Sociological Images, the queens of criticising ‘women’s objectification’ in the media, have surpassed themselves this time. In a piece about ‘subliminal’ sexual messages in advertising they paint a picture of a world in which women are only ever presented as the recipients of men’s penetration and penetrative gaze.

In the above image they describe how the shadow of the perfume bottle is directed between the woman’s breasts. In the one below they ask, ‘where is the rocket going?’ (between the woman’s legs it seems).

And the text accompanying this beer advert reads:

‘This is a picture of an ad at the Burbank airport.  Notice the profoundly phallic shape of the foaming surf that happens to be pointing directly at the woman’s crotch.  The foam mimicks the crown printed at the top of the Budweiser bottle (in the upper left hand of the image in red).’

Well that really annoyed me, because if we are going to be reading things into the picture, surely it is obvious that the man is the one with his legs open wide, and the phallic-shaped  ‘surf’ is pointing towards him just as much as the woman? But no, Sociological Images only have eyes for women in the media, and men’s objectification of them.

My belief is that, in mediated imagery, men are the objects of the gaze just as much as women. There are ‘phallic’ symbols in a lot of sexual adverts, but they don’t necessarily represent men’s penetrative sexuality in relation to women. Using Mark Simpson’s theories, I have come to see these objects as ‘phallic pacifiers’, compensating for the ‘lack’ of virile masculinity that comes with passive poses such as these:

In relation to these sporno shots that Mark Simpson collected together he said:

‘It seems that words, in spite of everything, do still matter. And no one is more surprised than me. When I wrote about sporno for a catalogue accompanying an exhibition about sport and fashion my text was accepted by the editors – but when it came to the proof stage, higher-uppers got to see it and went ballistic.

I pointed out that the pictures I’d chosen as illustrations – which no one objected to – were MUCH more explicit than my textual innuendo, but to no avail.

And yes, the clutched rugby balls in these pictures are phallic pacifiers.’

In fact, in the photo including the rocket, rather than seeing it as going up into the woman, and penetrating her, it too, could be seen as a ‘phallic’ symbol for both the woman and the man, giving them some ‘power’ in a photo where otherwise they would both be passive objects of the gaze. The thing about analysing images is there are lots of different potential interpretations.

The subtitle of Sociological Images website is ‘seeing is believing’. But when it comes to men’s objectification, or ‘tartiness’ as Simpson calls it, these feminist academics are walking round with their eyes closed.


  1. […] have also critiqued the feminist/academic blog Sociological Images. Its blindness to metrosexual men is particularly […]

  2. Tristan says:

    I am very interested in this topic, thanks for posting it. I lecture in universities in Asia, and use advertising images as a way of highlighting the problems of ‘reading’ both denotations, and the cultural connotations of a sign.

    I feel it is really important to point out here, that yes, you can read FAR too much into images. sometimes, It can get ludicrous. As you rightly say, the phallic rocket? Seminal surf ? hmmm I had to stretch to read that one ladies.

    However, the proliferation of images that objectify women as pretty accessories to the glamorous ideals of commodity fetishism, far outweigh their male counterparts.

    Are you suggesting that there is some kind of equality in numbers? The case is especially true here in Asia, where the traditional family unit is pretty much an unquestioned ubiquitous ideal.

    P.S. On a personal note – thanks for calling ‘out’ Paul Burston, I actually want to jump back in the closet everytime I see his stuff.


  3. […] Tatum’s pole. Though that my comfort them momentarily! In metrosexual culture, men’s passivity and role as objects of the gaze, DOES involve some reduction of their ‘phallic’ power. […]

  4. […] her post, since Cyborgology blog is part of the Society Pages, which also features feminist-fest Sociological Images. The American feminist academics there spend a lot of time and energy, trying to convince us that […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s