I was researching the protests going on in India for our last Thursday article round-up (link). A few weeks ago, international media picked up on the story of the assault of an unnamed woman on a Delhi bus, and has since been buzzing about it. Many journalists commented on what says about how women are perceived in India—as objects. For women in the Delhi area, the danger of being assaulted in a crowd setting is so great that the anti-assault protests happening now are usually populated only by men. (Many news articles are quick to comment on the hypocrisy of this.)
I was reading an International Business Times piece on the subject when I noticed an ad on the side of the page. It was a cartoon of a torso with breasts and some protruding belly fat. “1 Tip for a Tiny Belly,” the ad read. The body’s shape and the bubbly font of the text suggested it was directed towards women.
Once I began looking, I noticed that most articles whose conclusions were against the objectification of women’s bodies had similar ads. If a page didn’t have an ad for weight loss advice or Botox (always marketed towards women), ads would be for clothing, with only a certain body type represented by models.
The ads that were not directly telling women to change their appearance were reinforcing a very strict idea of beauty—one where only thin, white women can be considered beautiful.
Although negative media is not on the same level as a national culture of assaulting strangers, the objectification of women* represented by these ads was in sharp contrast to what the articles beside them were saying. Although most of the articles were very feminist, most of the ads were not.
It is impossible to tell whether news sites allowed these ads to support their work because they didn’t care, or because they didn’t know they had control. Most of the ads shown above were supported by Google AdSense, one of the most popular ad services on the Internet. I have an AdSense account, and decided to see how hard it would be to keep ads I didn’t believe in from showing up on a website I run.
As it turns out, selecting what type of ads (and even what brands) are shown on your site is very easy. Google makes it obvious and simple—on the AdSense website, it only takes a few clicks to block “weight loss”-related ads, or even specific websites, from buying space on your page.
There are enough ads in the AdSense database that blocking ads you don’t support will not lose you money. A different ad can take its place. And if ads that objectify women can’t find space on websites, the products and services they sell will be encouraged to market themselves differently.
*That’s not to say that men are not objectified, but the ads I saw while writing this post were overwhelmingly marketed toward women.