Breaking the Binary: It's Advertising's Turn

The gender binary, though not as old as time, has been enforced long enough to have created a permanent furrow in society’s brow. But it’s not just tradition that enforces this — it’s advertising as well.

Advertising — as well as the research backing it — is notorious for continually enforcing and capitalizing on tired gender roles and stereotypes. During one particular college class of mine in 2014, J.J. Davis’s "Advertising Research: Theory and Practice" dug the gender binary even deeper. Davis lists and defines multiple types of questions used in advertising research — classifying gender as a “dichotomous question.” A dichotomous question, unlike its more lenient cousins, gives its survey participants only two choices in response to a question. Gender, however, is not dichotomous — but the academic side of advertising is lagging behind.

As I’ve said before, though — advertising is all about knowing the rules and breaking them anyway — which is exactly what CoverGirl is doing.

Yes, I know he's problematic as heck but I wrote this a year ago come ON

Yes, I know he's problematic as heck but I wrote this a year ago come ON

17-year-old James Charles, heralded as “CoverGirl’s first Coverboy” (AdWeek), is an Instagram-based beauty guru boasting a whopping 272K followers as of this blog’s posting. Like CoverGirl’s models before him, Charles is an expert in cosmetic beauty — so no un-sexist logic can justify disallowing him to grace CoverGirl’s ads. While the brand’s name still implies their products are strictly for cisgender women, New York creative agency Yard’s co-founder Ruth Bernstein says that “as androgyny and gender fluidity become the norm rather than the exception in today's cultural landscape, brands are faced with the challenge of tackling gender norms both in their advertising and the products they offer.” This being said, brands can’t uproot centuries of gender norms in one modeling deal — but it’s a start.

Thinx, a brand of underwear specifically designed for menstruation, is following suit. CEO Miki Agrawal says that, their product’s goal is “to reclaim the anxiety and shame surrounding your period” and that this isn’t an issue for exclusively cisgender women. Their print ads have featured transgender men in an effort to remind the public that some men menstruate, and some women do not.

Since having gender fluidity invalidated before me from the stage of a lecture hall in 2014, the media’s made strides in queer visibility. The impacts are being made — the second step is to normalize it.