Does Renuzit’s New Ad Objectify Men?

Eric Henney says objectification of both sexes has a long history in advertising, but wonders if it’s as harmless as we’d like to believe.

Well, it’s hard to regard the fabulously toned men in these ads as anything but objects of sexual gratification. Certainly, we are not regarding them as sensible shoppers, or snappy dressers, or avid readers. And it really doesn’t matter that the tone of these ads is ostensibly self-conscious and ironic. As with all self-consciousness in advertising, Red Tettemer & Partners, the firm responsible for the ad, is just trying to peddle tried-and-true marketing tactics while pretending to side with those who oppose them.

So yes. In fact, Renuzit is objectifying men. And so it would seem to me a good thing to get a discussion going about how their ads, as well as, say, the cultish worship of David Beckham’s body, affects a man’s self-perception.

But before we do, let’s all agree on a couple things. First, Renuzit’s ads don’t really speak to new patterns of men in ads, mainly because advertisers’ objectification of men is nothing new—Calvin KleinVersace, and about a hundred other companies have been doing that for decades. More recently, Abercrombie & Fitch seems to have taken the idea to its logical conclusion.

And lest you attempt to draw a distinction between ads for products that pertain to the body and ads that don’t (which is a fatuous one anyway), remember that long before Renuzit got the idea, Diet Coke had been dabbling in voyeurism, and Scrabble had already turned their pocket game into a penis. So there’s nothing really new about Renuzit’s campaign.

Second, regardless of what Renuzit’s ads say about men, we still can’t say we finally know what it’s like for women to see their gender degraded in ads. At best, men are shirtless and building things; at worst, they mug for the camera in their underwear. Women, on the other hand, are still locked in cages, checking on dinner in their underwear, double-teaming a Skyy vodka penis, clutching perfume between their thighs and their breasts, and blowing sandwiches.

Are these extremes? Sure. But the outer edges are where you find the real shape of the thing. On average, images of women in ads are still far more damaging and pervasive than images of men, and any dutiful conversation about advertising ought to respect that.

With all this in mind, and I know some of you are already raring to crucify me, what does seeing men objectified in ads do to us personally and to the concept of manhood?

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About Eric Henney

Eric Henney is a freelance writer. He writes about the things he thinks about, which focus a lot on some things and not very much on other things. He has written about film, TV, books, festivals, and food for publications like Philadelphia City Paper. Follow Eric on Twitter @EHerbertHenney, and visit his website at erichenney.wordpress.com.

Comments

  1. wellokaythen says:

    Before I say yes, it objectifies him, can I get an explanation of what an ad would look like if it featured a human body but did not objectify anyone? I’m still not convinced that there is a non-objectified alternative, unless we stop including people in any visual media at all. If you can’t find an example, I’d like to hear a description of a theoretical case. If the answer is always yes, then there’s something wrong with the question.

    A body is an object. A photograph is an object. I’m not saying a person is an object, but a person inhabits a body, and the body is an object. A photograph captures light reflected from a body. It is inherently objectifying. Until we have cameras that can detect a person’s personality, sense of humor, or intellect, then we’re stuck with object-based photography. (Interesting metaphysical question, though – is a sense of humor also an object? It’s certainly a “thing.”)

    Better questions would be what kind of objectification is going on, if it’s bad how bad is it, etc.

    • Eric Henney says:

      An excellent point, but I think it’s safe to say that one of the conventions of the debate over men and women depicted in ad campaigns is that when we refer to objectification, we are really referring to sexual objectification–that is, turning someone into an object of arousal and sexual pleasure. Surely you would agree that the very existence of a person-depicting photograph does not entail that person’s being seen as titillating.

      It is in light of that idea that I think we should stage this talk. Of course people are, to some degree, turned into objects in photographs (although it should be noted this is not necessarily the case in other media). As you say, that is itself a vacuous truth.

      The really interesting stuff, though, pertains to what it means to use photographs to turn men and women into objects of sexual desire, as well as the kinds of sexual desires they play into, and the social impact they may have.

  2. Boston Mike says:

    I don’t see a problem with this ad. I have to admit it’s very clever which is more than you can say for the ads featuring beautiful women.

    Women are constantly objectified in the media – much more so than men. And their ads aren’t even intelligent or witty. They’re just in your face objectification with no excuses.

    But the tide is slowly turning and we have no choice but to accept that things will be much more equal as time goes by. That’s just how society progresses. Unless you’re a spineless insecure little shell of a man, you won’t have any problem with things being equal.

    My wife actually saw this Renuzit ad a few days ago and really liked it. She said the man was beautiful and the ad cleverly done. I can’t blame her since I love those Carl’s Jr. ads where a hot gal is eating a hamburger and those ads are very cavemanish and don’t have an ounce of wit. So this Renuzit ad is actually more sophisticated.

