High school teacher recreates sexist ads to teach students a lesson

Nicholas Ferroni is a high school teacher and nationally recognized social activist who educates, mentors and inspires students to reach their goals while driving a national dialogue about education reform. In 2017, he teamed up with TV host, Content Producer and former Miss Teen USA, Kamie Crawford, to recreate sexist ads from the 50s... with a twist. This time, the roles were reversed, with the aim of showing just how absurd (and also harmful) gender stereotypes are, in order to start a larger conversation.

A Q&A with Nicholas Ferroni & Kamie Crawford

Nick, what inspired you to create this project?

As an educator, I have found that experience and perspective are the most powerful ways to learn. We rarely see things as they are until we experience them personally. So I always try to put people (especially my students) in the shoes of others. Not only do people better understand, but it makes them more empathetic.

How did you come to work with Kamie Crawford?

I connected with Kamie through mutual friends and instantly became a big fan of hers. She is such an outspoken activist, and I thought this campaign would be something she would be up for, and she was. Not only did Kamie find us an amazing photographer, but she made all the ads herself. This campaign was only an idea, but Kamie made it a reality.

Kamie, as a woman, what did it mean to you personally to be able to flip the script?

It was so fun and empowering to be able to see myself as a woman, but more specifically as a Black woman represented in these kinds of ads and to be depicted in a more "dominant" role. Mainstream advertisements in the 1950's would have never featured a woman that looks like me to begin with, so to be able to see that, realized in a major way was super cool.

What did the project involve and was it fun to do?

I teach about all these vintage ads, so finding one's to portray was easy. Kamie found an amazing photographer, Christopher Horne, who was so happy to bring it to life and Kamie used her creative talents to create the ads.

Kamie, what is one thing you hoped the project would achieve and what was the reaction?

I honestly hoped that the reaction would be, "this is silly and ridiculous" - because that is how they should've been perceived when the original ads debuted in the 1950s! Instead - it was the norm which led to long-lasting and damaging depictions of the "roles" women should play for decades to come. Is it better when a man is depicted this way? NO! Is it funny to look at - OF COURSE! But equality is what we're after - not this.

Nick and Kamie, how far has the advertising industry come since the 1950s and what still needs to be addressed?

My students analyze past ads with present ads, and although they emphasize how the advertising industry has made strides-- it still is objectifying and hyper sexualizing women. - Nick

Racial/ethnic diversity is obviously a hot topic right now - and it should always be at the forefront of our minds in making sure that the media we consume is accurately reflective of the world we live in. Body diversity and being conscious of ableism are super important as well. We need and deserve to see it all - every shape, colour and more. - Kamie

"There is so much beauty in being different and we should celebrate that in all aspects of life, but particularly in media and advertising. "

Nick, you are passionate about gender equality and dedicated to calling out stereotypes and sexism working on various projects including social experiments in your classroom. Where does your passion stem from?

When I was in college, I watched Jane Elliot's Brown Eye-Blue Eye experiment where she taught her predominantly white students about racial injustice through a simple experiment based on their eye colour. After seeing that, I knew that, not only can you teach empathy, but I would find every way to teach students about social and systemic issues using simulations and experiments.

I have always cared about helping others and fighting for injustices and bringing awareness to sexism and racism in media and education. After becoming a teacher, and having students from all walks of life and backgrounds, it inspired me to be even more active in forcing change so their lives are better.

Kamie, what is one piece of advice you would give to young girls growing up today and what is one quote you live by?

Always remember that being you is your superpower. There is no one else out there like you and that is what makes you so special and deserving of love and respect.

"Manifest everything." If you continue to speak life into the things you want, they'll eventually be yours or you'll be led to something even better.