Retro Sexism and Uber Ironic Advertising

September 21, 2010

Created for and originally posted at Bitch Magazine’s Mad World Virtual Symposium

Marketers are increasingly using Retro Sexism to sell products.  This form of advertising uses irony and humour as a way to distance itself from the sexist and/or racist representations and stereotypes they perpetuate.

Retro Sexism (n.): Modern attitudes and behaviors that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.

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** This video is available to be translated into other languages by volunteers like you.  Please visit the subtitling page on Universal Subs and click TRANSLATE to get started.


Transcript – Retro Sexism: Uber Ironic Advertising

*music* and isn’t it ironic, don’t you think

Have you noticed this strange trend in TV commercials recently? It’s been bothering me for awhile but I haven’t quite been able to put a name to it. It’s this kinda twisted combination of cynicism and humour with these over the top caricatures and it always ends up being racist and/or sexist. It’s really the normalization of sexism through the use of irony it’s the ‘they know that I know that they know, that they’re being sexist.’ Some terms people have used to describe this is ironic sexism or retro sexism.

Retro Sexism is modern attitudes and behaviours that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way. Let’s see an example from Carl’s Jr.

CLIP: Carl’s Jr Online Ad *instrumental music*

I know it’s over the top and ridiculous to see women marching in american flags to liberty, cheeseburgers and the American Dream and they know that they’re over the top and ridiculous and objectifying women but because we all know, doesn’t mean it’s not sexist.

Take for example this new marketing campaign by Mike’s Hard Lemonade where they are attempting to rebrand their product as a more ‘manly’ drink and a less ‘girly’ drink.

CLIP: Mike’s Hard Lemonade Commercial

Man #1 “Can you believe some guys never tried Mike’s Hard Lemonade because they’ve seen women drink it?”
Man #2 “We don’t have those kinds of issues”
Woman #1 “Hi there”
Woman #2 “Thank you”
Man #1 “No we don’t”

CLIP: Mike’s Hard Lemonade Commercial
Man #1 “Mike’s is a refreshing change of pace to beer but you should enjoy it responsibly”
Man #2 “For example do you have a designated driver? I could take you home.”
Man #1 “Or I could”
Man #2 “Or I could take you both home. Lots of options”

See how he’s not even pretending to fool us, like we’re all in on this big joke. Look how funny it is that he’s incompetently and obviously trying to take advantage of these women. We’re all supposed to know that this guy is acting like a scum bag and ha ha isn’t it funny. Really they know that I know that they know that they’re being sexist.

Or what about the good old wandering eyed lying husband and naive wife tropes.

CLIP: Twix Commercial

Wife “Do you have the extra pacifier?”
Husband “yes”
Wife “Do we have enough formula?”
Husband “yes” Wife “okay here ya go honey”
Baby Crying
Wife “honey… honey…”
Women laughing
Wife “what are you looking at?
Voice over “Need a moment? Try the chocolate caramel and fresh cookie crunch of twix.”
Husband “I’m looking at potential babysitters, so we could spend more time together”
Wife “Aw, that’s so sweet”
Voice over “when you need a moment chew it over with twix”

See how obviously and transparently he’s lying to his wife. We all recognize that this is ridiculous. This guy is clearly being a jerk and we get to laugh at that but we have the added bonus of being able to laugh at his naive wife whose clearly not seeing his transparent behaviour. Additionally the advertisers get to use pseudo porn stars in a male fantasy sequence so the audience gets to join the man in ogling the women.

And for another example of the naive girlfriend.

Clip: Coor’s Light Commercial

Phone ringing
Man #1 “Who could that be? Oh wow, I’m there for you buddy. That was Brad, he really wants to vent.”
Woman “You should go”
Doorbell Man #1 “Ready to vent?”
Man #2 “Let’s vent”
Man #1 “Let’s vent”
Man #2 “Let’s vent”
Voice over “Introducing the wife mouth can from Coor’s Light, it lets in air for a smooth refreshing pour”
Woman “Is he okay?”
Man #1 “I think we’ll be venting a little longer Sound of sports on TV”

So you see, they know that I know that they know. Women are supposed to laugh at how stupid this girlfriend is while being secure in the knowledge that they’ll never make the same mistake. This commercial is set up so that women are laughing at caricatured, sexist representations of other women.

Ariel Levy describes in her fantastic book Female Chauvinist Pigs how women are being trained to be just as raunchy and objectify other women just like ‘one of the guys.’ We’re coerced into doing this instead of aligning ourselves with one another, one of the reasons might be to impress men and I’m gonna guess that pointing out sexism isn’t exactly popular with the guys.