  3. The ad is actually tastefully done, in my opinion. It’s mildly objective. Iit’s not provocative; he’s not doing anything kinky or sexually suggestive and he’s wearing jeans, buttoned up! Now if he were in his undies, then it wouldn’t be as appropriate.

  4. I saw a picture of a girl in a bikini on an ad for selling a farm today. WHAT THE HELL IS THE LINK BETWEEN THE 2? Why is there a gorgeous man next to an air freshener? If it was selling a product for a human body such as antiperspirant I could see the link, but a clean male without a shirt on? Why?

    Advertising tends to annoy me, the only time I need to see a bikini model is for a bikini ad, etc. Something that links them in some way is needed instead of just the typical eye-candy to sell some random product. But the arguments I’ve seen used for objectifying women I could see on this, so yeah I’d say it’s objectifying the man.

  5. Now coming at this discussion from the perspective of a woman, and a lesbian…it’s such a difficult topic to tease out. Like…on the one hand when I see an advert that objectifies women I’m like – grr no, bad society. But on the other hand I’m like – ah but she is kinda hot…and now I want some Skyy vodka. (lol).

    Really though I think it’s all about context…and about looking at the specific ad in question. Like…is it just objectifying one gender and saying that it’s okay to do so? Well then that’s problematic. Is it just having fun with, and playing on societies concepts of sex? Well then that’s a bit less problematic. Really most adverts piss me off…they’re either really stupid or bordering on offensive (not just for sexual objectification). – so is this advert objectifying men? Yeah…I mean he’s got nothing to do with the air freshener. It’s obviously just using a sexy guy as a prop to sell it. But that’s the same thing that we do with babies and plenty of other products…it’s just not sexual.

    So I think it’s a bit stupid, not necessarily offensive. I think if it had gone further in objectifying men it could be seen as offensive. If he was in a particularly provocative position, or if he was portrayed as an object that other women in the advert could oggle at…that could be more offensive, I think.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Sometimes using sex to sell a particular product is ridiculous, and that’s when people tend to be most offended by society being “oversexualized.”

      In other cases, I think using sex to sell products is quite understandable. Using overtly sexual images to sell condoms, lubricants, or sex toys, for example, seems perfectly natural to me. It’s ironic that with all the sexualization in advertising and other media it’s still a litle taboo to advertise for things that really do actually involve sex. We can use nudity to sell sports magazines but can barely get away with selling condoms?

      • “We can use nudity to sell sports magazines but can barely get away with selling condoms?”

        This, times a million! I think it’s because we are more willing to accept innuendo and subtext when it comes to sex, rather than blatantly saying – this is sexual!

  6. It’s objectifying, absolutely. I don’t like it or approve of it any more than I like objectification of women.

    As far as what air fresheners have to do with fit men not wearing a shirt, good question. What do bikini models have to do with sports? Don’t women or gay men like sports without boobs in them?

    What do boob-eyed owls have to do with hot wings OR sports?

    Oh.My.God. Are those hot wings made out of baby owls? PETA, have you been to Hooters?

  7. It’s obviously objectifying and yes you can have pictures of bodies that aren’t objectifying. I think the fact that we find that idea weird is a sign of how pervasive objectification is.

    And yes! Objectification is bad! For anyone. It creates body image issues for starters and leads people to forget that slightly clothed people are not people (and so can be treated like animals). There has been increased objectification of men lately in advertisements and men are demonstrating higher rates of body image issues. Not surprising.

  8. I think its objectifying because its adding sex appeal to a product that doesn’t seem to have any for the sake of trying to sell it to its target audience.

    Now is it offensive, tasteless, tactless,etc…? To me its not.

    I wonder. If this were an ad of a woman in a pair of jeans and bra next to a can of hot sauce saying, “Look at this hot sauce next to this hot woman.” would there even be a question of “Is this objectifying?” or would people be starting from the conclusion that it is objectifying?

    (And I just have to say its simply….lovely….to start off a conversation about whether or not something is objectifying men but starting off with the usual disclaimer that women have it worse.)

  9. wellokaythen says:

    Okay.

    Sounds like silly questions here, but hear me out:

    How specifically is the Renuzit ad a sexual objectification? Is it because he’s nude from the waist up? Is nudity by itself a sexual objectification? Is showing an attractive person all you need to create sexual objectification?

    There’s not a direct sexual reference in the ad. The ad tells you to look at him, not to have sex with him. It doesn’t even suggest you touch him. This is not the most clearcut case of sexual objectification.

    I ask, because if sexual objectification is somehow distinctly harmful, or more harmful that other, unavoidable forms of objectification, it’s important to figure out when it’s sexual and when it isn’t.

    (Yes, I do really really wish I looked like that and I kind of hate the way I look in comparison, but I don’t feel exploited about it. Perhaps I am trapped in a false gender consciousness….)

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