Gisele Bundchen and lingerie: Are these ads sexist?

Photo: YouTube/incommuns
Photo: YouTube/incommuns

Gisele Bundchen's latest ads for Hope lingerie have set off a firestorm in her native Brazil, where the country's first female president, Dilma Rousseff, has denounced them as sexist and demanded that Brazil's National Council for Advertising Self-Regulation investigate the campaign.

Each of the three ads starts off with the Brazilian supermodel fully (and dowdily) dressed, looking contrite, confessing something that could make her husband flip out (she crashed the car, she spent way too much money, she invited her mother to stay). Then the word "errado"—Portuguese for "wrong"—flashes on the screen. The next shot shows Bundchen making the same confession, but while standing in a come-hither pose and wearing nothing but high heels, a push-up bra, and panties. A bell dings, and the word "certo"—"right"—appears.

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"You're a Brazilian woman. Use your charm," a man's voice says in Portuguese as Gisele struts across the screen in skimpy lingerie and sky-high stilettos.

One can't really accuse Hope of exploiting the uber supermodel: For one thing, Bundchen probably made a bundle and, for another, the lacy intimates she's shilling may be from her own lingerie line. But Rouseff is less worried about exploitation than she is about the message behind Bundchen's ads.

"The campaign promotes the misguided stereotype of a woman as a sexual object of her husband and ignores the major advances we have achieved in deconstructing sexist practices and thinking," Rousseff's Secretariat for Women's Politics said in a statement. They also accused Hope Lingerie of promoting "discriminatory content against women," which is against Brazil's constitution.

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Though women outnumber men in Brazil, they are generally less educated and earn less money than men there do. And while sexuality is often celebrated there (think Carnival time in Rio de Janero), a staggering 20 percent of Brazilian women have suffered from domestic or sexual violence at the hands of a male aggressor. And that's what makes these particular lingerie ads so controversial. "These show women as a stereotypes to keep them in their place, and it is that kind of portrayal that leads women into submission and to accept [problems] like domestic violence," Aparecida Goncalves, Brazil's subsecretary for combating violence against women, told Time magazine.

But a Hope spokesperson says they deliberately chose Bundchen—whom Forbes magazine calls the world's most powerful supermodel and who earned a cool $45 million in the last year alone—in order to avoid promoting dependency or submission. The company had a "clear and well-defined goal to show, with good humor, that the natural sensuality of Brazilian women, which is known worldwide, can be an effective weapon when giving bad news," Hope's director, Sandra Chayo, said in a statement.

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The ads, which debuted on September 20, were also cleared by Bundchen's representative in Brazil, who also happens to be her twin sister. "The advertising campaign’s proposal was presented to us and we considered it as a satire, a joke," Patricia Bundchen said in a statement of her own. "We regret that something that was supposed to be fun ended up having another interpretation."

Take a look at the ads and interpret them for yourself: Are the flirty and fun, or degrading and sexist?