Dolce and Gabbana advert

Date: January 1, 1970
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The advert shows a photo that feature a blank looking young woman in a bathing suit and high heels being pinned down by a glossy shirtless man while four other men look on.

The advert  may be used to:
1. illustrate images that promote violence against women;
2. promote debate and discussion around what influence images have over actions or beliefs;
3. discuss the impact of images that rely increasingly on ‘shock value’ to sell products;
4. illustrate the ‘sex sells’ mentality of fashion advertisers and discuss where the line between sexy and offensive lies; and
5. show that advertising is far more demeaning to women today than it was 20 years ago.
Trainer’s notes

This advert overtly portrays a scene of impending gang rape and can be seen to promote violence against women. Although the brand argues that the avert plays on sexual fantasy, the vacant expression on the woman’s face does not indicate that she is an active and willing player. Whose fantasy is this? Hers, or the men’s? Is it actually a fantasy at all? Launched just prior to the beginning of 16 Days of Activism, as the world is joining hands in the fight against abuse of women and children, adverts such as this misrepresent women as the object of sex. Men are also misrepresented and displayed as cruel, powerful, uncaring and out for sexual conquest.

Dolce and Gabbana has a history of developing controversial adverts that depict sexual acts that remain on the fringe of what mainstream society considers acceptable sexual practice. Other adverts have included sadomasochistic images of women brandishing knives, mistresses and slaves, shower room orgies and homosexual encounters. All have sparked controversy and debate around how images are interpreted, and what impact ‘shocking’ or ‘subversive’ imagery has on society.

One could argue that the image simply portrays a sexual fantasy that many women hold, and that it promotes a less prudish attitude toward sex and sexuality. In that vein, one could actually read the image as progressive and sex positive, in the same way that homosexual or sadomasochistic images present a diversity of sexual expression that should be celebrated. However, one can also very strongly argue that this image portrays and promotes sexual violence, rather than celebrates sexual diversity. The expressions on the woman and the men’s faces – of detachment (from the woman), hunger (from the man on top of her), and either boredom or approval (from the surrounding men), do not indicate that everyone is in on the fantasy. The image tells the story of a woman simply being raped while the other men ignore it, approve of it, or want it themselves.

Images hold a great deal of power in society. They can both challenge and uphold a society’s beliefs and assumptions. While Dolce and Gabbana possibly hoped to challenge assumptions, they have actually reinforced them. This image tells us that rape is acceptable, that men are powerful sexual predators, and that dressing in a particular way will get a woman into ‘trouble’. Although these kinds of adverts have been helping to increase D&G’s sales in the past years, perhaps they need to question how gender is being used in the adverts, and how they could create images that are just as effective, but more gender sensitive.

Discussion questions

1. Designers are often using increasingly subversive and shocking imagery to sell their products. Is the shock value necessary to keep a leading edge on the market? Discuss the reasons why participants choose a particular brand. How heavily does brand image influence people’s reasons for purchasing one product over another?
2. Do ads like this successfully sell products to men and women? Why or why not? Ask participants to explain why this ad does or does not appeal to them.
3. Do marketing companies have a responsibility to show balanced images of women and men?
4. How do you think the advert should have been showcased to the public? Discuss other directions the marketing campaign could have taken, and other images it could have used.
Training exercises
1. Conduct research at a marketing company on how adverts a being put together and the ideas behind them.
2. Analyse a selection of product adverts containing images of both men and women. How are they being used to advertise different products and why? Are men as sexualised as women? How are men and women represented?
3. Hold a debate around media responsibility. Where is the line between edgy and offensive? Do images like this promote gender violence, or do they simply play on sexual fantasy?

Links to training resources:
Picture our Lives, Gender and Images in Southern Africa, Chapter three: Sex, Gender and Stereotypes
Gender and Advertising in Southern Africa

Related GL Commentaries
Media can help bring 365 days of no violence
Missing the mark? Gender and advertising in Southern Africa
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall? 
Women consumers of media must flex their muscles 
Why is media literacy important for women 

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