When Ads Add Up & Divide

After school, I moved 2000 miles away from home and took a government job in Washington, DC—my first real adult job. I had a roommate, and her brother and two of his friends came to visit from out-of-state.  Janelle had planned a day trip to Shenandoah National Park, but she was called in to work.  Janelle asked me if I would hang out with her brother and his friends and follow through with the plans.

To be honest, I wasn’t real thrilled about the idea because 1) I didn’t know them; 2) I’d be the only woman; and 3) they were rowdy and acted hyper-masculine from the time they arrived.  I felt certain this behavior would continue throughout the day.  However, I hid my trepidations, agreed to her request, and three rambunctious guys and I rode off in a souped-up Malibu.

On the way, they reminisced about their military experiences and bar brawls.  All three exhibited a competitive air and talked over each other during the hour and a half drive. It seemed apparent to me that they weren’t listening to each other but rather thinking about what they were going to say next.  The façade was obvious, and although I got the feeling they were trying to impress me, I wasn’t impressed.

Glen, the shortest and youngest of the three, acted the most macho. He talked with a strong, Bronx accent and strutted when he walked.  He showed off his nunchuck (nunchaku) skills in the apartment parking lot before we left.  I never heard them address each other by their names. Everyone was “dude.”  At about the halfway point, I zoned out.

Somehow we ended up at a limestone rock quarry, which had been closed down. It was filled in with crystal clear water, probably spring fed. It was a hot summer’s day, and the guys were up for a novel adventure.  Ignoring the “No Trespassing” sign, we climbed the tall, chain-linked fence, took off our shoes and jumped in the cool water. It was so clear the bottom was visible. If I had to guess, the depth was probably close to 27 meters. I never saw any fish. Perhaps the water was too alkaline.

As we swam to the other side, a dark, irregular circle appeared just below the waterline of this rugged, steep wall of limestone.  Upon closer examination, it was an underwater quarried tunnel.  A faint, pale green light inside the tunnel  piqued our curiosity. Taking a deep breath, we dove under, swam about 5 meters through the tunnel, and surfaced inside a cave.

While catching our breath, we were awe struck by what we saw.  The inside of the cave was illuminated like aqua green neon lights.  It was breathtaking.  I had a lump in my throat and wanted to openly weep as I was completely gobsmacked by this unexpected, spectacular sight.  For several hours we explored more quarry caves glowing from filtered light.

On the way home, the tone and energy was different in the car. We were all on a natural high and our inhibitions were lowered.  There was authenticity in our conversations.  For the first time I heard them call each other by their first names.  It was apparent there was an emotional connection between us all.  Emotional intimacy.  I saw their humanity; their authentic selves void of gender roles.   I didn’t want that day to end, and neither did they.

I was sitting in the back, right behind Glen who was in the front passenger seat.  He started to weep.  Silence filled the car for several seconds.  I asked Glen if there was something wrong.  He said, “nothing is wrong.”  I asked him why he was crying.  He said “because I’m sure I’ll never experience anything like this again.”  Glen wasn’t referring to the quarry adventure.

Below are excerpts from an article “The Selling Of Masculinity” by Harris O’Malley:

“The question of the role and meaning of masculinity is especially strong in younger men – men in their late teens and early twenties – as they strike out to find their own place in the world. It’s only natural to look to the world around us for gender cues and role-models to guide us through the thorny questions of gender identity1 and the role to take in the world.

With the ubiquity of mass-communication – whether it be magazines, newspapers, movies, television or the Internet – it’s not surprising that many men look to popular culture for sources of information what male behavior is supposed to be and how we’re supposed to display it.

In the most recent issue of the journal Sex Roles, psychologists from the University of Manitoba examined the prevalence of  hypermasculinity – the ideology of exaggerated male traits as the epitome of masculine identity – in advertisements in popular men’s magazines including Maxim, Playboy, Game Informer, Fortune, Esquire and Wired.

