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Reaction Time: Carl's Jr. Can Stuff It With Their Own Gnarly Burgers

Ariana Aboulafia |
October 27, 2014 | 8:11 p.m. PDT


Why are we as consumers continuing to allow Carl's Jr. to get away with misogynistic advertisements? (Carl's Jr., Facebook)
Why are we as consumers continuing to allow Carl's Jr. to get away with misogynistic advertisements? (Carl's Jr., Facebook)

Have you ever been lying on the couch, flipping through channels and minding your own business when you suddenly encountered a commercial that, at first glance, appeared to be a scene from a bad porno?

Perhaps it featured swimsuit model Hannah Ferguson in a black bikini, washing a dirty car and crawling all over the floor and car itself, seemingly overcome with ecstasy as a result of the burger that she is consuming? After about 20 seconds of burger-related innuendos, perhaps socialite Paris Hilton arrived on scene to help Ferguson eat a bite? (Because, really, what sort of woman can eat four whole bites of a burger by herself?)

If so, you might have been personally victimized by Carl's Jr. commercials.  

Carl’s Jr. (also known on the East Coast as Hardee’s) is, in some ways, just like any other American-based fast-food restaurant that sells burgers, French fries, sodas and salads, and can often be found at truck stops and shopping malls. There are, however, a few key differences between Carl's Jr. and many other fast-food establishments - namely, how they go about advertising their food. Carl's Jr. has been producing insanely misogynistic advertisements for almost ten years.

The first one came in 2005 and (just like the aforementioned “I Love Texas” commercial) featured Paris Hilton in a black bathing suit and a pair of high heels (the most practical of all combinations), “washing a car”; in other words, experiencing repeated orgasms while holding a soapy sponge, a hose and a burger. Their next commercial (also released in 2005) featured actress Cameron Richardson eating a burger while riding a mechanical bull in an empty warehouse – you know, a causal activity that the average woman does at least once per week. Then, in 2007, they released an advertisement for a buffalo chicken sandwich that featured actress/model Ashley Hartman as a scantily-clad waitress that is ogled by a male customer eating buffalo chicken wings until his girlfriend gets jealous, portraying two women in a negative manner instead of just one (bonus points!). Two years later, in 2009, Carl’s Jr. released three of these types of advertisements: one featuring “Hills” star Audrina Patridge sexually eating a “teriyaki burger” in a gold bikini on a beach, one featuring “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi wearing a dress (fully clothed! Yes!) and sexually eating a “bacon burger” on a stoop, and one with actress Kim Kardashian sexually eating a salad both in bed and in a bathtub filled with bubbles.

Seeing any patterns?

In 2012, the chain released what is perhaps the most insulting in this string of objectifying advertisements featuring model Kate Upton, who was barely twenty years old at the time of its release. It shows Upton in a car at a drive-in movie biting into a burger, stripping, sweating, soundlessly moaning in pleasure, biting her lip and even placing her hand in between her legs as a man looks on (until his girlfriend gets jealous yet again – of course).

Carl’s Jr.’s advertisements are so over-sexualized that they’re actually absurd and sometimes end up being amusing in a “what the hell were they thinking” sort of way. However, their misogynistic messages are anything but funny. These advertisements imply that women are nothing more than sexual objects, not to be respected for their various talents (as actresses, models or chefs), but for the visual pleasure they provide males. Each commercial makes a female the subject of the male gaze and unnecessarily hyper-sexualizes the everyday action of eating - but only for women. This sends the convoluted message that when men eat it’s normal, but when women eat it’s sexy, which in turn gives men the right to stare at them.

This is exactly the same logic that leads to issues like catcalling and street harassment: when men walk down the street it’s normal, but when women do it, it’s sexy so men have a right to make comments about it. Furthermore, the sexualization of an act that is not only commonplace but also essential to survival (eating) contributes to even more serious issues like rape culture - it sends the message that it is the correct thing for men to ogle women (even when they're just eating), because they are supposedly doing so in such a hypersexualized way, or "asking for it." Carl's Jr. encourages men to see women as objects, and this objectification not only negatively affects women's self-esteem but also contributes to other real-life issues that women face every day. 

Interestingly, at the very same time that Carl’s Jr. represents women as objects, it also represents them as jealous, possessive creatures, the "ball and chain" that holds back men from what they really want to do (and, according to Carl's Jr, should be doing, which is ogling women). The advertisements pit women against each other by juxtaposing the image of the “girlfriend” with the image of the “sexy model," or the girl that Carl’s Jr. thinks you wish you could be. Misogynistic advertising like this may be commonplace, but that does not make it harmless – quite the contrary, in fact.

None of this is news. Anyone who has ever seen a Carl’s Jr. advertisement knows that they create incredibly unrealistic and insulting representations of women, yet we continue to watch their commercials and eat their burgers. And every time we watch one of their commercials or eat one of their burgers, we send them the message that we agree with their representation. Each dollar that we spend there sends a message, but fortunately so will every dollar that we choose to spend elsewhere. 

If you need another reason to boycott Carl's Jr., consider this: 

Carl’s Jr. was started by CEO Carl N. Karcher in 1941, a “deeply religious” man and a father of 12 who was not shy about putting the revenue from his business toward organizations that supported his right-wing ideals. He was a fierce anti-choice activist who frequently funded the anti-choice group Operation Rescue, a group that has been connected with violent crimes against doctors, including assassinations. In the late 1980s, a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Irvine, California was (largely unsuccessfully) picketed by pro-choice activists with the National Organization of Women who were trying to get people to think twice about where their money might be going after buying a burger from Carl’s Jr.

Karcher was also a major supporter of anti-gay legislation – in the 1970s, he donated to the campaign to pass California’s Proposition 6, also called “The Briggs Initiative,” a piece of legislation that aimed to ban gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools in the state of California. Harvey Milk, arguably the most well-known gay rights activist in history, rose to fame through his opposition to Prop. 6 and contribution to Prop. 6’s eventual defeat. Although Karcher indeed had the right to donate his money to whichever organizations he wanted to (which he called his “freedom of speech”), his company has not stopped its anti-woman crusade at the mere power of the purse. Carl’s Jr. has not only donated profits to right-wing, anti-women’s rights organizations, they have also made their opinions on women extremely clear through their recent advertising campaigns. 

Carl’s Jr. is an historically anti-choice and anti-gay corporation that currently sells their unhealthy food at an extremely high cost – the cost of feminism, the cost of gender equality and the cost of our collective female and human dignity. I am not suggesting anything as extreme as picketing Carl’s Jr. (although if you want to, go for it). But what I am suggesting is that we, not only as women but as humans who respect women – our mothers, our sisters, our friends and our girlfriends – to choose not to indulge Carl’s Jr. anymore. Next time you see a Carl’s Jr. commercial, change the channel. Next time you pass a Carl’s Jr. on a road trip or in a shopping mall and think about going inside to grab a bite to eat, think again.

Think again and think better, not only for yourself, but for gender equality and women everywhere.

Get more "Reaction Time," common sense reactions to everyday craziness, every other Monday or read more here

Contact columnist Ariana Aboulafia here; follow her here.



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