I was reading an article about women’s roles in the United States military and was surprised to learn that regulations still prohibit women from serving in combat. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have blurred the lines of warfare to such a degree that women have found themselves, despite the rules that forbid it, fighting alongside men for the first time. The women have proven themselves to be tenacious soldiers and they have earned many medals of valor.
With this article fresh in my mind, I left work and walked toward Grand Central Station for my evening commute. Along the way I saw this (see photo to the left). Now I’m a fan of advertising that is smart, quirky, and original, but I really found this advertisement contemptible. Sure, I get it—it’s supposed to be funny. But why am I not laughing? To place female police officers in a derogatory, sexualized context is just plain demeaning.
Unlike the military’s regulations denying women combat roles, police departments do not have rules that keep women out of harm’s way. Female police officers perform the same duties as their male counterparts. Yet advertisements like this one, printed with big, bold letters, send a clear message to the women in blue: We don’t respect you.
The show being advertised is from The Learning Channel (TLC), which for some reason feels it must stoop to the lowest common denominator to attract viewers. Advertising is a powerful medium, but when used thoughtlessly, advertisements can—and do—reinforce demeaning stereotypes and biases. As a parent, this message strikes a particular nerve. My nine-year-old son reads everything. When he reads this advertisement and inevitably asks me what it means, what is my answer supposed to be? And why should I even have to explain something like this to him?