Hypermasculinity portrays violence and physical aggression as manly ideals; it promotes a world where all of male life is a struggle of dominance of others, where sex is a matter of power and female submission rather than one of intimacy and mutual pleasure and that any “feminine” emotions are to be repressed.

Hypermasculine ideology reinforces a culture that permits a very narrow expression of male identity.  The message carried by the imagery is that men are defined by conflict and violence. Every interaction between men is one of a struggle for dominance. There are no equals, only the dominant and the submissive.

The story of manhood in these messages is one of a very narrowly defined form of heteronormativity; to deviate even slightly from this model of manhood is to be feminine, which is a fate worse than anything short of emasculation.

The vision of manhood perpetuated by the hyper-masculine ideology is one where men are little better than chimps. The world of hyper-masculinity is one where life is brutish, stupid and short. All male interactions are forms of aggression and dominance display; “toughness” masquerades as discipline and male friendships cannot exist because emotional intimacy is frowned upon for fear of being too feminine.  Men in this ideology are disconnected from their emotions.

A man in this ideology has next to no control over his impulses. He is ruled by his genitals and his need to gain the respect of others through violence and the pursuit of danger. He is utterly at the mercy of his base instincts: the need to fuck, the need to eat, the need to accumulate goods.

Personally, I value being a man too much to let it be insulted, marginalized and commodified like this. And so should you. Read more.





Scott A. Lukas, Ph.D. is the creator of The Gender Ads Project:

“This Web site is focused on the cultural intersections of gender and advertising. Its goal is to promote greater awareness of the relationships of gender and advertising as well as an understanding of the social, cultural, political, personal, psychological and other effects of gender and advertising.  Currently featuring 4000 ads.












Humans are sexual beings, but we must ask why such a limited view of sexuality is displayed in these and other ads?  http://www.genderads.com/page5/slideshow-32/


“…there is remarkable evidence that the ads present in our society do impact our psychological understandings of gender and sexuality. As Lindsey suggests in highlighting previous research on this subject (Rudman and Verdi 1993; Lanis and Covell 1995), “males exposed to ads where females are portrayed as sex objects are more accepting of rape-supportive attitudes and predictive of subjective levels of exploitation” (1997:315).”  http://www.genderads.com/page9/slideshow-61/



Women, on the other hand, are things. They are to be desired, yes, but not as partners or equal participants in life; they are trophies, proof of one’s superior masculinity. The men in these ads don’t value the women for their personality, their minds, their ability to make them laugh… they are at best ornamental. At worst, they are playthings – pets even – to be used however a man cares to, regardless of their wishes.  Harris O’Malley – “The Selling of Masculinity



The barrage of messages helps confirm and reinforce the hypermasculine ideal that men are to be dominant and aggressive, that sex is something that is available to you by default and that take not “no” for an answer is a good thing. It fortifies a culture where boys think that it’s ok to take a girl who is intoxicated to the point of near unconsciousness…]  Harris O’Malley  “The Selling of Masculinity


“Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies offers an interesting look at the connections between masculinity, fascism, hatred of women and violence (1987).”  http://www.genderads.com/page6/slideshow-44/


“What do the following ads and video games suggest about our society?


You might note that there is a parallel between the representations of women in the video games themselves and the various gender ads. Women are often thin, wrongly proportioned, behave stupidly, and are the subject of the gaze and actions of men.

Males are also stereotyped, particularly in games like Grand Theft Auto and its spin-offs. Men are thugs, violent, overtly masculine and without passion or intelligence.

Video produced by a gamer – Ten Ways To Kill A Hooker in GTA IV


One of the most shocking games pictured on this page is the Japanese game known as “RapeLay.”  Just consider the implications of this form of entertainment!” http://www.genderads.com/page10/slideshow-77/

The game centers on a male character who stalks and rapes a mother and her two daughters.


