Penis Envy or Gender Inequality?

The other night I was watching the news and an ad came on for Levitra, an anti-impotency drug. In it, an attractive woman around forty says “erection,” and “strong and lasting” repeatedly. The ad features all kinds of sexual suggestion and imagery, including its trademark flame image, which appeared curiously vaginal to me.

As I was realizing just how explicit this ad was, I started to wonder why it had never generated controversy. Our FCC punished Janet Jackson because her nipple fell out at the Superbowl. People offended by Sponge Bob holding hands with a starfish got a voice in the mainstream press. Why, I wondered, was there was no outrage over this Levitra ad on TV? It seemed to me that some group claiming to represent some version of religious temperance or moral conservatism would surely find such sexually oriented material out of place on primetime network television.

I’m not likely to protest an ad myself, but if I ever went after Janet or Sponge Bob, wouldn’t I also want to go after this Levitra ad as well? On the surface it seems so. Janet, Sponge Bob claims and Levitra are all related to sexual themes in some way, but there are differences. Janet Jackson represented the sexuality of woman.

The uproar over Sponge Bob had to do with homosexuality. Levitra, on the other hand, is all about the prowess of men, and heterosexual sex. It may be that those most likely to protest icons of sexual culture on moral grounds are also those for whom Levitra may have “strong and lasting” benefits.

These people may also be personally invested in pharmaceutical like Levitra, as both the demographics of those with impotency and those who own stock tend to overlap more in later years. Perhaps this schism is best explained by the likelihood that our culture really hasn’t evolved past holding a blatant preference for masculinity and heterosexuality over femininity and homosexuality. Who knows? In any event, it would be interesting to see what would happen if somebody claiming conservatism and moral certitude protested this ridiculously explicit commercial that I saw the other night.

Then I wondered if such a protester would be heard anyway, since pharmaceutical ads pay for so much news broadcasting, including the show I was watching when the ad came on.