by Taamisah Mitha

When was the last time you were watching TV and an advertisement for M&M’s came on the screen? Advertisements targeted towards children like the M&M ads are not as innocent as made out to be.  They are doing more than just selling candy; they are perpetuating the subordination of women through stereotypes about both genders.

The representation of gender within the M&M advertisements is very stereotypical.  It can be argued that there is overt sexism in these advertisements towards males and females.  The advertisers of M&M’s have assigned gender to pieces of candy which are inherently gender neutral, merely for the purpose of selling their product.

The green M&M is characterized by her sexuality.  She wears white go-go boots or stilettos and strip teases and dances around a pole.  She is pictured lying in bed eating chocolates while the camera crew of male M&M’s drool over her.  The same dissection of women’s bodies in advertisements that Jean Kilbourne refers to, occurs with the green M&M as she has a “female” candy body.  She is also pictured in risqué poses and she stares off into space mindlessly unengaged with the world around her.  She is just a sexual object.  When women are sexualized in advertisements such as this one, as the target of men’s attention they lose their status as a human and they become an object.  Women are no longer depicted as persons so they are not given the respect that they should.

Male M&M’s are stereotyped as stupid as they ogle over the Green female M&M; it is almost as though the men are to be seen as too stupid to control their gaze and what they say to the females.  When the female M&M is around, they are so overcome by their sexual desire that they cannot even think clearly.  In that way they are also overly sexualized, all that they can think about is the beautiful M&M and how they will get her attention.  They have no personality other than their need and dependence in getting the attention of a woman.  This is a stereotype that is prominent in the media about men as they are depicted to think about nothing but sex and women.

They are seen trying to do everything to impress this green M&M.  There are even M&M ads that specifically target men and tell them “This is what you need to do to be a man, this is how you should act, and this is what you should look like.” Not surprising that this ad took place at a gym where men are constantly bombarded with messages of what a man should look like.  He should be strong with pronounced muscles and a tough look on his face.  This is what he needs to do in order to get the ladies attention.

After much uproar due to the Green M&M’s overly pronounced sexuality, the company tried to redeem themselves by introducing a new take on sexism in their advertisements.  The Brown M&M was constructed as a “feminist” female M&M.  In some ways they try to make her seem powerful and intelligent. This is keeping with the stereotypes created in the media about smart women; she is the only M&M that wears glasses.  She is a business woman with connections in high places—like with the prime minister.  The Brown M&M turns the males down and she ignores them, and does not respond to their sexual advances towards her. She humiliates the men for thinking that she is naked in public.  Her power is due to her being in control of her sexuality and not by the fact that she has created a high status position for herself as a business woman. She is being sexualized by men but she just does not care.  Still in this advertisement, men are being stereotyped as stupid and controlled by their sexuality for even thinking that a woman would leave the house naked.

The common theme that is repeated is that men are too stupid to control themselves.   If a woman is around they will try everything to get her attention.  The women will “pretend” to brush them off but their body language will say otherwise.  It is a never ending cycle of violence against women and this cycle perpetuates the stereotype that all women enjoy having men harass them and that there is nothing wrong with this.  When in reality it is stripping women of their status as humans and turning them into sexual objects for the enjoyment of men.  This in turn contributes to violence against women in our society and the subordination of women.  This advertisement fails to acknowledge that women are people and deserve to be treated as more than just sexual objects and that men are capable of engaging in healthy relationships with women.

Taamisah Mitha is participating in Violence, Media Representations and Families a media literacy program joint initiative between Kwantlen Polytechnic University Sociology Department, First Voices and Battered Women’s Support Services.