It seems JC Penney has moved from girls to women. A couple of weeks ago, the company came under fire for selling an “I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework” t-shirt. Outraged parents and insulted girls got the company to remove the t-shirt. But perhaps that shirt wasn’t just a slip up and instead is part of a company culture that promotes the objectification of women and girls. Now JC Penney has a commercial on its YouTube channel that uses a sexualized video of a bikini-clad woman to sell men’s clothing.
The 30 second commercial starts with a man saying “JC Penney understands that you don’t like advertising for clothes. Who does?” He then goes on to say that if you take a look at the “smart fashion choices” that they’ll show you something great. The rest of the commercial shows a scene of bikini-clad Phoebe Cates from Fast Times at Ridgemont High alongside a series of shots of men in Van Heusen clothing. It ends with “JC Penney: It is seriously hot in here.”
Decades ago, commercials targeting men frequently objectified women to sell everything from cars to beer to cigarettes. While this trend has significantly decreased recently, it appears to be making a comeback with ads like the “Free Girl with Every Can” ad for Old Milwaukee beer, a variety of sexist car commercials and now this ad for JC Penney. In its apology for the “I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework” t-shirt, JC Penney noted that its “merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them.” I guess they still have a lot of work to do in that regard. Perhaps some gender sensitivity training is needed at the company.
But this issue is, of course, bigger than just JC Penney. What will it take to end the objectification of women in advertising targeted at men?
Screen capture from JC Penney Commercial.