Woke? No, the John Lewis ad is just sexist

Woke? No, the John Lewis ad is just sexist, says ISABEL OAKESHOTT: It features a boy in lipstick and a dress trashing his house. But the gender agenda isn’t the real controversy

  • John Lewis has released an advert featuring a boy wearing lipstick and a dress 
  • Isabel Oakeshott admits the home insurance advert made her heart sink 
  • Claims advert has wound up middle England and features ‘sexist stereotyping’

Oh John Lewis — what have you done? The department store that is famously ‘never knowingly undersold’ is supposed to be like those lovely feather and down duvets it sells at such a reasonable price: a comfort blanket of conventionality. Now it has waded into gender politics — and got it all wrong.

As a customer, my heart sank at the company’s new home insurance advert featuring a boy wearing bright blue eyeshadow and lipstick, prancing about in a maxi dress. Like Sainsbury’s promoting Black History Month in the supermarket aisles when all shoppers want is a pint of milk, it seems a totally unnecessary foray into the culture wars.

As a mother, I am even more dismayed. For with this stupidly provocative and divisive advert, John Lewis is not truly challenging gender stereotypes, as it’s oh-so-woke marketing people clearly believe. In the roles it has assigned the two female characters — both passive onlookers — it is reinforcing all the old cliches about how girls and women behave.

Isabel Oakeshott explains why the John Lewis home insurance advert featuring a boy wearing a dress and make-up (pictured) made her heart sink

The advert stars a boy of about ten, somewhat past the standard age for trying on mummy’s dresses. Of course, he could just be a little lad in fancy dress, but that is not the impression conveyed. With his chest thrust out and pouting seductively for the camera, he looks more like a mini contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race than a child at play.

We then watch while our anti-hero goes on the rampage through the family home, trashing everything in his path, while his sister and mother, bizarrely untroubled by the unfolding drama, do nothing. Championing equality and diversity? Hardly.

Strutting to the strains of Stevie Nicks’ hit Edge Of Seventeen, we first meet the lad in his mother’s bedroom, where wardrobes have been flung open, clothes are strewn across the bed, shoes and underwear are scattered across the carpet, and the dressing table is littered with jewellery, nail varnish, and other cosmetics.

Dressed in kitten-heeled boots, his mother’s dress pulled over a Breton t-shirt and cinched at the waist with a gold belt, the boy flounces onto the scene. Flinging fistfuls of pillow feathers into the air, he sashays onto the landing, where he kicks off his footwear, deliberately aiming the boots at a pendant lampshade and smearing make-up along the white bannisters. Making his way downstairs, he swipes at a row of pictures on the wall and hurls an umbrella at a shelf of ornaments, sending everything flying.

It is at this point that we meet his sister, who is sitting at a coffee table quietly painting a picture.

As the soundtrack reaches its climax, the boy picks up her tray of paints and tips it all over the carpet, before twirling and pouting his way into the kitchen where he wreaks yet more havoc.

Isabel said viewers are seemingly expected to smile indulgently at the naught boy’s (pictured) antics, however all hell would’ve broken loose if her son did this to his sisters 

So here we are again: a naughty boy having fun at his sister’s expense, wrecking her downtime and being allowed to do so with impunity. It seems viewers are expected to smile indulgently at his antics.

In my household, all hell would have broken loose had my son done this to his sisters. The girls wouldn’t have given a damn about the carpet, but they would have been enraged at being rudely interrupted from their artistic endeavours. Yet the girl in the advert doesn’t even react.

What on earth is wrong with her? Has she been taught to believe ‘boys will be boys’? If so, I blame her mother, who is equally uncomplaining. As the boy continues his wanton trail of destruction, she briefly looks up from the recipe book she is reading in the kitchen but doesn’t do or say anything as he destroys the house.

We hear nothing more of her as he pirouettes on the dining room table while throwing fistfuls of glitter at the wall.

Is she too busy studying how to bake the perfect cupcake to do anything, or does she think it’s fine to let kids charge around the house breaking stuff? The ‘Let Life Happen’ slogan at the end of the advert certainly reinforces that impression.

Isabel said the sexist stereotyping throughout the advert (pictured) is ironic, given the message John Lewis is trying to send out with the gender-fluid star

Meanwhile, where’s dad? Is he out at work, while mum sits pretty at home? Perhaps there isn’t a father, which would be thoroughly modern, if only the females in the advert were stepping into some traditional male roles. But no, they are little more than decorative after-thoughts.

This is sexist stereotyping writ large — pretty ironic, given the message John Lewis is trying to send out with the gender-fluid star. It is all so ham-fisted, when the company could simply have shown a happy girl sliding down the bannisters and accidentally smashing a vase or trampling over the carpet in muddy boots after football.

And as for the whole point of the advert, are we to believe that the claims department at John Lewis would just pay out for all the broken and ruined stuff the boy leaves in his wake?

A spokesman says: ‘If customers have accidental damage cover, this would cover a range of major and minor home disasters, including unintentional breakages caused by children in the family.’

Isabel said the advert (pictured) was clearly designed to wind up middle England, while admitting she’s dreading the John Lewis Christmas advert 

But it’s not accidental damage we see in this ad — it’s the wilful making of a giant mess that will take ages to clean up. And who will have to pull on the Marigolds at the end of the little darling’s rampage? Mum and stoic daughter, no doubt. What an insult.

By using this clunky attempt to celebrate gender ambiguity, perhaps the powers-that-be at John Lewis are playing a long game, calculating that the new advert will appeal to their next generation of customers.

Doubtless the marketing team is thrilled by the fuss. The advert was clearly designed to wind up middle England, and it has done just that. The question is whether it has achieved anything else.

In a few weeks, John Lewis will unveil its keenly anticipated Christmas advert. I dread to think what horror awaits. Perhaps they’ll turn the Three Wise Men into Three Wise Women. If so, I might just stick to Argos this year.

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