Calvin Klein introduced a commercial in May.
In it, all you see is a woman in Klein products, you have another woman walk up and the two kiss. The commercial ends with a black screen with Calvin Klein printed on it in white letters.
There are no words, no explanation, no trying to promote their product. Just a heterosexual model kissing a computer generated model — also not currently marketed as a lesbian robot…
The internet was so unimpressed Calvin Klein apologized for advertisement. Even they had to acknowledge it was baiting. After all, all they did was use women, the LGBTQ rights movement, and equality for the sake of furthering their brand without doing the hard work of actually hiring a Lesbian model or being inclusive.
This trend wasn’t exactly started by the underwear brand though. We’ve all seen essentially the same thing in every store we visit nowadays. The happy looking models are now more diverse than ever. You have women advertising tech and men fashioning the latest dresses and it’s all fantastic. Inclusion, right?
Except, how many of those companies whose faces are just beginning to appeal to the wider world — wider than white people that is — have a board with not only women, but women of color, or who have men who are part of the LGBTQ+ community? Sure the face of these companies is as multicolored as the rainbow, but they’re like candy canes — once you lick off the stripes it’s just white again.
These ads are merely using equality
Objectification isn’t isolated to men seeing women as the objects of their sexual advances.
Objectification is assuming someone’s purpose. You can objectify someone by assuming their purpose is to be a mother. They are merely a tool for completing the job of motherhood.
Or you can objectify a woman or a movement and use it as a tool to advance your company when really you are anything but what that tool says you are. Calvin Klein did this in the least sneaky way, they used a straight woman to propagate the message that they were an inclusive company that was all about diversity and LGBTQ+ rights.
C’mon Klein, at least go to the lengths to make it look like you are trying to be diverse. It should take more than looking up the face of the company to reveal the monotone beneath the rainbow you’ve painted over your company.
Anywho… in this way anyone can be objectified. That is: used for the purpose of gaining something and not valued as the human they are. In the modeling industry, everyone is looking for a diverse cast of players — great! we need more diversity on our billboards. But the message of this diversity isn’t sinking in, people hire diverse models for their signs because it bumps their bottom line not because they value diversity.
Diversity is being used for what it makes companies look like, not for giving us all a history lesson in discrimination.
We stand for this type of objectification
As a culture, we see being used as manipulative and the fault always goes to the user. But we are so excited about seeing diversity on our advertisements that we don’t recognize the manipulation that’s right in front of us.
We grin right back at the ads with biracial couples, plus size men and women, and people bearing their Pride and we trust those brands because they have framed themselves in the picture with equality. Ironically, you don’t have to care about equality to put the two together it only takes good sense and a trend check to know that equality is in right now.
Should we stand for this objectification?
Something has to give first. If the first industry to diversify is the model industry, so be it. That industry is a reflection of what people want to see so if they are changing it means our culture wants to see more diversity which is undeniably a huge step in the right direction.
At the same time, it is worth noting that we are often lulled into complacency very easily. People talk about the one and done rule of inclusion — once a group of people has included one person from outside their group they feel good and actually stop including more people or even treating the person they have included as equal — and it is worth paying attention too.
If we applied the same rule to the wider group of industry and companies it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to imagine the model industry being the one and done. If the face of companies become diverse, it can be easy to assume the diversity will continue underneath the surface. Or as a company it can be easy to point to your face and say, look at all the inclusion without examining your hiring process in other sections of the company.
Every day we get closer to equality but when 60% of board members in fortune 500 companies — read: the companies with the most pressure to be inclusive — are white men, the next 20% is taken up by white women and the remaining 20% is allocated to minority groups — all of them, men and women. The message of inclusivity put on every billboard should make us all squeamish.
Huzzah, the model industry has opened up, our billboards are looking more inclusive than ever. But we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to the rest of the world and it is worth reminding ourselves:
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
As diverse as our culture is beginning to look, there is still a long way to go.