Like it or not, sexism is alive and well in the 21st century. If you don’t believe me, just consider the movies Hollywood turned out this year: Superbad, Knocked Up, and The Heartbreak Kid, just to name three. I haven’t seen any of these—nor do I intend to—but I saw enough trailers to know that women’s body parts in all three are the basis for the risqué humor that brought in over $300 million for these three movies alone.
Women in the 21st century boast that they’ve “come a long way, baby;” yet not only are they not yet on a par with men when it comes to equal pay for equal work, but they continue to be objectified in nearly every way imaginable and in every medium: from reality TV to beer and car commercials, from NFL cheerleaders to beauty pageants, from the Victoria’s Secret fashion show to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. There’s Howard Stern, Playboy and pornography, and the fact that the plastic surgery industry is a multi-billion dollar business—wrinkles, sagging flesh and cellulite cause more fear in this country than global warming and the threat of another terrorist attack combined. And the tabloids think nothing of raining ridicule on Jennifer Love Hewitt in a swimsuit. And Tyra Banks is fat? Since when?
But sexism is becoming prominent in the cigar industry nowadays as more and more ads featuring sexy women appear in cigar magazines, too. My only interests in buying a cigar are the wrapper, its binder, the filler blend, and how long the leaf has been aged. Cigar smoking used to be a male-only activity, but with the introduction of flavoredcigars, more women are indulging in the practice. Yet instead of catering to this new demographic with politically correct advertising, we have CAO Flavorettes. These girls, scantily clad representations of a certain flavored cigar, travel to cigar shows where attendees can sample specific blends based on the color of the bikini these Flavorettes wear. It’s one thing to ask for a recommendation from a knowledgeable woman—someone who’s been in the tobacco business for twenty years, learned it from the bottom up from her father or a favorite uncle—quite another to buy a stick based on the body parts of the woman pushing it. Other than a bourbon infused cigar, which is not the same as a flavored smoke, I don’t know that any of my male friends smoke flavored cigars. So to whom are these Flavorettes supposed to appeal—certainly not women smokers? Perhaps to the men who buy flavored cigars for their partners? “Here, Honey, this blend looked good on the Flavorette at the cigar show, so I think you’ll like it.”
Yet the ad industry has been using sex to sell their products for years. Does anyone really buy a car because of the woman behind the wheel in the ad who asks, “The important thing in choosing a car is, when you turn it on, does it return the favor?”
Yet these ads must work; if they didn’t they would find some other angle. Yet surely there must be some consumers who find them insulting. Why aren’t more women outraged? It seems that more women measure themselves against the sexuality depicted on the small screen as today’s norm.
When I was younger I thought I knew it all; when I turned forty I realized how little I really knew. My father told me that was wisdom. Wise or not, I’m over fifty now, and the wisdom of marketing cigars using women eluded me for a time—then it hit me like a bale of tobacco leaf: the industry couldn’t care less about appealing to a seasoned leaf lover like me: they’ve got my dollar. Their worry is appealing to a much younger demographic, the one that will one day replace me. Now I understand how my father must’ve felt when he told me the world had passed him by—that his “the greatest” generation had been forsaken for the Baby Boomers because we had more disposable income. And so it goes: the capital baton being passed from the Baby Boomers to Generation X, as it will, eventually, from Generation X to the Millennium Generation.
I grew up watching Rob and Laura Petrie, who couldn’t be shown onscreen in the same bed together. The twenty-somethings today, Generation X, grew up on MTV. If today’s TV has desensitized the old fogy generation, what’s it done to a generation who grew up on it? Sadly, little, which perhaps leaves the admen thinking they must further push the envelope in order to make their product memorable.
The pendulum, I fear, will never swing the other way—not until women, with the help of male feminists, stand up and refuse to be used as the objects they outwardly profess to abhor even as they inwardly, perhaps even unconsciously, seem to embrace the practice. Until that happens, expect the advertising industry to continue to use women in more and more risqué ways.