Why This Ad Campaign Got Called Out For Being Sexist

Last month, Calvin Klein Underwear rolled out its #mycalvins campaign, starring a diverse cast that included Kendall Jenner, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar, FKA Twigs, and many more. The images themselves feature the campaign's stars doing various activities while donning just their underwear. The concept: "I (fill in the blank) in #mycalvins." Now, two of the expansive campaigns' shots are seriously under fire for being "offensive" and "sexist." Heidi Zak, the cofounder and CEO of innovative lingerie label ThirdLove, was so incensed by the sexist juxtaposition of one particular version of the campaign, which was plastered on a very prime billboard in NYC's Soho neighborhood. In the controversial ad, rapper Fetty Wap — in a closely-cropped shot that doesn't show any state of undress whatsoever — is pictured with the line "I make money in #mycalvins." Accompanying that image is actress Klara Kristin, shown with her sheer dress hiked up, gams splayed, and the line, "I seduce in #mycalvins."
Photo: Via ThirdLove/YouTube.
Zak took a few different tactics to expressing her outrage over the ads and spreading the word. Firstly, she wrote an open letter to Calvin Klein's CEO, Steve Shiffman, about the troubling gender stereotypes perpetuated by the ads. "It’s striking that almost a century after women won the right to vote, companies like yours are still propagating these offensive and outdated gender stereotypes: Men go to work and make money, while women are nothing more than sex objects," Zak wrote in the letter to Shiffman, adding that she (along with "the women of New York") are "no longer accepting this antiquated stereotype and instead are creating our own gender definitions that a women can be anything she wants to be." She also made a video, posted on YouTube, in which she explains why the ad is problematic and interviews random passersby on the street about their reactions to the billboard. "I believe that we can do anything without limitation and we aren't defined by our underwear," Zak says in the video. She also is trying to spread the message on social media via the hashtag #MoreThanMyUnderwear. In addition, Zak started a Change.org petition, "Take Down Sexist Billboard In NYC."
The contentious billboard was actually taken down last night; interesting timing, though Calvin Klein's team says this wasn't as a result of Zak's reactions to the campaign. "This billboard was taken down overnight as part of the planned rotation of our spring 2016 advertising campaign," read a statement Calvin Klein's PR team provided Refinery29. "We take all of our consumers’ concerns seriously and as a global brand, we promote gender equality and the breakdown of gender stereotypes across the world." Does the contentious campaign (and the effect of these two particular ads, paired together from a variety of possible images) smack of sexism or represent a very unfortunate placement decision? Let us know in the comments.

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