Even though I work in science, I am not usually confronted with raw sexism as if I were working in the world of Mad Men. Occasionally, however, I am reminded that being a woman in science is not the norm, at least as far as advertising executives are concerned.
Let’s say you run a lab supply company, and one of the products you sell is what’s known as a “stripping buffer.” Your target audience is scientists who work with this medium and are looking for an effective way to remove background noise from their Western Blots. Would you choose to (a) advertise your buffer using a clear picture of how your product works, showing a Western Blot with a competitor’s blocker versus your own, or would you (b) advertise your product using a picture of a woman taking off her dress, with the tag “Fast, Easy, Effective.” as if you were selling some kind of retro Men’s bathroom vending machine aphrodisiac?
If you chose option (b), then crank up The Stripper and check out this ad. (Aaand now I have the song stuck in my head, damnit.)
While I was searching for lab buffers, I found the below ad for a Stripping Buffer from Rockland (a pretty reputable vendor):
Stripping Buffer is basically exactly what it sounds like, if you’re a scientist who runs Western Blots. It removes certain proteins that you’ve added to a blot to allow you to add other proteins and save time (and resources) when running an experiment. I know that sounds pretty dry, but if you do this sort of experiment on a regular basis, this might be exactly the kind of thing that excites you. And that’s exactly one of the issues that I have: this product is marketed towards people who know what this shit is, not a general audience. So why waste time on unnecessary innuendo? When I’m looking for lab supplies, I don’t buy whichever one has the shiniest packaging, I look for the ones that are reliable and do what I want.
If you want to be clever, why not just have a generic zipper removing the extra layers of protein? In the above ad, we have a figure that is supposed to be a woman, with an hourglass figure, stripping her dress off (a little black cocktail dress, no doubt) to reveal a protein band, cleverly inserted at the exact space where the back of her bra would be. (O-ho, I bet the execs really patted themselves on the back for that last little detail.) Fast and easy, indeed.
Why stop there? Why not just go for it and re-enact the Pheobe Cates scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Or is there any way we could add some kind of phallus?
I know that sex sells, and women’s bodies are frequently used as billboards to appease the male gaze. Which isn’t OK. But really, I thought I was safe browsing for boring ol’ scientific lab supplies. And I wouldn’t even complain about this in real life, because most likely I would get a “oh it’s just not a big deal” reaction. But do you think this company would advertise a Stripping Buffer using a body stripping off clothes other than a skinny (white) woman’s body? Probably not, because that kind of thing wouldn’t be acceptable to the target audience (of a subset of scientists looking for specialized buffers!). And actually thinking up something that doesn’t involve a woman stripping would require ad execs to be creative and not lazy sexist hacks who only care about their boners.