I encourage readers to browse through The Gender Ads website.  Many studies are cited.  The ads (4000+) are quite eye-opening and many if not most are disturbing.  Media, such as advertising, is playing a major role in dividing us, and making huge profits in the process.

Advertisement images from:

The Gender Ads Project.
Created by Scott A. Lukas, Ph.D.
Created in 2002, South Lake Tahoe, California.
Accessed on: [July 12, 2013]

Quarry image from Morguefiles.com
Artist:  nibujohn

US Copyright Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107


32 thoughts on “When Ads Add Up & Divide

  1. so very true v. I have heard mothers telling their sons boys don’t cry. peer pressure and magazines like this only add on to it. “exhibiting one’s emotion” is it weakness?. what i fail to understand is. how blocking one’s emotion helps in building “toughness” (in fact required for the both the sexes) in handling tricky situations of life.

    • Quite true, Rihaansh. I watch a video a while back. In one segment of the video, a father describes a personal experience with his 5 year old son, and the realization of the message he was sending his son at such a young age. At around the 2 minute mark. Powerful video.

  2. As mother to a son and daughter, this is what scares me most. I don’t know if I’m a match for a world full of this junk. Every day is a battle against it with my little girl. Every single day. My steady stream of counter messages seem to get through, I guess I will know in a decade or two. Our brains have all been washed in filth and daily bleaching may be the only stain remover.

    • I only have one child, and she’s a young woman now. Without trying to come across as too overly-protective, I spent a lot of time guiding her, educating her, and preparing her for the world she would encounter once she left the nest.

      This was difficult because I didn’t want to instill fear. My daughter is very attractive, and draws unsolicited attention. I can’t tell you how hard it was to see her go off to college, but she has awareness beyond her years.

      I feel for you as a mother with young children. I am hopeful that as more men like the ones in my post (Harris and Scott) and Tony in the Ted video (A Call to Men), get more exposure, the paradigms will change. I do think we have a ways to go though. “Civilization” is but a thin veneer.

      • I didn’t know that you are a mother! Infinite kudos for being one of strength and thoughtfulness. Regarding this post, it never ceases to shock me how calloused we as a society are to images depicting women in situations of sexual violence and domestic abuse.You have to wonder what the people who created those ads were/are like in their personal lives. And I agree with you that the sword cuts both ways – these portrayals only make it harder for men to embrace their full selves.

        BTW, have you seen what’s been going on r.e. this topic over at Make Me A Sammich? http://makemeasammich.org/2013/08/26/the-standard-hotels-dujour-media-and-violence-against-women/

        • Hey Jennie, thank you for stopping by and for your thoughtful comment. Yes, I had seen Rosie’s powerful post the day she published it. I am just stunned at what I’ve been uncovering. Scott’s website, with over 4000 images, was shocking to me. And speaking of calloused…. I’m not sure if you saw this news article this past week. This Texas business increased their sales quite a bit after this publicity stunt.

          Like you mentioned, what kind of people are they in their personal lives, and thoughts? Don’t these people have mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers? What’s really disturbing to me is that the idiot who came up with this idea is ‘surprised’ at the intense backlash he received, but laughing all the way to the bank.


      • In all social justice issues, there are nuanced points that cause me to *wish* people would really dig into the issues and evolve (example: blatantly gendered toys for children). But, in those cases, I can appreciate that not everyone has the liberal education background I do, or the time/energy to buck the norm, and the traditional approach isn’t actively *harming* anyone.

        Things like that truck decal, though? That goes so far beyond anything ignorance could ever excuse. That is the intentional act of someone who has made a decision to benefit from women’s oppression. When you think about the damage that could be done by that image – triggering a devestating emotional flashback, for example, in a woman who’s just out running errands – it’s so obvious this person has no investment in women’s well-being. He’s not surprised at all… he just doesn’t care.

  3. A Call To Men has grown from a grass roots program outside New York City to a national phenomenon. Requests to bring this message started flooding in from communities over all over the country. Porter has worked with 27 of the NFL’s 32 teams in conjunction with the NFL Players Association and the league. Porter says it is rare that he’s ever in an audience with men who disagree with his message.

