the “sex sells” myth

“I swear to god I will lose my mind if I hear the “sex sells” fallacy one more time. Sex does not sell. If sex sold, we would see penises where we see boobs. Naked men would be on everything that naked women are on. Sex isn’t what they’re selling you. They’re selling you an impossible, pornographically fueled misogynistic idea of the perfect woman.”

I found this quote floating around on Tumblr. I don’t know who the originally posted it, but it perfectly summarises how I feel at the moment.

Earlier this evening, Alchemy Nightclub posted an advertisement on their Facebook page. It depicted a woman pulling down her underwear with the slogan “If you’re not up for it, don’t cum” written across the top of the image. A female user commented: “Wow – this is a perfect example of a sexist advertisement against women” to which the Mondays At Alchemy page admin replied “Maybe you’d be more suited to a nightclub like the kitchen.” It was at this moment that I became so enraged that steam began to emanate from my ears.

There are so many things wrong with both the poster and Monday At Alchemy’s comment that I find it hard to begin. To me, the poster says that your presence in Alchemy on Monday nights means you’re “up for it” – basically giving every scumbag the right to say “But she was asking for it! If she doesn’t want to be pawed and groped, why did she ‘cum?” I don’t even need to list the ways in which this is wrong wrong wrong, but I’ll just say that it further reinforces the idea that we live in a culture which teaches us “not to get raped”, instead of “don’t rape”.

At the time of writing, the number of likes on the “kitchen” comment has now risen to twelve. This comment is offensive not because of its content, which is pretty standard let’s-all-ridicule-the-feminist fodder, but for how it completely trivialises the issue, making it impossible for her to reply without seeming like a shrill, bra-burning harpy. The fact that so many people agree, basically telling her to sit down and keep her dirty opinions to herself, is extremely disheartening.

It’s apparent from the response to the poster and comment that we are completely desensitised to the objectification of women in the media and advertising. We see it so often, it has to be right, doesn’t it? Sex sells, we all know this. But, as said in the opening quote, sex doesn’t sell. If sex sold, the Alchemy poster would have a man unbuttoning his fly or undoing his belt, maybe. Sex doesn’t sell. The pornographically fueled misogynistic idea of the perfect woman”, who doesn’t have any of those annoying opinions and is ready to be used at will, sells. Recent ads for Ryanair and the mobile phone service provider 48 are further proof of this.

Alchemy is not the only nightclub that uses an unhealthy attitude to sex to promote itself. The Big Tree in Drumcondra has club nights with names like “Forget the Shift, I Want the Ride” which say the same thing: you’re here, which means you want sex, which means I have license to do whatever I want to your body without needing to ask. This, frankly, is frightening to me as a woman. You may say that people have respect, that they don’t take stuff like this seriously, but I’ve been felt up enough in nightclubs to know this is not true. Being a woman in a nightclub is already difficult enough without the clubs themselves giving permission to grope the female patrons.

The thing about talking about stuff like this nowadays is that you are constantly told you are “overreacting” or being stupid, that this is just a funny joke. The fact is that this is not funny at all, and I don’t feel I’m overreacting to what is essentially a command to shut up and accept the blatant objectification and abasement of women. If saying this makes me a shrill, bra-burning harpy and the subject of a hundred “get back in the kitchen” jokes, then so be it.

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21 thoughts on “the “sex sells” myth

  1. as an anthropology student i have to say this; You ARE over reacting. it is as simple as men are trying to act confidant to women so as to bed them. to wed them and to love them. there is no rape involvement, that is the last things on anyone’s minds. but the whole set up of society is that the man has to chase the girl he has to try repeatedly and get turned down. whilst all the woman has to do is be there (yes this is an oversimplification but this is the internet) men have to pay for the drink, have to chat the girl up. and when the girl comes to a club dressed in a provocative and alluring manor and wants none of it, the man has to wonder why she came out to the type of situation where she is expected ti be chatted up so that people can find partners?

    1. esilke says:

      I don’t even know where to start. You might want to become aware of the extreme privilege that allows you to so casually dismiss the rape of countless women every year (“[rape] is the last thing on anyone’s mind”) or be so blind to the unwanted harassment (verbal or physical) that passes for the “chatting up” that you say she should have expected because she was “dressed in a provocative and alluring manner”. I don’t know what your anthropological education is teaching you, but you seriously need to reexamine your impoverished worldview of men as predators and women as prey.

    2. Not every man has to chase the girl, buy the drinks, try repeatedly and get turned down. Maybe you should just take the hint and stay at home? And don’t patronise women in that all they do is ‘be there.’ Whether your oversimplifying or not, your reply is ridiculous. If rape is the last thing on anyone’s mind, why does it happen over and over again? And what is as simple as men trying to act confident? What has that got to do with the blog post and that stupid gross picture Alchemy advertised? If you want to find a partner then go do it but if you want to ‘bed them wed them love them’ you should probably sort out the order in which you’re going to do that.
      Nights out now are mostly about cheap shots and getting the shift, or the bang in the Big Tree’s case. People just follow their friends into these mindless clubs with the promise of cheap drink, some of which will be carried around by some gormless waiter wearing hardly any clothes. Why are these the places that people queue up, usually in the rain, to get into?
      People need to stop selling themselves short. If you like music, then go find a decent place that plays decent music. If you just want to get pissed and don’t care where you are then go do that too. But do it with some dignity. Don’t go to a place where their most creative marketing strategy is a girl taking her knickers off. Do we really need to see that? I think when people start taking themselves more seriously then maybe these poxy clubs with their poxy advertisements will start taking us seriously too.

