Nobody literally wants to stick their penis in beer, sports cars or cigarettes. But hypersexualized images of women in various states of undress are used to sell products like those all the time, in the hopes of stirring the hormones of male consumers into a such a tizzy that they’ll forget that beer makes you fat, sports cars can’t hide your bald spot, and cigarettes cause impotence. And now there’s a beautiful busty lady going down on a big brown chocolate bar at 7th and Broadway. Sure—sex sells, but it boggles the mind as to why the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center would think that a generous expanse of milky white cleavage would be the best way to market Humboldt County to tourists.
Let’s leave sexism aside. Let’s forget that women’s bodies have been used as agencyless objects for centuries—that they have been (and in many places in the world, still are) reduced to the sum of their visible parts, to be traded for goods, to cement political ties, to bear male children, to ornament male status-seekers and, yes, to sell beer, cars and cigarettes. This billboard isn’t offensive just because it’s sexist. It’s offensive because it’s stupid.
First of all, it’s bad advertising. 40% of American households are now headed by female breadwinners. Women usually do the planning for family vacations. Women comprise roughly 51% of the gendered population. (Granted, this view is fairly heternormative but so is your billboard.) Why do you want to alienate 51% of your potential consumers? What family driving down the 101 is going to make the decision to get their tourist information from a place with the same advertising strategy as the Tip Top Club? Did your market studies somehow prove that the majority of tourists traveling up the 101 are straight men looking for boobs and artisanal chocolate? The services and goods you offer are gender-neutral. What do breasts have to do with kayaking tours or organic cotton hoodies? Will the demographic you’re appealing to compensate for the demographic you’re alienating? Do you expect a thundering horde of sex-crazed men (or hungry, confused babies?) to lift Humboldt County out of economic recession?
Second of all, it’s lazy. Humboldt County has a lot of great things going for it. The redwoods. The rivers. The ocean. The people. The food. I’m going to assume that your advertising team considered all of those options and thought, “Nahhhh—-BOOBIES!” Lazy. If you have a smartphone, you can find pictures of breasts within seconds. But it’s a heck of a lot more difficult to find good food in strange town. Every day tourists brave the strip of fast food joints on Broadway searching for a place where they can eat locally-sourced organic food. This was your chance. You could have presented them with a sumptuous display of the oysters, chevre, sausages, beer and chocolate on your menu. But, no, you went with with a giant pair of boobs.
The human body is a beautiful thing. There are going to be more than a few people grateful to see the gorgeous model you chose brightening their commute with her saucy smile. The first amendment covers your right to use boners to sell wine. Sex isn’t dirty. We should all be having more of it. But this is Humboldt freaking County. We’re quirky, progressive, free-thinking and creative. Shouldn’t a tourism center, a place whose mission is to represent all that’s best about this region, also embody those values? Shouldn’t you try a little harder?