  4. Hi there, Victoria. This looks like another post that I will have to refer back to again in the future.

    My oldest used to hang out with a little boy who played video games that were violent while he would disappear into another room or just come back home. After some time, I told him he is not to go over there anymore to play with him just to end up by himself. He hasn’t spent any time with this boy in about 10 months. Not too long ago I found out what that little boy was playing at seven to eight years old, “Call of Duty” and the “Grand Theft Auto” video games!!!!!!!!!! It is no wonder that he would get a little too violent in rough housing with my oldest and often broke brand new toys when he would visit our house. I don’t understand it either because his mom is a nurse and his dad is a fireman!

    BTW, I nominated both your blogs for the Liebster Award.

      • Okay Victoria,

        I was so distracted by the ads last time I couldn’t really focus on your own personal story. BTW, all the ads bother me, but the one that bothers me most is the older one for men’s trousers (American pants). Not only is it troubling because there’s a good number of men, and they’re all fully clothed and she’s in her undies, but because it is all presented in such an innocent fashion! Really, it’s almost wholesome like. The more we present things to be wholesome or innocent the more acceptable we’re making them. If a young girl were to see that ad she’d think she would be just fine in a situation like that, and could get into some serious trouble!

        As far as your own personal story is concerned, I can relate. My husband of nine years has had an awful time making healthy friendships with men throughout his life, especially as a husband and dad. His childhood makes mine look stellar. He has a half brother by birth, an older one through adoption, and neither one have been apart of his life in many years. He doesn’t know his birth dad, isn’t close to his birth mom or adopted mom, and his adopted dad is distant, cold, and uninvolved in his life. He was sent to an Army military school his entire time in high school in another state away from his adopted parents. Immediately joined the Marine Corps for five years, got out for a couple of years and went back in to the Navy for 15 years. He just retired. If you want something that’s guaranteed to treat your son like shit by making him their bitch make sure he joins the military. This is coming from someone who has several relatives in the military in addition to my husband’s experiences.

        Sometimes I think men long for relationships more than women, but it’s much less acceptable. My husband is tough, and strong, loud, and fast. My husband’s also hungry for relationships that exude fatherly love, and brotherly love as well. At 40 he’s just now doing what he loves for a job, but the military did something to him (btw, he’s never had to fight in combat). It’s a sorry excuse for fathering or any form of family help or support. Something that teaches you to be a killing machine can’t love you like a mommy, daddy, friend, brother or sister.

        My husband’s strong, but he’s terribly sensitive. A man’s world can be a very lonely place. Men have to continually be something that they don’t always want to be, strong. They’re not allowed to hurt, cry, seek help or just be transparent. We can’t teach them to change by shoving them in a classroom like setting either, that’s not how they learn. That’s why I believe boys are sometimes misdiagnosed with ADHD, and other mental health disorders.

        I wish I had a resolve for all of this. One thing I noticed with my husband and two little boys is that they learn by doing. They enjoy being outside, and going on actual family outings where the visuals come to life. There is a need for men to lead men in our culture, but who’s going to do that without damaging them more?

        Thank you, Victoria, for this post.

  5. Sorry for blowing up your comment feed today, but this is a great post. The stereotyping of men is one of my pet peeves. I mean, I like to slaughter deer with my teeth just like the next guy, but I also like a good book. No homo.

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed this post! Anything that tears down stereotyping, social norms, and conformity…I’m in; where’s my dog-tags? 😉

    I also took a ‘poke’ at my home state’s conservative hetero-masculinity “image” it loves to maintain/project in this post No Dickie On Big Texie:


    Think you’ll like it Victoria.

