Is it censorship if we refuse an ad that treats women like objects? No, Pandora, it is not.

It's the Bill of Rights. Not a rag to wipe up your mess.

It’s the Bill of Rights. Not a rag to wipe up your mess.

If there’s one thing that can make my head explode, it’s when companies rationalize the need to accept advertising that sexualizes and objectifies women with the argument that they are “not in the business of censorship.”

Last week I wrote to Pandora internet radio to complain about an advertisement that I found disrespectful toward me, as a patron of their business. As I was listening to the music, there came the – all too familiar – breathy, sexy, little girl voice. I clicked over to the site to see the ad, a young blonde woman in red push up bra, telling males about the opportunity to buy a product that would presumably enhance their sex life. It’s an occurrence that seems to be more and more frequent in the media I’ve been trying to enjoy. This is an example of the pornification of our culture.

In my email I told them I was deeply annoyed to be interrupted, while working and listening to music, by this reminder that women are still marginalized and seen by many as merely existing for the sexual pleasure of men. Because that interrupts the flow of my work to make me angry.
An excerpt:

Why this need to present the woman as an OBJECT for the sexual pleasure of men rather than an ad that appeals to both sexes as equal partners? I listen to Pandora. And I’m frankly offended that I am being marginalized by your advertising and treated like a thing. I believe many men would be offended as well. Is Pandora a service for everyone, or are men your target group (that is, the stereotype of a backwards caveman)? … This ad should have been rejected in favor of something that doesn’t indicate such a high level of DISRESPECT for women.

(By the way, the ad was for Adam & Eve, a company that sells sex aides, and their website seems to be directed at both men and women as mutual seekers of pleasure. Which made me wonder why the need for this one-sided objectifying ad. I wrote to that company too, and received no response at all.)

Here, in part, was the response from the Pandora “Listener Advocate:”

We … understand that certain material can be sensitive ground. In fact, a good majority of our campaigns elicit some level of protest from listeners. Everything from credit cards and alcohol to fast food and political candidates offend certain listeners’ sensibilities or beliefs. We recognize that while there are occasional judgment calls still required, we feel strongly that we should not be in the business of censoring.

Let’s hear that again: “We should not be in the business of censoring.”

They don’t want to be censors. Because to reject an ad that tells half of their audience that they don’t give a ___ about them is “censorship.” Yes, Pandora is a big time First Amendment proponent. So much so, that the company doesn’t even understand what the law means.

So ignoring for a moment the equating of disrespect for women to credit card ads, here’s a civics lesson. Censorship refers to suppression of speech by the government. Censorship is something that is imposed by the government, or other authority, upon the people. The Constitution’s clause on free speech “Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of speech” was put there to prevent OPPRESSION and TYRANNY by the GOVERNMENT. Not to force private individuals and companies to say things they don’t want to say.

Oh, and by the way, Pandora said that if I don’t like it, I can change my settings or pay for an ad-free account.

So I sent a follow up letter:

You believe that it’s ok to perpetuate pornification in advertising as long as people who don’t like it can block it? Objectification of women leads to violence against women and girls. It also leads to more sexual harassment, and sexist attitudes. Therefore, it affects you even if you don’t look at it or listen to it, by changing the culture.

It is harmful to all. There is no reason why Pandora should perpetuate pornification, sexualization or objectification. Pandora can have an advertising policy that does not contribute to the sexualization of women.
I’d like you to respond to whether Pandora sees the advertising that it accepts as a purely business decision, and whether there is any ethical aspect to that decision, and whether Pandora is going to consider a change in its advertising policy.

In terms of the question of “censorship,” I would like to ask if Pandora would accept advertising that is blatantly racist, or that mocks people with disabilities, using the rationalization that to do otherwise would be “censorship?”

I’ll answer for them, because they didn’t: It is a business decision and, I would add, an ethical decision. If they accept the ad, it’s because they want the revenue, even if it means they are telling you and me that we are of little or no value to them.

The problem is, we’re now so used to this kind of portrayal, that it doesn’t stick out as all that bad. But it is sexualization, even if it’s just a breathy woman in a lacy bra on a general interest radio station. We’ve become inured. Chances are the advertising department saw this ad as no big deal because heck, a woman in a bra is a fairly commonplace sight in the media, while overlooking the way this ad is objectifying. Because it’s not selling the bra, it’s selling an idea of sex and relationships that involves a certain kind of blond, big breasted woman prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure male satisfaction. She’s a sexual object. That’s a harmful message for girls, and for boys. What this company, and many others, need is to get a lot more complaints, every time it happens, so we raise awareness and start to roll back the acceptance of objectifying images in the media. Or we’ll be getting just a lot more of this:


  1. **APPLAUSE**
    Fantastic post, Erin. Just awesome!

  2. Powerfully stated and right on the mark. Thank you for your eloquence and passion. We need more voices like yours!

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