This is one of those things that I hate to give any more publicity to, but since the vast majority of people who come here are extremely tech-savvy, my hope is that it will piss a few of you off enough to never use this company's products.
The Linux Journal was lame enough to accept advertising money from a company named QSOL. It's a company that sells server appliances.
So the August issue of the magazine has this ad. A woman's face, partially obscured by ultra-sexy darkness, dominates the copy. The Face (it really reminds me of a sexed-up Zardoz) is a parody of femininity. Her expression is just slightly haughty. Her eyes are heavy-lidded, her porcelain skin Photoshopped to perfection, her lips erotically plump and, in a final nod to cliché, painted a bright red.
OK. So. The ad has thus far done nothing more than almost every single ad (from jeans to makeup to beer to douche) has done: appropriate the power of female sexuality to shill something. Fine; I've pretty much caved to the fact that if I were to boycott every product whose advertising slightly offends my sensibilities I'd never eat or wear clothes again. Anyway, anyone who knows me well knows that my sensibilities are not easily offended. Most of the time I shrug and move on.
But then you get to the delightful copy. The bold text (helpfully and leeringly set just to the side of the model's crimson mouth) reads as follows:
Don't feel bad, Our servers won't go down on you either.
But wait! It doesn't stop there! The fine print includes such gems as:
We've all known disappointment. And few things are more disappointing than undependable, expensive servers that don't satisfy your needs.
And the last line? If your server isn't giving you what you want, visit *our stupid company*. Don't worry, it's a sure thing.
W. T. F?
(I can practically hear the ad copywriters in their meeting: "OK, we need to make her look super slutty! How do we do that?"
*pause; there is a collective glassy-eyed gaze into the middle distance*
One of the guys gets a genius idea! "I know!" he cries. "Let's give her bright red lipstick! Because everyone knows that whores wear red lipstick, and that non-whores who wear red lipstick are total cockteases!"
One of the other guys snickers and chimes in, "Yeah! And you know what would make the copy really awesome? If we made some reference to women servicing men! That would make it clever because you know, servers sounds like services, which is what a woman does when she gives a guy head!"
*murmurs of approval throughout the room*
Another intrepid adman speaks up: "Plus, this ad is aimed at geeks, and it's common knowledge that they're all hard up and emotionally arrested! No one who works with computers ever gets laid, so this ad will not only be funny, the entire tech industry will relate to it and chuckle and buy our client's product!"
*general applause amongst the men and the token woman who thinks that to break the glass ceiling she has to prove she's on board with the other men by drinking the Kool-Aid*)
And you know, I'm too tired right now to go into the myriad ways that this is fucked up and perpetuates sex stereotypes and is demeaning to women and also (hello - did anyone in that ad room even consider this point?) makes geeks look even more pathetic than they're generally portrayed in the media. Besides, the blog where I found this, Feministing, is staffed by graceful, sharp, funny-as-hell writers who put it much more elegantly than I ever could, so I'll just repost most of the comment here. (I think blog rules apply as far as public domain is concerned, and Feministing is an above-average blog. Go there to check out the ad copy and stay for the blog - not to mention the fierce and hysterical comments on this particular thread.):
Not only are women nothing but sexual objects, but the print also implies that, like technology, women also sometimes fail to act "properly." I think that we can all agree that there are certain standards we hold for how we want and expect our computers to behave. Apparently, QSOL has similarly rigid standards for women. The word "won't" in the sentence "won't go down on you" implies that, for some reason, the woman should go down on you.
Of course, the ad isn't simply offensive to the broad (pun not intended) demographic of women; it's also directly insulting its audience. It plays off of a stereotype that everyone knows-- haha, guys who like computers are nerds, and nerds don't get any sex-- and yet whoever wrote it somehow forgot that it's a negative stereotype about the company's own customers. Making an even bigger mess, the ad is excruciatingly heterosexist with its "wink wink, you know what we mean, guys" attitude. Who, after all, decided that "nerds" are always straight? That's not even mentioning how the ad completely ignores the fact that-- horror!-- some women like computers, too. Yes, I do think that the technology-savvy crowd is probably a mostly straight male demographic, but does that give a company the right to completely erase the existence of its other customers? Since they obviously didn't care much about how their male customers felt, did QSOL ever consider what its female customers might think about the company's apparent view of them? I'm betting not.
