Why do adverts still patronise women?

Advertisers think they can sell anything to women — as long as we're dancing or eating cupcakes, says Alison Graham

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It wasn’t too long ago that women on television adverts roamed in giggling packs as the cretinous Here Come the Girls trumpeted on the soundtrack. These chortling bands of females invaded restaurants at Christmas to distribute cheap gifts to one another, or they would gossip on pavements, eyes rolling at the perceived weediness of Men in General as they discussed cold remedies and their own stoicism in the face of sniffles. (These commercials were of course for a chain of major high-street chemists).

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Or there were those “Lambrini Girls” who got together in their living rooms to drink cheap wine in a kind of Lidl version of Sex and the City while doubtless discussing the 2013 Davos World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. I wanted them all to fall into a vat of buttercream, their screams muffled by cloying sickly-sweetness.

Thankfully, The Girls seemed to disappear from our screens so maybe we were in for a whole new world of 21st-century womanhood (bearing in mind how long it takes the ad world to catch up with life as we know it and live it) where presumably financially independent women didn’t behave as if their brains had been replaced by hair mousse. 

Well think again, suckers! Yes, women have major wealth muscles – we have jobs and thoughts and opinions and we can vote and everything! – that they might like to flex, but the world of television commercials, in its blood-pumping need to render us down to one simple characteristic, has decided that it can sell us anything – shampoo, cancer fund-raising events, out-size clothes – if only women are shown dancing.

Yes, dancing. Not in a club, where it wouldn’t be weird, where in fact it would be required. But at home, for no particular reason, just for the sheer joy of being a woman with a head full of waffles and an intellect that died of shame. It makes the days of The Girls seem like Camelot. 

Go on, count the ads where an empty-eyed woman gets home and does a little dance for no particular reason. Have you ever done that? Perhaps, if you were drunk and you didn’t have to go to work the next day. But not just because you are a woman and that’s what women do because this is Ad World, where stereotypes sell.

In the worst of these ads a woman tries a new shampoo that’s so spectacularly successful she does a little dance then – God help us all – rewards herself with a cupcake. I ask you, a cupcake, that signifier of all things supposedly feminine, something that now defines women in general when it comes to selling things. You are a woman, therefore you must love cupcakes!

In another ad, this time for a very good charity fund-raising cause, the whole thing is torpedoed by the usual gaggle of gurning, giggling women who get together presumably to gossip (because that’s what women do, obviously) and some of them do little dances for no discernible reason. Then there’s the smiling woman selling clothes to the over-50s. She dances too, but rather desperately, as if someone’s going to Taser her the second she stops.

In a world where the programmes that fill the gaps between ad breaks are documentaries fronted by clever women, and dramas with women characters who are capable of thinking about more than their latest fix of sugar and carbohydrate, Ad World needs to catch up. Fast.

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And STOP DANCING!