Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Men Act, Women Appear: How Men and Women are Portrayed in Billboard Advertisements for Nightclubs

Thesis: Night club advertisements portray women as passive objects of the male gaze, while men are either entirely absent or they are portrayed as active participants in control.


There is no denying that sex sells in advertisements. Advertisers often try to push the boundaries in order to grab viewers attention (Media Awareness Network, 2009). “Any image that entices a reader to linger over an ad – whether tasteful or not – causes that person to remember the particular brand advertised. Even controversy can be effective in getting a brand or name into the public eye” (Media Awareness Network, 2009, p. 2). The idea that “sex sells” is a highly utilized marketing technique used in night club advertising. “Provocative images of women's partly clothed or naked bodies are especially prevalent and are sexualized in order to grab the viewer’s attention” (Media Awareness Network, 2009, p. 2).

Oil City Roadhouse is known for their sexualized advertisements featuring scantily clad or naked women. At Oil City there were no men in any of the advertisements within the bar, only half naked young women being fragmented or objectified. Looking online at Oil City’s website, we were able to find only two advertisements which displayed men. In these ads, the men are displayed in positions of power. These ads portray men in active stances such as posing for a fight or as a cowboy riding his horse. In the media, men are typically shown as powerful, muscular or virile which is evident within Oil City’s advertisements (Media Awareness Network, 2009). Women however, are not displayed in active positions. They are instead portrayed in stationary poses where they are subjects for the male gaze (heterosexual male audience). Nearly all of the Oil City’s advertisements feature women posing seductively. Rather than being sexualized like the woman, the men are shown in dominant poses which reinforces the unequal relations of power between women and men (About Face, 2009). Women are seen as a spectacle to be objectified by the male audience, whereas men are displayed in positions of power which serves to reinforce their dominance. Men’s authority is further emphasized by the fact that they dominant space in advertisements (Media Awareness Network, 2009).

Looking at Oil City Roadhouse’s advertisements both online and in the bar, all of the women displayed in the ads fit the traditional female role-white,young, thin and pretty (About Face, 2009). All of these women are displayed in the advertisements as partially dressed or nude, in highly objectified positions such as posing naked behind guitars, pants around the ankles, or in seductive lingerie. These women's bodies have been turned into sexual objects which are linked to Oil City Roadhouse as a marketing tool to entice consumers to come and spend their money at the bar.

Media campaigner Jean Kilbourne explains “that women’s bodies are often dismembered into legs, breasts or thighs, reinforcing the message that women are objects rather than whole human beings” (Media Awareness Network, 2009, p. 1). The saddle up Saturday advertisement has fragmented the female body into merely a pair of legs, which are highly sexualized with the woman’s pants around her ankles. The other advertisement focuses attention on the women’s breasts, which are emphasized with the use of text on the bottom of the advertisement.

Traditional psychoanalytic theory believes that the gaze is directly related to fantasy, which is very clear when looking at how Oil City Roadhouse has portrayed the women in their advertisements (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). The objectification, positioning and clothing (or lack of clothing) of the young women all play into male fantasies and desires. The gaze has a large amount of influence and is able to establish relationships of power between the individual who is looking and the person who is being looked at (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). When images of women are placed in advertisements for the male gaze, this further enforces relationships of power and dominance between the sexes (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009).

Even this ladies nights advertisement features a woman in a teeny tiny bikini, promoting Maximum tanning salon which promises you will “look great, save money, and feel fabulous.” Thus rather than seizing this opportunity to sexually objectify men in hopes to lure in a female crowd, they market to women by displaying a picture of a tanned, slim and beautiful woman to make the viewer feel they are personally lacking something that can be gained by attending one of their ladies nights. This sort of advertising that promises self improvement is common in our commodity culture (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). This phenomenon can also be explained by the general notion that the male gaze takes priority over the female gaze (“Gaze,” 2010). So, even though this is a night which is meant for women, they choose to appeal to a male gaze to market these events.


