Not because of its sexual content which saw it deemed inappropriate for younger viewers by the ASA but because of the way it appears to perpetuate the male-established view of women as the Other. In The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir describes the way men encase women in an apparently impenetrable aura of mystique, giving their elusiveness as an excuse to not try and understand women or consider their problems.
While, on first watch, the Coco Mademoiselle advert seems to be showing a woman in a position of power over a man, the character played by Keira Knightley appears to me to be a male sexual fantasy; someone physically attractive but too aloof to bother trying to understand. Although the French fashion house’s aim was most probably to put forward just this stylish, enigmatic, and, of course, taciturn image, which fits in with the cultural stereotype of French women, it is an image which comes from a male perspective of feminine beauty.
The theory of The Male Gaze- that in films women are objectified because they are seen through the eyes (camera) of a heterosexual male- arguably applies even more now than in 1975 when Laura Mulvey first published her essay on the subject. Not only are women misrepresented by this gender imbalance (is that level of cool really possible to maintain on a day to day basis? Turning around nonchalantly every time someone opens a door to you is harder than it looks to pull off, trust me) but The Male Gaze stops just being about how men see women but about how women see themselves. Despite the veneer of power apparent in the advert, although it does seem to essentially hinge on a women exploiting her sexual power over men, the presentation of women here is really not far from that of the Renaissance, Botticelli’s Venus, arguably a projection of male desire, painted with flawless skin and fairly impressive abs, gazing mysteriously into the distance and covering herself with her hair in a similar way to Knightley’s make-shift bed sheet dress. Has our ranting really made no impact?
The most irritating aspect of the advert is that it probably works very well. This image of the beautiful yet incomprehensible woman is one which I would totally buy into if such a human as shown were actually possible, which just shows the permeation of The Male Gaze through not just film and media, but the way women understand themselves and their sexuality. Because, let’s be honest, you’re not going to buy a perfume advertised by a women who sweats in her cream biking leathers and spontaneously gurns when placed in front of a camera, but then there’s something about femininity being constructed around consumerism and insecurity which doesn’t quite ring true…