Sex sells! This is one of the oldest advertising myths. Is it still relevant? Does whisky sell better with sexualized images of women in them? Thankfully, the most recent researches contradict current sexualizing marketing strategies, revealing that these adverts don’t really make people want to purchase these products more, rather contrarily. So why do we still see the traces of objectified and stereotyped women in quite a few social media posts and even in some of whisky brands’ adverts too?
Despite the effort of whisky market to move towards more stereotype free images, Instagram pictures are showing quite an opposite trend. I typed in #whiskyandwomen and #whiskyandmen. The first one had 100+ results, the latter 10+ results. The first one mainly showed pictures of women with whisky (as the hashtag indicates), but the second mainly showed poems, weird slogans, and one random picture of a woman (nothing to do with the hashtag). There is no surprise here though.
Men drinking whisky don’t need to use the hashtag ‘whisky and men’, instead they are using the following: #whisky #bourbon #singlemalt, etc. Women, on the other hand, have to use this hashtag if want to be found by Instagram algorithms. Why? ‘Whisky drinking women’ are still considered rare and therefore need a separate definition, i.e. separate hashtag. This hashtag helps to define this phenomenon. In other words, this hashtag helps to include women in the whisky world and legalize their rightful existence here. But this article is not about women’s rightful place in the whisky world or the difficulties women still have overcome to prove this. This article is about these 100+ results on Instagram under the hashtag ‘whisky and women’ and its extremely sexist content.
I’m not going to lie. These pictures and comments below the posts aroused a feminist range in me. But at first, just to be clear, I’m not talking here about a couple of exceptions posted under this hashtag. There were a few neutral, i.e. without sexist content, pictures. However, they were mainly shared by women somehow related to the whisky industry. Either they work with whisky themselves or their friends/family do. This confirms my hypothesis that these neutral pictures reflect just the minorities views about modern whisky drinkers. The majority is still being surrounded and influenced by the stereotypes and myths of how women drinking whisky should look and act. To my huge surprise, most contents with this hashtag was extremely sexist, provocative, and cramped with stereotypes and clichés. If not the date on the pictures 2018-2021 you could be easily mistaken some of them with being pictures from mid XX century whisky ads. These Instagram pictures are living proof that probably there is a truth in the belief (myth?) that woman drinking whisky is sexy. But it’s definitely much more complicated than this. The reason why this content still appears on social media is the result of many factors. One of the main, without doubt, is advertising with its large power to construct the roles of masculinity and femininity we come to identify with. This is called gender advertisement. Check this out, it’s mind-blowing!
XX century whisky adverts were really just following the path taken by the majority of advertising campaigns of that time. They employed a new type of woman. This type didn’t (doesn’t) really exist in the real world. It was man-made creation, embodying someone else’s fantasies and desires. This ‘Barbie Doll’ look was (is) sharing some recognizable features throughout all the adverts: she is young and with perfect skin; she has a perfect body at all stages of her life; she has perfect, normally, long hair; she has big, bright eyes and seductive look; her lips are normally full, slightly open or pouting; she has a perfect smile. Her characteristics are as follows: powerless, vulnerable, delicate, soft, fragile, submissive, sexual, destructed, passive, dreamy and there to look pretty (alternatively, man is strong, clear-minded, successful, rational, functional, active, confident, dresses conservatively, focused on the task, is capable of making his own decisions, gets prays for what he does, is able to work and succeed in a non-objectifying way).
Whisky markets started using this new image of women in their ads. The primary role of them being, of course, to act as bait to attract men. Back then the vast majority of people didn’t have any doubts that sex sells. Although with the rise of equal rights whisky market had to adjust its approach in order to attract more female whisky drinkers. However, with a couple of exceptions where women are shown as strong, independent whisky drinkers, the majority of ads were still cramped with gender stereotypes.