  7. Thanks for pointing me to your blog. It is quite uncanny the similarity your content has to the research I am now doing. The discourse is about rape culture in music. Quickly coming to mind are rap music and the Jamaica sub genre, dance hall. The crude lyrical mix is masked by the infusion of feel good music (tune) as it subliminally endorses the prescriptive labels about gender. There is also the acceptance by many women, that for them to be of value, they must be willing to expose their sexuality in perverse (culturally biased) ways. The commercialization of sex retards the development of healthy and admirable respect.

  8. “Hypermasculinity portrays violence and physical aggression as manly ideals; it promotes a world where all of male life is a struggle of dominance of others, where sex is a matter of power and female submission rather than one of intimacy and mutual pleasure and that any “feminine” emotions are to be repressed.”

    I first heard of the term “Hypermasculinity” in an offbeat book I picked up used: The 1943 OSS Intelligence psych profile of one A.Hitler. Guess who was described as the probable example of Hypermasculinity?

  9. “One of the most shocking games pictured on this page is the Japanese game known as “RapeLay.”

    To paraphrase a German speaking about the French, “It is not for nothing that the Japanese are considered the biggest pervs in Asia.”

  10. This post has really got me thinking – what strikes me….not all of these adds seem to be targeted at men (the relish one or even maybe the calvin klein one). I need to let this sink in. But my first thoughts: From a negative perspective: woman can be enticed by images of desirablity. From a (sligthly more) positive perspective (as it relefects a shift in limiting beliefs) Maybe these adds are tapping into the fact that woman do not only have the desire to form bonds and experience intemacy but also have sexual desires……….

    • Afra, your comment was insightful. From a very young age a girl is taught that if she wants to be desired by the opposite sex, she must look and act a certain way, and of course, that varies within each culture. Regarding women and sexual desires —- cultures throughout history have done their damndest to suppress women’s sexual desires. Having sexual desires have been equated to being a ‘whore.’ Having sex outside of marriage (being owned by a husband) led to the death pentality, as is noted several times in religious books like the Bible.

      If you look at the ads from the Gender Ad site, you will notice a category where women are also shown in a negative light. The ads are disrespectful towards the male gender — dehumanizing. In other words, to be sexual means you must dehumanize the opposite sex. Again, a message of dividing the sexes. If women are attracted to these ads because they want to be desired, what does that say about our culture?

  11. Your story was a perfect backdrop for the images of ads and the passages on hyper masculinity. Some of those ads gave me more than a moment of pause; on the one hand wondering how they could be acceptable, on the other hand realizing — in most cases — they were likely designed and orchestrated by men. Terrific, thought provoking post, Victoria.

    • Ned, so great to see you stop by and read your comment. I must tell you that I took nearly a full day to examine the ads and research on the Gender Ads website, and I was stunned for lack of a better word. It also had a section where women were stereotyped as hyper-dominant, dehumanizing and violent towards men as well, though not near as many as there were against women.

      All of these ads are strategically targeted to affect the brain, and sadly, the masses become desensitized when exposed on a regular basis. It’s neuromarketing at its worst. The ads actually affect the pleasure centers of the brain (increased dopamine). Basically, people are getting rewarded neurochemically when they are exposed to these ads because the anticipation of purchasing something is involved. Dominance, dehumanization and violence are then associated with pleasure. Also, the anticipation of something is highly dopaminergic.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read, to comment, and for your kind words.

      • That is fascinating — and somewhat horrifying — stuff, Victoria. I have to admit, I have always had a deep interest in psychology. When my mom was in her late 20s, she went to community college and took a psych course. She would bring home her text book and I would read through it every day. Years later, when I took a psych class as a senior in high school, it was the SAME book: Psychology Today. I also read “Dibs, In Search of Self” (I may have spelled it wrong) when I was a kid, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

        Probably dopamine involved in there somewhere 😉

        Anyway, I really found this piece compelling and very well-written, Victoria. Although I don’t get nearly as much time as I’d like to read the blogs I follow, I’m looking forward to reading more of your pieces in the future.

        Enjoy the day 😉

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