The His-and-Hers Versions of These Quit-Smoking Ads Have Way Different Priorities

NYC's health department says smoker's cough makes women "unattractive." Well, I think sexism makes THEM unattractive. So there.
Publish date:
January 8, 2016
sexism, advertising, smoking, PSAs, commercials

Have you guys seen that Progressive commercial that pokes fun at the sexist ads of the 1950s? Spokesperson (mascot?) "Flo" tries to tell you about the Name Your Price Tool while being interrupted by an old-timey announcer who insists on talking about antiquated gender roles.

Progressive, right? (*rimshot*)

It's cute, but the first time I saw it, I felt like it was kind of out-of-left-field and irrelevant. It reminded me of those Manhattan Storage ads from a few years ago that had nothing to do with storage and just seemed to want to make liberal friends with copy like "RICK PERRY: THE VOICE IN YOUR HEAD IS NOT GOD" next to a tiny bubble that said "Storage starting at $29."

But more than being kind of off-topic for an insurance ad, it seemed to me like it was making a statement that didn't need to be made. I mean, of course there's still sexism in advertising (and everywhere else), but today, it's typically much more subtle (or at least more covert) than what they're portraying in this TV spot.

Or so I thought.

(Reluctant link-clickers: that links to the Dramatic Chipmunk video because now's as good a time as any to try to bring that back.)

A couple months ago, I started seeing a PSA from NYC Health (the hip nickname for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene) that didn't really raise any red flags at first.

It features a man being rudely awoken by his "morning cough." Bold, white copy in the center of the screen tells you that "your chest is tight" and "it's hard to get air"; it goes on to tell you to imagine what it would be like if that cough never went away, reminding viewers that this is what life is like with emphysema, and then transitioning to a black screen with information on how to get help to quit smoking.

Effective yet innocuous, right? Makes its point. Maybe some smokers even feel compelled to visit after seeing it, which would be rad.

I can't think of too many topics that call for his-and-hers versions of TV spots, so I was surprised when, earlier this week, I saw what's essentially the female version of that PSA.

The plot is the same. A woman is woken up by her "morning cough" as bold, white copy tells us it's "uncomfortable."

However, before asking us to imagine what it would be like "if the cough, the lack of air, never went away," and giving us the contact info, the only other symptom listed after discomfort is that it's "unattractive."

I'm sorry — what?

For men, smoker's cough makes your chest tight and makes it difficult to get air, but for women, it makes you uncomfortable and unattractive?

Now, I'm not saying it is attractive. The unattractiveness may not be as motivating as the health problems, but if you're going to list it as a downside, why not list it in the men's version of the ad, too? Because men are influenced by health factors and women should be worried about not being pretty?

Give me a goddamn break, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. (Yeah, I'm calling you by your full name. As anyone who was ever a kid knows, use of your full name means you're in trouble.)

In my anger, I took to Twitter, because that's the only way I know how to express my anger on days that aren't Friday, in which case, I express it here on xoJane. (And also because, as I've written about before, tweeting about sexism makes women feel better, even if it doesn't necessarily accomplish much else.)

When I got only one retweet (and from one of my best friends), I wondered for a second if maybe I'd overreacted. Or maybe tweeting at 8:56 a.m. isn't ideal for maximum impressions — I dunno. Either way, I was planning to tell you guys about it today in my usual Friday slot.

But then, someone at Women's Health saw my tweet and made it the jumping-off point of a quick news item on their website, which is totally cool because they gave me credit for the observation, but I was like, "Shit, they scooped me with my own tweet," and I briefly considered not writing about it today.

Yeah, right.

Clearly, sexism in today's advertising is, in some cases, much more blatant than I previously thought.

The less obvious forms of sexism are still rather obvious to many of us, like how women are sexually objectified to sell things like burgers and still star in the vast majority of laundry-detergent commercials. But at least we've come a long way from ads where a husband is in the background berating his wife for not using Tide, right?

Well, no, I guess we haven't. And I think it's worth tweeting about, writing about and reading about wherever possible.

Ultimately, I'd like for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to notice this little clamor I'm making, realize the error of their ways (sexism isn't good for mental hygiene, after all), and rework the ad so the woman's version has the same copy as the man's.

Ultimately-ultimately, though, I'd like to not have to dodge the sexist turds thrown at women by the advertising monkeys who haven't evolved nearly enough yet.