“When I see a man drinking bourbon, I expect him to be the kind who could build me a bookshelf. But not in the way that one builds a ready-made bookshelf. He will already know where the lumberyard is. He’ll get the right amount of wood without having to do math. He’ll let me use the saw, and not find it cute that I don’t know how to use the saw.”
TD says this Woodford Reserve TV commercial, known as “Bookshelf,” is not sexist. Well, maybe. On the other hand, some critics are saying yes.
If you just look at the commercial with the sound turned off, the answer is definitely no. But, there could be some mischief in the words. As in many things that are charged with an “ism,” it is often the case that what is not said is the guilty part. For example, saying that the guy will “get the right amount of wood without measuring” plays into the stereotype that gals don’t do math well. However, isn’t this just another way of saying she wants a competent guy around? Of course any guy who builds a shelf will measure and do the math. So what is the meaning here? Is she not just saying, I want someone who can do things right the first time?
The last sentence in the commercial is clearly sexist. It harkens back to the “girls-can’t-change-tires” thing of decades gone by. In the image on our Facebook page and the thumb image on these pages, the saw, if you noticed, was a chainsaw. But obviously the Woodford commercial is referring to a hand saw or an electric saw, both of which are easier to handle
For TD any charge of sexism needs to be seen in the broader context of the statement. Here Woodford Reserve has a series of TV ads. Visually there are no stereotypes—sex, age, race. In fact the entire series shows women drinking a “man’s bourbon.” About a third (30.4%) of bourbon drinkers are women, a percentage that has been inching up over the past five years, so the idea of women drinking bourbon is now commonplace.
Now the tricky part about justifying or responding to an “ism” charge, in this case sexism, is the defense that a woman said it. If a black person uses the “N” word, he or she is less likely to be charged with racism than if a white person does. An older person can make a charge about forgetfulness and not be charged with ageism, but the same statement by a twentysomething somebody would rightfully, for the most part, be inappropriate and ageist.
With respect to the Woodford ads, Biba Konieczna, the brand director uses the “I am a woman hear me roar” kind of defense. As she told AdAge, she is a woman, the ad was written and produced by women, and the voice over in this commercial is a woman.
However, over at jezebel.com, Tracy Moore, a woman bourbon drinker, says this is the heart of the criticism:
“… underneath the weird logic of the Woodford Reserve Red Shoe Diaries we have something else going on: The he in the commercial is doing the “man thing”—knowing how to build shelves from scratch with no math—and the she in the commercial is doing the “woman thing”—watching, finding this sexy, adding nothing to the scenario but reverence for his skills…” That is what makes the commercial sexist.
So, what do you think?