This next one not only manages to sexist but also racist at the same time. Is there a clio award for that?

CLIP: Carl’s Jr. Commercial Sound of seagulls and ocean

Voice over “When a guy can’t get his wanine to put some hallakahiki all over his morboo then he’s gotta go some place else.” (*transcription note: I don’t actually know the voice over is saying here so I tried to translate it as it sounds)

Not only is this exotifying and sexualizing Hawaiian culture but she’s literally a thing. This brings a whole new meaning to objectifying. Carl’s Jr. is infamous for uber ironic sexism in their commercials.

CLIP: Carl’s Jr. Commerical Song lyrics “In the winter when it drizzles, I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles”

Yet somehow women aren’t up in arms, they aren’t organizing protests and boycotts and online campaigns. Some people might try to defend these ads by saying they’re ‘making fun of sexism’ ironically… somehow. Advertisers must believe that the use of irony distances themselves from male chauvinism but that isn’t the case. While we think we are in on the joke, the reality is they aren’t making fun of or pointing out sexism, they’re doing it.

Remember advertisers have one goal and one goal only and that’s to sell you a product. Everything else, all the jokes, humour and imagery and everything else is to get you to buy it. The easiest way to do this is to use sexist representations that replicates the status quo and doesn’t challenge anything. Marketers love the uber ironic sexist style of advertising because they can use all the racist, sexist misogynist imagery they want and simultaneously distance themselves from it with a little wink and a node.

So how many examples of retro sexism have you already seen today? *music* and isn’t it ironic, don’t you think

28 Responses to “Retro Sexism and Uber Ironic Advertising”

  1. 1st vid: creepily faceless female figures in disturbing US flag zentai costumes? That one just didn’t make enough sense to me to really have any opinion on. Next up…

    2nd video: I found it really lowbrow and offensive, not just towards women (who are portrayed as stupid fuck-muppets in it), but in how it fuels the stereotype that men are sleazy at heart, and that it’s okay. As a male who champions ideals of self-discipline, respectful conduct, and not being a slave to your every animalistic desire to fuck, I find the commercial, at a glance, to be unimpressive and stupid, and upon further thought, simply insulting and shameful.

    3rd vid: aside from the naive wife stereotype, we also see the stereotypical lousy husband/father being shallow and thinking about other women like a lousy/casual husband who sees his wife as a nagging bag of responsibility. If anything this commercial is an unfair, unhealthy stereotype of marriage and family.

    4th vid: Definitely the airheaded/naive blonde girl stereotype, but also a freaking huge stereotypical depiction of men as being meatheaded and uncaring liars who’ll shirk relationship responsibilities to hang out with “the guys” and watch football.

    5th vid: If I was Hawaiian I’d probably be rolling my eyes at the dashboard girl ad too. It is pretty lowbrow. But, again, another crude and stereotypical depiction of a male who’s got nothing on his mind but tits and fast food.

    Just about everything the commenter in the video is saying could equally be used to addressing how the media doesn’t just stereotype women, but also men, though in very different ways. So she’s not really wrong, she’s just missing out on what could be a powerful addition to her argument that could also get males to critically examine what they’re watching too, and to realize just how much all of us are treated like knuckledragging idiots by popular media.


  2. Good addition. Of course, the depiction of guys in those videos is insulting for me, too.

    Although there is one important difference: In spite of being depicted as small-minded, irresponsible idiots, men always “win” in the end.

    Kind of makes it easier, doesn’t it?


  3. […] Retrosexismus ist immer noch sexistisch. Warum, das erklärt Anita Sarkeesian wieder einmal sehr gelungen in der neuen Folge von Feminist Frequency (mit englischem Transkript zum […]


  4. It makes me think of all the “make me a sandwich” jokes that seem to be going around these days. Guys are saying it to be ironic, but at the same time, they’re being sexist while trying to make fun of sexism.


  5. I get lots of those, and I don’t think they are actually even trying to make fun of sexism, I assume they are just being sexist as that is an acceptable from of humour socially.


  6. All of those are super gross and the main reason I don’t watch television. Keep it up!


  7. hey i love your blog. i posted one of your videos on mine.


  8. […] ready to move into a modern egalitarian spirit have found a solution – retro sexism.  The latest Feminist Frequency video features this topic, offering up this definition: “Retro Sexism (n.): Modern attitudes and […]


  9. Ugh, of course the dude in the Carl’s Jr commercial was white and the woman-thing was “Hawaiian.” Also the squooshy noises.


