[The following focuses on an advertisement in Massachussets Lawyers Weekly, which featured a naked woman, covered by a man's suit coat, pulling a professionally-dressed man toward her by his tie, with the words, "A custom tailored suit is a natural aphrodisiac." Several female attorneys wrote in to complain, and a handful of "feminist" defenses of the ad followed. This is a response to some of those arguments.]
If this ad is somehow represents the idea that women can be sexual, then that idea isn't really new at all, is it? Women's bodies have been used in advertising to sell goods and services for decades. Highly sexualized images of women are nothing new -- and I don't think they're particularly empowering, given that the women in these ads are not sexual subjects (her pulling him doesn't change thousands of years of gender dynamics and decades of sexist advertising).
Perhaps the ad is structured in a way that tells the viewer that men should buy these suits because they'll impress women. Is that progressive? Is that a good thing? And I'd argue that it's less about impressing women and more about having access to them -- work a well-paying job as an attorney, drive a nice car, live in a nice house, fuck a hot chick, wear some expensive clothes, etc -- in other words, consume women the same way that you do other luxury items. Not progressive, not empowering, and certainly not new.
I also don't think that this ad is turning men into sexual objects, but if it is, should we be applauding that? If the message is that men now have to put as much effort into making themselves presentable objects as women do, and that men's bodies are as worthy of objectification as women's bodies are, should we be happy? Is that a feminist goal – to bring everyone down to a lower level? I don't see much of a point in "equality" if it means that we're all ending up at the lowest point possible. And I don't think that approaching dating, marriage and pair-bonding as a competition based on who can spend the most money on being attractive (and who can consume the most in order to have access to an attractive partner in the same way that you'd have access to a fancy car) is something we should be encouraging or striving for. It's an ideal that's been in existence for a very, very long time, and it's something that feminists and pro-feminists have traditionally spoken out against.
There's nothing wrong with the suggestion that lawyers, like all human beings, are sexual creatures. That's not what people are objecting to here. The issue is that women have had a hell of a time gaining access to the kinds of positions that wealthy white men in this country have always had access to. We might make up 50% of the law school, but law firms are still dominated by white men -- and will probably continue to be into the foreseeable future. Having an ad like this in a magazine that caters to a diverse professional audience is offensive. The ad itself isn't any more offensive than most of what we see in advertisements every day; but it's placement is frustrating.
As for the idea that lawyers have discovered that "sex sells," it wasn't lawyers who made this ad. Advertising execs have always known that sex sells. The lawyers and editors who run this magazine don't really care if the things they advertise sell well or not; they care about selling the ad space, not the effectiveness of the ads run in that space. So I don't think that this is about lawyers finally catching on to some greater cultural/economic truth -- it's about what standards we hold our professional peers to, and drawing lines in the sand about what are and are not acceptable representations of women in publications that are supposed to speak to us.