Lastly, as all clever sexist advertising does, QSOL assumes that its customers are "in" on the joke. It doesn't entertain the possibility that maybe, just maybe, all men aren't assholes who spend every available moment running around trying to find random women to give them blow jobs. As a result, the ad acts not only as an example of sexism, it also encourages, normalizes and perpetuates the sexist hierarchy. Hey, it's all fun and games, just a joke, lighten up -- and it's just us guys talking here, anyway.
That sums it up.
If the job of advertising is solely to get attention, I think this one did a fine job. But it makes me really, really sad.
I'm reposting the blog comment here because I think that the overlap for most tech people (women and men who are interested in women's issues not included in that lump) and the readership of Feministing is likely kind of small. Nearly every man I've met through this website works in the tech sector, and the vast majority of those men are evolved enough to see that this ad is truly, irremediably offensive. For all their boob jokes, for all their locker room banter, they honestly like and respect women.
And this is some really hateful stuff.
And sadly, I am in no position to boycott anything this company provides, because the typing I'm doing right now is as close to the tech industry as I'll probably ever get. (I don't actually know what a "server appliance" is.) But some of you here - women as well as men - are geeks, and a subset of you might one day be in a position to tell QSOL to go fellate themselves.
Unless, of course, you appreciate the twin concepts of women as aloof sex objects and men - specifically men who work in the tech sector - as misogynists who can't get laid anyway.
So, though it pains me to even mention the name of the damn company, my fondest hope is that at least one of you techs out there will be in the position to boycott the entire company in toto and perpetuity. I suppose I'll write a letter to Linux Quarterly as well as to QSOL headquarters after I've managed to get past the self-righteous outrage and settled on just plain outrage, but the truth is that nothing I say or do has any real impact. Money talks, so I'm mute here.
God damn it. I hate getting riled up by ads, and I really am not a humorless woman. And to tell you the god's honest truth, I'm probably part of the problem; I subscribe to more cotton-candy chick magazines than I care to admit, and they are certainly guilty of perpetuating the stereotype of women as willing - but not too willing! - sluts. They accept crappy sexist ads all the time. I'm cognizant of the fact that subscribing to those sorts of rags doesn't contribute to enhanced communication between the sexes. I should probably read stuff that's more edifying and less fluffy. (I choose to believe that my poor choice of reading material makes me a flawed and complex feminist rather than a hypocritical feminist. Ahem.) But most advertising - as despicable as much of it is - doesn't stoop to this level.
It takes an awful lot to truly offend me, particularly along these lines. And it really makes me mad to have to step into the whole pitiful, apologetic "I'm a feminist but I still have a sense of humor" pile of dogshit, as though feminists have be devoid of levity to carry a certain set of core values. But this one was really beyond the pale.
According to the blog Valleywag, the self-proclaimed "tech gossip rag",
This ad is completely unoriginal. Linux Journal ran an almost identical ad seven years ago, in its November 2000 issue. And the 1.0 version stirred up just as much controversy -- so much that the magazine apologized for and promised to pull from any future editions of the magazine. Promises, promises.
Obviously QSol ran the ad to titillate and shock, and get talked about -- and from that perspective, the company has succeeded. But then there's the quality of the ad itself. Leave aside the broken promises, and the ad's tiresome execution. Why would you want to buy servers from a company that clearly hasn't had a new idea in seven years?
This news makes me hate Linux Journal as much as the stupid company. No, wait - it makes me hate Linux Journal more than I hate the company. I'm willing to bet that QSOL didn't pay The Zardoz Face for the second run of the ad, either - the company appears to be run by people of that sort of sterling character. And I won't waste any more time or outrage on this shit, so no strongly worded letters are going anywhere.
H.L. Mencken was right - nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. But it's good to know that we're all being manipulated so skillfully!
Even better to know how much has(n't) changed over the last seven years.