Thankfully, now we can laugh at some of these distasteful sexualized advertising campaigns. However, the ‘Barbie Doll’ image hasn’t disappeared from everywhere. The only thing that changed is context. Women started appearing in more whisky adverts and they are pictured here as independent whisky drinker. And this is great. But why do they still have to carry ‘Barbie Doll’ looks and even some of her characteristics? I understand that this is the case with most advertising campaigns, i.e. not only whisky. But why can’t whisky take a different path and do something similar to what ‘A Billie’s Razor’ ads are doing in their commercials? If you can’t be bothered clicking the link above (although I would highly recommend!) I’ll tell you what this amazing company’s approach is. They are showing women the way they are. Real women. From the real world. They are also diverse. None the same. My biggest wish is that whisky brands would start doing the same (some of them like Diageo started taking this path already. Hooray!) Because, eh, round women are drinking whisky too. And they don’t even need long legs to do this successfully. And you see while you are working up there and fixing all these outdated women/men stereotypes, could you please also go away from the ‘Ken Doll’ image too? Modern whisky drinkers care more about the story behind the advert. I think they definitely realized by now that if they buy a bottle of whisky they are not guaranteed that this gorgeous babe will suddenly appear from the bottle like some genie from Aladdin’s lamp. This applies to women and their expectations too.
Instagram is one of the main platforms of modern advertising. Here we are advertising our lifestyles, our beliefs, our interests. We are all choosing the role we want to play. We display ourselves the way we want other people to see us. It’s like the exchange of masks on the stage of this digital theater. However, the role we play at this stage is not pure/true it’s shaped by many stereotypes. And pictures on Instagram with the hashtag ‘whisky and women’ are a true reflection of this. Most of these pictures contain ‘Barbie Doll’ looks and female characteristics that I have described above. Either there is a picture where a woman is gently pressing a bottle of Macallan against her bright red bra or the picture with a woman facing a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon at her private parts while sitting without her pants with legs wide open on the bar (?!); or women in sexy underwear standing next to a full decanter of whisky and inviting you to have them both… Some of these pictures are almost identical imitations of the images published by some famous brand’s whisky adverts in the past. Some of them show the attempt to imitate just a couple of motives, elements, postures, or attitudes from various images of females across the media. Perhaps there is no surprise that this content gets lots of traffic: she is beautiful; I love these kinds of pictures, send us more; too nice; wow; hot; fire fire… Was there anything said about whisky? Aw yes. There was a comment somewhere about babe being gorgeous, whisky also damn good, so the commentator decides to take both (?!).
I was asking myself at first how this content could possibly still exists? Especially when whisky brands are working so hard to move away from these outdated views about female whisky drinkers. The success this content receives is one of the main reasons such content on Instagram still exists. We all want a rush of the happy hormone of dopamine every time we receive a like. However, these pictures suggest that instead of enjoying whisky themselves women want to create enjoyment for others. This is one of the main issues faced by modern feminism.
Our culture is teaching girls from an early age that they will be awarded for their beauty. When you are a girl you constantly hear praise about the way you look: you look so pretty in your lovely purple dress or if you don’t look good you are embarrassed in front of the others: look at the mess of yours dress you’ve made! And everything would be quite ok here if not a very sad fact that girls very rarely compared with boys get prays about how smart they are or how great their imagination is. And this tendency, this annoying focus mainly just on the look carries on through all the ages of women’s life. Our culture taught us that we are judged by the way we look and not necessarily by the things we say. So why bothered with Macallan’s tasting notes when nobody even reads them? Better to leave this job for a man because everyone knows that man understands whisky much better.
Our culture is teaching boys from an early age too. They are taught to be confident; they get prays for what they do and not for how they look; boys are taught not to cry like the girls and suppress their emotions; boys are encouraged to be active, to be superheroes, to seek adventures; boys see ‘Barbie Doll’ girls on the screen when they start watching TV; teen boys see the same girls on the computer screen and then social media. So if they see ‘Barbie Doll’, sexualized and objectified girls/women from an early age why we are surprised then that that’s the image of women they learn to admire and desire. And that’s why we shouldn’t be surprised but allowed (if not obliged) to question whisky writers such as Jim Murray and his usage of vulgar and sexist language in his description of whisky flavors.
These pictures on Instagram under the hashtag ‘whisky and women’ are the reflection of many of the stereotypes still vivid between us. However, we can’t blame just modern whisky advertisements and other media for this. There is no doubt that culture shaping the roles of masculinity and femininity in our society has a lot to account for. At the end of the day, we are the products of this culture. But we are also the ones who have the power to change it. We can do this by simply showing others that we don’t need to look sexy in order to enjoy our whisky.
Do you want to know my answer to the question in the title? The answer is YES. At the moment image of women + whisky is still much sexualized. And it will continue being so while people keep pressing like on these pictures.
* All the pictures of women are taken from various public websites and are models not women from real life. However, most pictures with sexual content on Instagram are based on these types of images.
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