Benetton's 'Girls Not Allowed' Instagram Sparks Outrage

Elise Solé
What’s wrong with this Benetton ad? (Instagram/Benetton)
What’s wrong with this Benetton ad? (Instagram/Benetton)

A controversial Instagram post has Italian clothing brand Benetton in some hot water; and people are now claiming the company is both sexist and outdated.

Over the weekend, Benetton posted to Instagram a photo of three young boys arm-in-arm modeling the company’s colorful Spring/Summer line. The caption reads, “Sorry ladies! Girls not allowed.”

Sorry ladies. Girls not allowed! #SS17 #Benetton #kids

A post shared by United Colors of Benetton (@benetton) on Jun 2, 2017 at 3:00am PDT

The comments section quickly erupted with outrage:

“Girls not allowed? Seriously? I’m very disappointed and will not be doing business with this company. It’s 2017, let go of these B.S. gender roles. Let clothes be clothes.”

“Wow, you guys have really dropped the ball with this one. Girls not allowed, seriously how’s your circa 1980 marketing team working for you! Ridiculous.”

“I thought this was finally gender-neutral clothing. Kids are starving for some companies to let go of gender boundaries. I was so happy to see this picture…and so let down to read the caption.”

“Whoever is in charge of your Instagram page needs to just rewrite this caption and apologize for the blunder. This is an extremely outdated and sexist attitude to put forth. Especially as a business. Come on, @benetton! You’re better this this!”

Anyone who grew up in the 1980s surely remembers Benetton’s provocative ads, a nod to gay rights, HIV, capital punishment, sex, world hunger, war, and racism. Images such as a bloody newborn baby still attached to its umbilical cord, a white woman breastfeeding a black infant, a nun engaged in a passionate kiss with a priest, criminal mug shots for death row inmates, and a fiery car bombing, all earned the company condemnation and praise for raising awareness for social issues.

The company has toned down its messaging in more recent years, possibly due to the popularity of mainstream competitors Zara and H&M, notes the Guardian, as well as a shakeup in management.

A representative from Benetton did not return Yahoo Style’s request for comment, however according to Sharon Lamb, PhD, a licensed psychologist at University of Massachusetts Boston, the ad could have done better.

“We have a history of women and girls being excluded from male-oriented categories and while the caption is likely a joke, society is just not there yet,” Lamb tells Yahoo Style. “It’s only a joke if everyone can participate in its humor.”

Lamb explains that the post subtly gives boys permission to exclude girls from athletics, due to the sporty nature of the clothing. “The ad seems to be trying to masculinize these boys and make them appear bonded over their gender,” she says. “It’s OK to bond over stylish clothing, although we typically don’t see boys doing it in ads. That might be why Benetton had to make them bond over gender.”

It’s possible that with its bright colors, diverse models, and rainbow design in the background, that Benetton gave itself room for irony with its caption. However, a better message, says Lamb, would have been one of inclusivity.

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