01/31/2014 05:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

#NotBuyingIt App Challenges Sexist Media

Born as a Twitter movement (hence the hashtag), #NotBuyingIt has now become an app, with the developers hoping to expand their fight against sexism in the media.

As the name implies, #NotBuyingIt was primarily made to go after advertisers -- by no means the only offenders, but arguably the source of some of the most offensive and misguided examples of sexism to be found. The app is community-based, allowing anyone to post up an example of sexism in advertising and start a discussion about it with other users. It's also possible to send direct messages to the offending companies, to hopefully make them rethink their marketing strategies.


Sexism in marketing is perhaps the most vexing kind, possibly because it features the objectification of women in the most tangible sense -- women's bodies (not women) used as tools in the pursuit of profits. It's not just propagating a harmful image, it's knowingly doing so because someone thinks it's good business. Therein lies the heart of what #NotBuyingIt is trying to achieve -- to demonstrate that it's actually pretty bad business, in addition to being tasteless.

And there are no shortage of offenders. From the specious 'just for women' products churned out to the more standard 'sex sells' strategy of using attractive models to lure in male customers, sexism is alive and well in the 21st century, even if it's not as obvious as it was 50 years ago. But, as we gear up to hopefully put #NotBuyingIt to good use, it's important to really outline why these ads are so damaging.

An ad objectifying a woman to sell goods, in and of itself, isn't terribly significant. Most everyone will get over the tastelessness. We'll move on to the next thing. The problem is in the cultural norms that sexist advertising preserves. Like it or not, the media plays a central role in socializing children and adults alike. Ads like these socialize people, particularly men, to think of women as objects of desire -- something to be attained, or earned, or whatever word you want to use. What media, and so much else in society, has somehow failed to get right all this time, is one really simple truth. Women are people.

In 2014, it's staggering that women, who -- it never ceases to amaze me that this needs to occasionally be explicitly stated -- make up one half of the world's population are seen by advertisers as having bodies that amount to static marketing tools or a niche market to be pursued. And, granted, there's absolutely a discussion to be had about the ad-heavy, grinding world of capitalist competition lending itself to the commodification and objectification of humanity in general, across race and gender. But, it's hard to argue that sexism isn't its own particular problem -- especially when the culture that sexism creates exacerbates sexual violence.

Sexism is hard to fight today because it's so much more subtle. Overt sexism is (comparatively) a relic of the past -- the more subversive, structural sexism that exists today is extremely hard to concretely define. Point it, it's easier to ignore. It's easier for some to say that sexism no longer exists -- fortunately, there are enough people #NotBuyingIt.