everything about her, except the size of her butt.  “Men survey women before treating them.  Consequently, how a woman appears to a man can determine how she will be treated” (Berger).  The men in this video are clearly interested in a particular female appearance, and the women who fit that “ideal appearance”, are the ones who receive that male attention.  There are, in fact, other women present in the video, but they are simply backdrops, thus, highlighting the features of the “ideal women”.  These “big booty hoes” are playing a “birthday present” role, meaning, essentially, they are present simply to entertain the male gaze.  They rarely look into the camera, making it easier to continually view them simply as entertainment, or objects, rather than as individuals.  Furthermore, the camera only focusing on their butts, and breasts as well, portray that these women are being completely sexualized.  During several parts of the video, the ONLY visible parts of the women are their breasts or butts, thus, dismembering them.  Berger says, “A woman’s presence expresses her attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her” (Berger).  Although the women in this video are dancing provocatively, and are scantly clad, at no point during the video is there any sexually explicit act taking place.  I bring this up because even when women dress and dance in a certain manner, it is implied that she is loose and will do whatever a man wants.  It is rarely as much as an afterthought that there could be a possibility SIMPLY dancing to entertain.  For example, when male strippers entertain for bachelorette parties, it is rarely assumed that it will turn into a “sex party”, or even that these men are promiscuous at all.  It is simply viewed as entertainment.  However, when female strippers entertain for bachelor parties, it is often assumed that some sort of sexual encounter ends up taking place.  There is such a double standard between men and women.  Berger says that “images can only be viewed through the lens of the ideal viewer (the straight male)” (Berger).  Because this idea is still widely used in media today, “women are depicted in a quite different way from men-not because the feminine is different from the masculine-but because the “ideal” spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him” (Berger).  Until people change how the media portrays women, women will continue to be oppressed, and the double standard or men and women will continue to flourish.

Collectively, the advertisements I have chosen all demonstrate the objectification of women.  It begins with a woman appearing to be part of a beer bottle, then moves on to a car commercial where the feature of that car is not highlighted until a woman’s bikini top is snipped off.  Now, I bounce back to another alcohol ad, where women, again, are being incorporated, only this time, the “intended purpose” of the ad is superseded by the message portrayed by the women.  Moving on to the shirt that is advertising “Breast Cancer Awareness”.  Breasts have been reduced to “second base”.  Finally, Kayne West and 2 Chainz (hip-hop artists), are freely rapping about their “birthday present”, and how they got what they “asked for”.

Clearly, there is a message here.  Women are being defaced and reduced to objects.  Unfortunately, this is not the only message that ties these advertisements together.  In each of my playlist advertisements, the sexualization is painfully obvious.  It is as though women simply cannot be objectified without simultaneously being sexualized.  From the scantly clad outfits, to the camera angles constantly being focused on women’s bodies, to the (decoded) subliminal messages, sexualization is constantly factored into advertising.

“It is a fundamental claim that women are oppressed” (Frye).  I challenged this claim while researching the advertisements for my playlist, and, oddly enough, came to the conclusion that it is more of a “fact” than a “claim” that women are oppressed individuals.  Berger says, “Men act and women appear.  Men look at women” (Berger).  In my opinion, “to act”, is a dominant trait, and “to appear” is a passive trait.  Therefore, women are subordinates of men.  Sometimes, a man doesn’t need to be present in an advertisement to assume he is still the dominant figure.  For example, both of my alcohol related advertisements lacked a male presence, however, other aspects of the advertisement that were present, suggested the advertisements were “speaking” to men.

This brings me to the “target audience”, to which my playlist advertisements are geared.  Oddly enough, yet again, it’s men.  Beginning with the Budweiser ad, it is widely known that this particular type of beer is popular among men.  Incorporating a woman enhances the effectiveness of the ad, but it now, has a more sexual appeal.  Moving on to the Fiat car ad.  Although women drive cars as well, it is a predominantly male saturated hobby/interest.  Obviously, incorporating a female into the ad is not going to shift the target audience.  It simply enhances it.  Now we talk about the Skyy Vodka ad.  While it is true that men don’t normally flock to flavored vodkas, they do tend to show a great deal of interest when it comes to “girl on girl” action.  Also, the caption, “Go natural”, has nothing, whatsoever to do with the vodka, but again, it captures a male audience.  The Breast Cancer Awareness shirt is, in my opinion, the most offensive.  Of course this is geared toward a male audience.  It is seen as humorous, or clever.  The fact that breast cancer is such an epidemic among women leaves no room for “humor” on our part.  It’s almost as though men can only be sympathetic to a point, careful not to take away from their dominance or masculinity.  Finally, the music video.  Women are constantly the “eye candy” of hip-hop videos, and, aside from female hip-hop artists who create videos that are  deliberately oppositional, it is my opinion that “hip-hop”, overall, is geared towards men.

In conclusion, I have learned that the media continues to negatively influence the world through advertising.  Stereotypes and social inequalities are continuously being reinforced.  It is important for people to be able to analyze and interpret the underlying messages that are all around us, on a daily bases.  Constructing this project has taken me far out of my comfort zone, on a journey that has allowed me to see things clearer than I’ve ever seen before.  I plan to take the knowledge obtained from this project and apply it to my daily life, and hopefully, help bring to light what so many people ignore.                                                                                                                                                                


Frye, Marilyn. “Oppression.” Reading Women’s Lives. Ed. Amanda Rossie. New York: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2010. pg 39-53

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” Ways of Seeing. London: BBC/Penguin Books, 1972. 45-54,62-64.

Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” The World and I. July, 1990. 199-203.

Katz, Jackson. “Advertising and the Construction of Violent White MAsculinity: From BMWs to Bud Light.” 261-269

M.Doherty. “Truth in Advertising.” trueadvertise.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/the-objectification-of-women-in-advertising-how-much-is-too-much/ N.P. July 3,2011. Print Budweiser ad.

Huber, Bridget. “Compared to Other Youths, Young Blacks Awash in Alcohol Ads, Study Says.” http://www.FairWarning.org/ Sept. 27, 2012. Sky Vodka Print Ad.

Morrow, Jason. “Everybody Needs a Little Sugar.” everybodyneedsalittlesugar.com/ Private photograph.

SuperCarHall. “2013 FIAT 500 Abarth Cabrio “Topless” Fiat Commercial.” Youtube.com/Watch?v=K5GRahD6EmQ/ Published Dec 2, 2012, Fiat S.p.A.

2ChainzVEVO. “2 Chainz – Birthday Song (Explicit) ft. Kanye West.” youtube.com/watch?v=Y34jC4I1m70/ Published Aug 30, 2012, Def Jam Music Group

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