Female staff at Oil city wore “barely there” clothing which had the general effect of emphasizing their chests, presumably to please their male customers. This sort of sexually provocative clothing plays into the concept of the gaze and spectatorship; the pleasure in the act of looking and exhibitionism by providing male customers with a real life fantasy in the form of a bartender or beer tub girl (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). The ways in which the females were dressed, only further emphasized the objectification of women that was presented in the advertisements for the bar.

Contrary to their female counterparts, the male staff at oil city were fully clothed, I would even say over clothed. They wore dark clothing, mostly long sleeved shirts which seemingly allowed them to blend into the background while the females captivated the attention of the male patrons. Curiously, while nightclubs generally focus on filling their bars with female customers, they do little to play to their fantasies with their male staff. Rather, the female crowd enters into a venue where their gender is objectified and they are left to compete. There was also a divergence in the power of males and females in the bar. While the men typically acted as bouncers or security, the females worked the bars and beer tubs, on display for their male customers. When there was a male serving drinks, they were in the less visited bars allowing the female stars to tend to the more popular areas. This sort of gender distinction in the staff by having men play more active and aggressive roles like bouncers, while the women are on display to promote drinks is a real life example of John Berger’s concept of “men act, women appear” (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009).

These trends were also picked up in other Edmonton night clubs:


Girls are known to go out and have fun with their friends. These pictures give males an illusion of what kind of girls will be there in the night club, how they will look (willing to do anything), and that they are ready to party and there to entertain. You will notice that the women are looking outwards, making it seem as if they are staring at the "single viewer", looking at them and luring them in. The Union Hall advertisement goes even farther by pointing at them, as if the women are telling the male viewer that they want him and only him to join the group of three girls. The images are made so that the male will experience scopophilia (the pleasure you experience by looking at something). This is an example of how the gaze can be used as a powerful tool by club marketers to make men act and women appear.

Once the men are inside the nightclubs, again the way that the women are dressed only boosts the men's fantasies. The female staff in these nightclubs are wearing basically undergarments, but instead of dressing like this to get attention, they are attempting to draw the male crowd to purchase alcohol and assume that the women are here for their enjoyment.


The men and women portrayed in these pictures work at a club on Whyte Ave called Twist Ultra Lounge. Every Sunday the shooter girls and female bartenders are stripped of most of their clothing and are artistically painted. They are essentially made to be objects to be stared at, like living works of art. The nudity aspect is an obvious denotative meaning and appears to be an advertising gimmick used to lure in male clientele and realistically turns the bar into a glorified strip club for one night a week. The connotative meaning of these pictures consists of such themes as sexuality, lust or promiscuity. John Berger would suggest these women become passive objects of the male gaze, who simply appear. They give up their dignity and bodies for the night for the potential of financial gain. A spectator would interpellate the idea of scopophilia or a sexually charged atmosphere, which for a great deal of men and women would cause them to attend this night club event. The club exploits these women to obtain notice from the male gaze, which by today’s standard is just properly using advertising.

The men that are shown in the picture offer a completely different feel to the club. They are acting in their photo, instilling the feeling of toughness, strength and potential aggression when looking at these men. They are acting rather than appearing. A spectator can see that these men would not be passive objects in their place of work. The men are used not only to deter abuse of these objects but also to stop any problem that may occur. This is slightly ironic considering the likelihood of a problem happening probably increases with the less clothing these women wear. They are the security and bartenders and consistently protect the people in the bar and the female employees who are appearing as art objects on this night. These pictures of twist lounge fully support the philosophy that men act and women appear.

About Face (2010), Gallery of Offenders. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from

About Face (2010), Hall of Shame. Retrieved March 30, 2010 from

Media Awareness Network (2009). Sexualized images in advertising. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from

Media Awareness Network (2009). Sex sells. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from

Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2009). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gaze (2010). Retrieved March 26, 2010 from

Oil City Hospitality Group (2009). About Oil City. Retrieved March 26, 2010 from

Group Members: Marnie C. Jaqui A. Jordan G. Vanessa P. and Adrienne T.

1 comment:

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