Onslaught: Commercial Speech and Gender Inequality
47 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2009 Last revised: 17 Feb 2010
Date Written: March 11, 2009
Utilizing Dove's infamous "Onslaught" viral ad, this Article explores the ways in which commercial speech constructs images of and attitudes toward women that interfere with full equality for women. Advertising and marketing contribute to creating a social reality in which it is taken for granted that women must spend a great deal of time on appearance and that appearance is of critical importance to life success. As is typical for much advertising, it does this by stimulating anxiety. Such anxiety contributes to low self-esteem, lowered ambitions and stereotype threat reactions, as well as to biased reactions on the part of others. Harms such as these are often justified on the basis of the right of the speaker to participate in public debate or in the public's right to receive advertising "information." The Dove ad itself, however, illustrates the problem in locating a "speaker" for commercial speech and raises questions about the nature of the "information" provided by advertising. Because commercial speech lacks an author with moral interests and because it only has informational value when it is true, this Article presents an argument that women's interest in equality and freedom from harm should outweigh the commercial interests of the speakers, at least to the extent that commercial speech be denied any First Amendment protection beyond that already extended to truthful speech.
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