  10. I seriously seriously hate those “need a moment” Twix commercials where they basically encourage men to lie to women. Once you put it out there, no matter how “ironic” or over-the-top you make it look, you’re still putting it out there and it permeates our consciousness.

    have you seen the Miller Lite “Man Up” commercials? There are a few of them. Here’s one:

    These commercials enrage me on so many levels.


  11. […] Retro Sexism and Uber Ironic Advertising […]


  12. Great post. I’m so sick of seeing women in advertising being portrayed in sexist and demeaning ways. One ad that really made me angry is this one from Australia which shows a mother stripping:

    Having a woman objectifying herself sexually for men as if it’s a normal and healthy way to raise a family is absolutely vile and should never have made it to air. I refuse to ever eat at the chain that produced that ad.


  13. Just discovered your blog today and am loving it! What a good term for this. I’ve noticed it too and couldn’t figure out who really is more in the know and correct–the advertisers or the viewers. Too many you know, I know levels that it gets so muddled up, nobody knows what they’re watching. But you say it much better than I can. Keep up the good work and interesting posts!


  14. […] einem ähnlichem Thema (Retro Sexism) vor einiger Zeit einen netten Beitrag, den man hier findet: klick. Von Dozent_innen, die derart achtlos mit Wörtern umgehen ist leider auch kein Eingreifen zu […]


  15. […] that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way… Read More: About This Post Posted by Dave on Jan 22nd, 2011 and filed under Cinema/Visual/Audio, Feature […]


  16. The TWIX and COOR’S Light commercials shown on the video are not only sexistic against women but also men: They are transporting the stereotype of men not being able to be honest, being dick driven, not being able to act responseable etc.


  17. […] a joke. If that is the case I point to the fabulous Feminist Frequency post and video regarding over the top uber ironic commercials. There is a transcript of the video on the Feminist Frequency website. The idea is that these […]


  18. […] a joke. If that is the case I point to the fabulous Feminist Frequency post and video regarding over the top uber ironic commercials. There is a transcript of the video on the Feminist Frequency website. The idea is that these […]


  19. […] ser fram emot den dagen då det skrivs namninsamlingar för att få utvecklare som till exempel Anita Sarkeesian så elegant plockar sönder i sin video om sexistisk marknadsföring. Detsamma gäller för greve […]


  20. […] huvudperson Duke Nukem som en ursäkt att få göra det. Allt medan han åberopar ironivinkeln, som Anita Sarkeesian så elegant plockar sönder i sin video om sexistisk marknadsföring. Detsamma gäller för greve […]


  21. […] I think all her videos are excellent and encourage you to head to her website and watch a few. Here’s one to get you started. It’s called Retro Sexism and Über Ironic Advertising: […]


  22. […] distrustful of ironic advertising, largely because, as Anita Sarkeesian says in her excellent blog post, “Remember advertisers have one goal and one goal only and that’s to sell you a product. […]


  23. […] sooo wrong. Not being able to name what I felt, I’ve turned to Adios Barbie friend and colleague Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency who explains this phenomena as Retro Racism. “Retro Racism (and Retro Sexism) uses irony and […]


  24. […] that we accept it. Enjoy it even. These shows are using a technique that FeministFrequency calls “Retro” or “Ironic” sexism: “Modern attitudes and behaviors that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an […]


  25. …none of this came across as ironic to me. It all just seemed like they were being over the top sexist as a way of fulfilling someone’s fantasy or portraying people in ways that the viewer may or may not view them in as well (like portraying a shitty lie as super clever).


  26. wow, thank you so much for doing this blog – and especially this post!!! i am very well aware of this phenomenon of “über irony” or “retro sexism” but wasn’t aware that these terms existed, so i used to call it post-modern irony (where you think you can say anything because it’s all so funny, but in fact it’s not – and if you point that out, you’re the lame person).
    so, thanks again – and keep up the good work!!!


  27. I’ve been watching all of your videos after I learned of them from your upcoming tropes vs women in video games series, I’m really enjoying them. I was wondering what your opinion was going to be on ironically sexist games like Bayonetta, and I think this video answers that question. But now I’m curious if you or anyone knows of any examples of over-the-top sexism that is purely for comedic purpose and isn’t actually sexist. Is there a way to make fun of sexism without being sexist or can that even exist?


  28. Thank you so very much for making this video! We need more women like you out there doing this! It helps us as women to not only be aware of what’s going on, but empowers us to know what’s going on and how it’s NOT okay and why it shouldn’t be acceptable, which helps us to feel like we’re not going crazy because we’re being bugged about these sexist things that we may not be able to identify or name at times!



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