  2. I completely agree that this poster is blatantly promoting sexual harassment, but isn’t there a simple enough solution to this? Don’t go here. I don’t mean that in a head-in-the-ground “I can pretend it isn’t an issue if I avoid it” sort of way. I mean protesting with your feet. If you see a poster like that you’re not gonna go, are you? Hell, I wouldn’t go somewhere with disgusting clientelle like that. But there must clearly be females entering clubs like Alchemy on their ‘singles only’ nights (to put it lightly) or else all the disgusting pervy guys would either not go, or would start groping each other. Which is cool, if you’re into that sort of thing. My point is that in our society, for whatever reason, there is a serious problem with apathetically accepting government or corporations anally raping your rights and civil liberties, but instead of hitting them back where it hurts, ie. protesting in the street, turning up to vote, or in this case in their pocket, we just bitch and moan in forums that no one with the power to do anything will read. If the government want to cut health or monitor what you do on the internet, we ‘dislike’ the government facebook page. In ANY walk of life, if you facilitate the injustices that are being thrust upon you by not doing anything drastic to stop it, you ARE “asking for it”. The issues of the objectification of women and invasion of personal space in clubs as a whole extend far beyond any solution I can post in the comments section, but let’s just stick to the simple here with Mondays at Alchemy: the day women stop showing up to nights where they are expected to drop their knickers is the day Alchemy bosses will stop organising them, as their club is strangely empty on those nights.

    TL;DR – sexism is wrong, objectification of women by corporations is beyond wrong – it’s dangerous, but maybe you girls should get out of the kitchen and do something about it.

    1. esilke says:

      The solution to ending slavery isn’t telling people to stop buying slaves… And I suggest that instead of blaming a group for not sufficiently fighting their oppression, your righteous anger would be much better directed at the oppressors themselves.

      1. No, “The solution to ending slavery isn’t telling people to stop buying slaves”, it was by, among other things, the oppressed actively protesting, ceasing to work as slaves, and by the oppressors being boycotted. Which is what I said. What is your point? Or did you just read the TL;DR?

    2. Keith, you are absolutely right. The poster specifically says not to “cum” (come) if you’re not up for it. So don’t go there. Simple. This poster is encouraging free-spirited men and women and those who want to carry out their groping/rape fantasies with women who are up for it – so everyone who goes is happy. It’s ridiculous to see a poster like this, turn up at the same nightclub, then complain about getting raped. I’m actually against rape but this poster makes it clear what kind of people should come to the club – those who are up for it. So if you see the poster, go to the club, and a guy rapes you, that’s what you ASKED FOR by going to the club, as made clear on the poster. So if you visit this club and get raped, too bad. And complaining about it takes away from those victims who didn’t go to such cubs where they should have expected to be raped.

  3. While I do agree that the ad is offensive I also think that the ‘sex sells’ cliche is unfortunately true. The vast majority of the people the ads and magazines are targeting are the lowest common denominator of hetero men who go to these places and buy newspapers/magazines/see blockbuster movies as long as there’s some female flesh on display. Men themselves are used sexually to promote things as well, but again it’s usually for the titillation of other (gay) men. It’s a sad reflection on the male gender but generally it’s true. And people who aren’t interested in base sexualisation and sensationalism won’t be buying these products or attending these venues anyway.

    1. That is probably the worst thing. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve tried to seriously point out an example of misogyny and got the “Oh here she goes again, up on her high horse” response. You’d nearly just stay quiet to avoid having to endure stuff like that.

  4. John Smith’s comment is the scariest, sleaziest most worrying thing I’ve read in a while. Disgusting. Being ‘up for it’ and rape are not synonymous you creep. Great piece. That quote is spot on and never let anyone silence you. We need to have these conversations. People only want to silence you and others who point out injustice, share their opinions and stand up for what they believe in because you’re challenging the ignorant stereotypes they fail to question which console them and with which they are familiar. Just have to keep chipping away until misogyny is seen for what it really is. And it is not ‘normal’.

  5. There is no denying the poster is awful. And that the manager’s reaction was awful. Here is what bugs me…

    1) “Forget the Shift, I Want the Ride”
    2) you’re here, which means you want sex
    3) which means I have license to do whatever I want to your body without needing to ask.

    I see a HUGE jump from step 2 to step 3. I think its rather insulting to believe just that a woman might want sex from someone, that men suddenly think rape is okay. That doesn’t really make much sense, is insulting, and also can be a point that is hurting your argument.

    Let me show you what I mean by changing sex to be about ice cream:
    1) “Forget the Shift, I Want the Ice Cream”
    2) you’re here, which means you want Ice Cream
    3) which means I have license to force feed you Ice Cream without needing to ask.

    I just don’t see the connection between step 2 and 3 with out making huge leaps.

    1. Jesse, my main issue was that it condones the groping and sexual harassment that most women have had to endure in night clubs.

      Most men would definitely not think rape is OK, but from my experience many certainly don’t mind grabbing a handful of your behind as you walk past, or even putting their hands up your skirt uninvited.

      Its not rape, but it’s discomfiting and upsetting and unfortunately, normalised. And this poster isn’t helping.

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