“Until we portray women as equals, we will not treat them as equals,” says Madonna Badger. Speaking at Eurobest in Rome, Badger gave a slightly abridged version of the talk she delivered to a standing ovation at Cannes Lions earlier this year — and her message bears repeating as we approach the end of 2016.
This has been a year where misogyny has quite literally trumped empathy. In the United States, the presidential election was won by what Badger simply describes as an “Objectifier in Chief”; leaked audio of Donald Trump casually talking about assaulting women didn’t end up hurting his presidential campaign one bit.
Examples of objectification and violence towards women are ubiquitous in pop culture. Just last week, it came to light that the infamous “butter” scene in ‘Last Tango In Paris,’ a film widely heralded as high art, was filmed without the prior knowledge or consent of actress Maria Schneider. Schneider had stated on numerous occasions that she felt “humiliated” and “a little raped” by both director Bernardo Bertolucci and the film’s star, Marlon Brando, but these claims have only been taken seriously in hindsight after a video surfaced where Bertolucci confirms that he and Brando colluded on-set.
Rape culture is perpetuated by filmmakers who treat women as nothing but body parts. It is promoted and endorsed by politicians who brag about grabbing women by the pussy. But there is one industry which has been more complicit in portraying women as objects than any other.
“Advertising is the number one offender in the objectification of women,” says Badger. And she should know; she’s guilty of it herself. She was the one retouching photos of Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg as creative director of the now-iconic 1990s ad campaign for Calvin Klein. “I loved objectifying people,” she admits. “But this is not about shame, censorship, or judgment.”
Badger is the founder of WomenNotObjects.com, which aims to end the objectification of women in advertising once and for all. And to put rest to any protestations that this is too lofty a goal, she’s giving the ad industry a handy checklist:
1) Are the women in your campaign active participants in the narrative you’re conveying? Or are they passive, even subservient?
2) A shocking proportion of ads focus on a close-up of a certain part of a woman’s anatomy, such as her lips, breasts, buttocks or groin. This immediately sends a sexualised and exploitative message. And all manner of brands are guilty of this, from men’s cologne to chewing gum.
3) Airbrushing and retouching are everywhere in advertising, and overzealous Photoshopping often leads to models who look like shiny stick figures, missing joints and sometimes entire sections of their bodies — what kind of absurd idealised body image does this impose on young girls?
4) What if the woman or girl in the ad was you? Or your sister? Mother? This final criteria is depressing in its necessity; the notion that anybody would be unable to perceive a woman as a human being without having a personal connection to one in their own life borders on the sociopathic. But it’s a sad reality that with a great many men, the only way to get them to buy into the idea of women as people is to frame them as wives and mothers.
“What we create has impact,” says Badger. Which is why her agency has pledged to never create an ad which objectifies women or men. Her challenge to the advertising industry is simple: can you do the same?