As a feminist and a mother, the increasing sexualisation and pornographication of childhood frightens me. It seems that the only way to sell a product, any product, is to use the – frequently naked – body of a young woman. Misogynistic advertising campaigns that reduce women’s sexuality to an addendum to The Male Orgasm are increasing and the age of the models/actors in these ads is getting younger and younger. This has become so ubiquitous that I’ve stopped being shocked at the reductive and destructive heteronormative construction of women’s sexuality in advertisements; that is until I came across Ann Summers’ new “Summer of Sex” campaign, part of which involves driving around England [which they inaccurately refer to as the UK] in an ice cream van with the tagline: “Come and see us if you fancy a mouthful.” The I-Scream tour is one of the most problematic pieces of outdoor advertising I have ever seen.
I think Ann Summers frequently pushes the bounds of acceptability in terms of its window displays on the high street. They are a well-recognised brand and shouldn’t resort to cheap stunts like using giant rabbits in their windows, which serve only to intrigue children. But, the I-scream tour is misogyny at its most destructive: it normalises the construct of women as fucktoys via the medium of a cultural signifier for innocence and childhood. Children aren’t stupid. They know what an ice cream truck looks like and most of those over the age of 4 are capable of reading the “free ice cream” signs. How is a parent supposed to explain to a child that they cannot have the “free” ice cream because it comes with a flavoured lube topping? Or, why there are women in bikinis waltzing about the high street since women – and its only women – who show up in bikinis get a chance to win a branded Ann Summers swimsuit. You can also have your picture taken making your best orgasm “face” and have this uploaded to Facebook.
This is not a simple matter of editing what our children watch on TV or view on the internet. We cannot prevent our children from viewing an ice cream truck parked on our high streets covered in sexualized images of half-naked women. I also wonder how many Ann Summers employees are checking the identification of young men and women to ensure they are over the age of consent before taking their photos to publish on Facebook.
But worse than all this is the fact that they are actively targeting our children. According to one mother on the parenting website Mumsnet, Ann Summers employees are approaching women with small children with the offers of free ice cream. I think this demonstrates just who the target audience of this campaign really is. It’s not women in their 30’s, it’s about creating brand awareness in young children and targeting teenagers. It’s about putting flavoured lube in the mouths of our daughters. This campaign isn’t about teaching our daughters to enjoy their sexuality; it’s about peddling the same reductive heteronormativity which privileges the male orgasm at the expense of women.