In late January, “We Are #WomenNotObjects,” a video that exposes the objectification of women in ads, went viral, and we wanted to lend our voices to this important discussion. The Brew sat down with AKHIA CEO Jan Gusich, President Ben Brugler, Change Agent Amanda Vasil and Account Director Kelly McGrath, to get their take on the #WomenNotObjects movement.
Why is this an important topic right now?
Jan Gusich: It’s not just right now; it’s always been an important topic. As a female CEO, it concerns me. If women are objectified in media, how do you respect women as leaders within organizations?
Ben Brugler: Enough is enough. Women are CEOs of companies, politicians and in all kinds of leadership positions and today, they have a voice they didn’t have before. There’s mass acceptance of this kind of portrayal and we should be asking ourselves, “Why is this OK?”
Amanda Vasil: I agree that it’s always an important topic and right now there’s a spotlight on it. I think the timing of this video is interesting, being released just before the Super Bowl. It’ll be interesting to see if any brands make last minute changes to their ads.
Kelly McGrath: I question why this is even a headline. The more we give in to it, the more it exists. I think we forget the positive things brands are doing, too. Brands like Dove® portray women in a positive way and it’s interesting to me that any negative ad can bring us down. We should be focusing on the positive things brands do for women.
What do you think about brands that say they respect women, but their ads objectify them?
Jan: They’re perpetuating stereotypes that should have gone by the wayside decades ago.
Ben: Brands sell themselves short. They have to be smarter and they have to find better ways to advertise. I think it comes down to common sense and brands should be held accountable.
Amanda: But it isn’t just about brands. I think there needs to be joint accountability between brands and consumers, as well as the actresses, models or talent in these ads.
Kelly: I agree. I think we need to be encouraging young girls to be who they want to be, and to own it at whatever it is that they’re doing. I look at my daughter and I want her to see confident women with kind hearts. Would we be having this conversation with women in a classy role in these ads? It’s a societal issue that I think goes beyond just the brand.
For brands featured in this video, how do you think they should respond?
Ben: Their response depends on who they are and what their mission statement is. If this isn’t who they are, they need to make an honest, long-term commitment to doing better because there are serious issues attached to these kinds of ads. Things like domestic abuse and body image are connected to this and if they want to shift perception, then they need to have a serious and meaningful response.
Jan: I agree. It’s concerning because this is how men see daughters, mothers, sisters, etc. Not as leaders, but as objects. Media portrayal is how perception is formed and it extends beyond commercials and print ads. You can see how any minority might feel about how they are portrayed in advertisements, on TV shows and in movies, too.
Amanda: For brands, I think it’s about what they do and not what they say—and that should be their response. It’s a “show, don’t tell” situation and brands need to embrace change.
Kelly: Brands need to find some kind of balance between using ads that get attention and make money and creating ads that don’t objectify women. But shame on women if they’re going to be defined by the ad.
Amanda: And I think in that sense, women need to act more like a community.
What do you think the outcome of this movement will be?
Ben: The outcome should just be that it becomes common sense that this is not OK. Children see these ads and we want them to grow up with the understanding that degradation of women is not OK. As the father of two daughters, I want them to grow up knowing they are respected and boys should grow up knowing that degrading women is not OK. I would love to just have it be normal that objectification of women isn’t tolerated.
Amanda: I think this is great from an awareness perspective. Brands should be rethinking their creative and talent needs to be held accountable too.
What has to happen for things to change?
Ben: For things to change, we need more people and more brands to take a stand. People need to adjust their reality and I see it as a whole attitude shift. It’s a good conversation to have and it needs to keep happening. More people need to get involved so that this isn’t the reality any longer.
Amanda: I agree. I think we all need to embody the change we want to see.
Kelly: People need to get talking, because it’s a good conversation to have. I think there’s another piece of this which is for women to know and understand what they’re capable of. Be authentic. Know your personal brand and exude that at work and in your personal life.