The most wonderful time of the year is also the time of the year in which we are bombarded with the most sexist commercials on television. In between our enlightened series with funny and strong female heroines — 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Homeland — we are repeatedly told a much more traditional (vile) narrative in holiday commercials: that the key to unlocking a woman's sexuality is to buy a sparkling trinket from mall stores like Zales and Kay Jewelers.
For decades these seasonal jewelry commercials have portrayed ladies at Christmas losing their frigidity at the sight of a diamond solitaire. While the O-face remains a constant feature in the ads, the message has somewhat evolved. The ads used to be aimed at men — "Wrap me in gold this Christmas!" a blonde coos in a Zales commercial from the late 80s. Now, the ads are aimed at women. The gift recipients aren't sexy models, but moms in mom haircuts with babies. You will want to have sex again if your husband buys you this tacky necklace, insists a Kay ad first aired in 2011 and recut in 2012 (well, more or less). It is a paradox of de-momification: Get this necklace, and you will rekindle your sexually active youth long trapped by this terrible sensible haircut; but do what the ad demands — nag your husband to buy you this shiny thing — and you fall even further down the mom hole.
Let's take a stroll through the Ghosts of Christmas Jewelry Ads Past.
DeBeers, 1977. The de-momification message has been with us since the Carter administration. The couple finish wrapping presents — clearly for kids, because there's a small bike — and the mom says, "Good, now we can go to bed." (Obviously not to have intercourse.) The husband asks her to wait, saying, "I want to give you something just for you." "A washer and dryer?" the libido-killer mom voice asks sarcastically. "No, be serious... Merry Christmas." The jewelry is revealed. The woman gasps, her hard mom exterior dissolves, and she embraces her husband.
Zales, sometime in the 1980s. The ads are still for men. "Wrap me in gooold this Christmas!"
Zales, 1985. "Excite me for Christmas."
DeBeers, 1993. A shadow couple move through life — dating, marriage, kids, kids growing up, all that. Yet after all of that, a necklace is still enough to awaken her sexuality. (The YouTube uploader notes this ad was recorded during an airing of Fried Green Tomatoes.)
Kay, circa 2006. Santa goes to the mall and buys something from Kay. Even Santa needs some help from a jewelry store to arouse Mrs. Claus.
Kay, 2009. Mom rocking baby: "It's 2 a.m." Husband: "It's 2 a.m. — Christmas morning!" Love is renewed.
Tiffany's, 2009. A younger demographic, but the ladies are not intimidatingly sexy as they were in the 1980s.
Tiffany's, 2010. The jewelry arrives in the middle of things women do in romantic comedies, like taking romantic walks in parks.
Zales, 2012. This time, we don't see the woman's happy face, but instead a trail of clothes — plus a suspiciously upright champagne glass — on the way to the closing bedroom door. "The only thing better than giving her a diamond is surprising her with one."
Zales, 2011 (recut with watches for 2012). A child dressed as Santa brings mom a box. She opens it. It's arousing jewelry. "Ohhh, Santa!" she purrs to her husband, in the classic this-is-a-sexy-voice-but-the-children-don't-know-it's-a-sexy-voice voice. The ads have fully evolved, but not to be less sexist — just more frumpy.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.