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Objects of desire

In the quieter month of August when little happens in the industry and those who can head down to Cowes, it is always good news when a story appears that has people talking as they go about their daily financial services lives. Such a story relates to new mortgage lender Edeus, led by the iconic Michael Bolton, which has developed with its advertising agency a range of adverts to raise brand awareness to assist with the launch.

One of the series of adverts has been attacked by a feminist group for being “gratuitous” and “laddish”. In other words, it is viewed as being sexist. Just so we all know what I am taking about, sexism, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is attitudes or behaviour based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.

When a discussion starts about sexism in advertising, it stirs up connotations of a pregnant housewife leaning over a cooker as she prepares to serve dinner to her hungry husband and kids. At the other extreme, leggy models in stilettos and hotpants are surrounded by with feminists (with bad haircuts) waving placards stating: “This degrades women.”

The images of women in advertising often reinforce existing stereotypes of what an attractive and successful woman is or should be.

Sexism in advertising takes all shapes and sizes. It can be violent, humorous, blatant or subtle. Women are often seen as childlike, dependent or simple- minded sex objects.

The Edeus advert under the spotlight has a woman’s (but is it a woman?) legs in shot walking across a stage wearing very expensive blue shoes and hosiery. She certainly is not dancing and probably could not lap-dance with heels that high, especially as there is not a shiny pole in sight. Two suited guys sit in the distance and are not taking a blind bit of notice of the person with the fabulous set of pins.

As we all know, one of the basic human desires is sex. Advertising frequently uses the image of sex or sexual pleasure to sell a product that has nothing to do with sex. Rightly or wrongly, women are almost always the ones to provide the sexual pleasure.

The way men are portrayed in advertising is quite the opposite. They are most often shown in an active stance, with legs apart and arms crossed, or taking hold of a woman who looks trustingly at the man. If the men in adverts are not standing, they are portrayed doing something active, like playing golf, which predictably is one of the other adverts in the Edeus series.

Women are also often not shown “whole” in adverts. Like the Edeus advert, it is not just a woman on display but rather her legs. It could have been her backside or breasts but thankfully it was not. This makes the woman in question an object, rather than a living, breathing person.

Gender stereotypes in advertising exist to sell products. The person under the feminist group’s spotlight with perfect legs and expensive shoes and hosiery is portrayed as the perfect powerful woman.

Certainly, you would never know from media imagery that women’s income lags far behind men’s, that domestic violence against women is frighteningly common and that women still perform the bulk of domestic labour.

Advertising has changed beyond all recognition in the past few decades and has airbrushed away the grinding sexism that women still encounter today. Advertising has achieved a gender revolution, creating an implicitly post-feminist world in which women are powerful and men compliant.

In today’s world, it is possible for women to outperform male colleagues in the boardroom and sail the world’s seas while their husbands pick up the children from school and feed the babies.

It is well known to all financial services advertising agencies that a financial services client needs to attract males’ interest, as IFA World is a man’s game, with fewer than 25 per cent of all IFA firms on the IFA Promotion database having a female IFA working in the office. The figures show that fewer than 10 per cent of IFAs are female.

Come on girls, it’s time to offer holistic independent financial advice to the UK’s population and not settle for a paraplanner or back-office role.

Kim North (kim@techandtech.co.uk) is director of Technology and Technical

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