Gender refers to those social, cultural, and psychological traits linked to males and females through particular social contexts. As gender, related issues become more mainstream in scientific research and media reports, the confusion associated with the terms sex and gender has decreased. Sex refers to the biological characteristics distinguishing male and female.
This definition places gender squarely in the sociocultural context. In media, there is a way that each gender is represented, based on the stereotypical way our society classifies males and females. Sex makes us male or female; gender makes us masculine or feminine. Sex is an ascribed status because a person is born with it, but gender is an achieved status because it is a learned behavior.
Mass media play a significant role in a modern world, by broadcasting information in fast pace and giving entertainment to vast audiences. They consist of press, television, radio, books and the Internet. The latter is now the most developing medium, however, TV also has a wide field of influence. By creating a certain type of message, media program your subconious people’s attitude and opinions. I would like to focus on this problem by investigating commercials structure; I will also attempt to specify gender stereotypes, which are used in advertising as a persuasion technique.
One of the most important types of schemes used for orientation in the social environment are the stereotypes, representing the opinions among members of a certain group about the other groups. They are internalized during the socialization. They can be a result of our own observations or be adopted from the influence of the significant others, such as family, friends, teachers and media. Because of many simplifications and generalizations that they produce, stereotypes present incomplete, subjective and sometimes false image of the reality. They are often based on tradition and are resistant to change.
Although they can both have positive and negative undertone, the latter is much more common. Even if certain arguments allow to refute a stereotype, people would rather treat it as an exception that proves the rule, than change the way of thinking. Besides, social categorizations can lead to the effect of homogeneity of the foreign group.
Boys will be boys. Girls should not get their dress dirty. These are just a few common misconceptions of gender often heard in our society. As individuals, young or old people we are constantly overwhelmed by messages – unintentional or unintentional – that reflect society’s expectations of gender.
Media is “deeply implicated in the process of defining and framing gender,” (Aalberg & Jenssen, 2007, p. 21) and is often the main culprit behind the perpetration of gender stereotypes. Social media has transformed the way society communicates, it has enabled people to become producers as well as consumers. Media consumers process the messages therein and create attitudes regarding what is appropriate and what is not for males and females.
Today’s society is dominated and maneuvered by advertising campaigns which are driven to create a significant impact on the socially constructed media gendered language of society. Douglas Kellner states in his article “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism and Media Culture”, “…products of media culture provide materials out of which we forge our very identities, our sense of selfhood; our notion of what it means to be male or female; our sense of class, of ethnicity and race, of nationality, of sexuality, of ‘us’ and ‘them’ “ (Kellner 5).
Media plays a huge role in shaping the way society thinks, causing significant controversy amongst the popular debate topic: gender role stereotypes. Stereotyping in the advertising world has become a fundamental concern as society is heavily exposed to a bias array of advertisements, which directly influence their beliefs and behavior.
Undoubtedly, advertising campaigns have a single goal in their production, which is to ensure that their target market is constantly thinking about their brand, products, and services. In order to achieve this goal, many advertising campaigns have historically sexualized and objectified women to attract consumers, primarily men, by creating false correlations between their products and women. This paper will explore hegemonic masculinity and gender differences present in the advertising industry. This will be demonstrated by examining various advertising campaigns which have aided in the social construction of women being viewed as sex objects and domestic workers.
If you were to simply look in a magazine, store catalogues, billboards, bus stops or even TV commercials, you would notice that most of these advertisements have one thing in common: sex appeal. Although sometimes you will see a male promoting masculine consumer products, the majority of the time you will see an image of a female whose sexual attraction tends to create a center of attention. The article “Babes in Boyland” was featured in Creativity and questioned the male dominance in advertising’s creative departments.
Neil French who is often known as the renowned copywriter, answered this question by commenting that woman’s work in creative departments is terrible and for that reason they do not deserve to advance in the industry (Broyles and Grow 2). Ironically, the Women’s Bureau at the United States Department of Labor reports that women occupy 56.5% of the advertising industry (U.S. Dept of Labor). However, a study coordinated by Creativity stated that a mere third of the creative departments are composed of females.
This indirectly portrays that the advertising industry is dominated by masculine production. In John Bergers text, “Ways of Seeing”, he argues that there is patriarchal society which results in the objectification of woman in order to satisfy the “look” demanded by the male spectator (Walters 51). As a result, we can argue that since the advertising industry is particularly a patriarchal society, the male producers are often those who engage in the activity of degrading woman in the advertising campaigns they create.
We can see today that the term “sex sells” is frequently used to describe the advertising sector. This method is most prominently used in advertisements that promote products more specifically catered for the typical male consumer.
When a woman’s body and sexuality are used together to promote consumer products, the woman becomes a sex object. This is predominantly seen in alcoholic beverage advertisements. In particular, an advertisement campaign by Skyy demonstrates how women are not only used as sex objects, but also the existence of male dominance behind the image. In this particular advertisement, Skyy is aiming to sell the bottle of alcohol to its particular target market, males (Rendezvous).
hey do this by using the female’s sexuality, in particular her breasts, to attract consumers to the advertisement. In addition to the sex appeal, a message embedded into the image which portrays hegemonic masculinity is also visible.
The way the man in the blue suit is standing over the woman depicts the ongoing feminist concern of male dominance over females. Is this supposed to create an image in the mind of the male spectator that if they purchase this particular type of alcohol, they too can lure an attractive female to them and perhaps have a drink together? Another entertaining advertisement for a men’s cologne brand, Calvin Klein’s “CK one”, depicts again both the female sexuality and male dominance (Gideon and Testino).
Undressed from head to waist, the male holding the cologne bottle and the female from behind is apparently supposed to magnetize the target consumer, which is again a male, to the advertisement and have him believe that if he uses this cologne as well, he will also be able to exert the same power and attractiveness to females. With the presented advertisement images, it is evident that the female body is regularly divided into legs, buttock or breasts to further indicate that women are not complete human beings but simply fetishistic objects.
Moreover, applying Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalyst theory, the spectators gaze upon images was a male embedded gaze which objectified women (Sturken and Cartwright 356). This particular theory was introduced in cinema, however we can see how it applies in the commercial world as well given that historically an abundance of advertising campaigns have been governed by the male gaze. As a result, this perpetuates a stereotypical representation of women as merely sex objects used to draw attention to a particular consumer product.
Douglas Kellner explains that the media provides us representations in which socially construct our identities; our values; our beliefs; our attitudes; the way we behave and our perception of the differences in males and females (Kellner 5). Advertising companies engage in producing advertisements which promote the inequalities that are present in today’s society in relation to gender roles. This evidently creates a societal norm which is perceived as acceptable by society.
A male’s characteristics are often represented in mass media as being tough, business oriented and most obviously the dominant gender in society. On the other hand, females are often portrayed as passive objects with only domestic abilities. The article, “A Content Analysis of Prime Time Commercials: A Contextual Framework of Gender Representation” written by three researchers discusses the gender role stereotypes evident in television advertisements.
They argue that the traditional stereotype of males and females that society is aware of, are the result of television commercials which fortify the ongoing debate of power and control concern between the two genders (Ganahl, Prinsen and Netzley 545). To reinforce their theory, a research study was performed which sampled 1 337 prime time commercials from the major networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. As the researchers analyzed the commercials which were coded for gender, age, acting role and the commercial product, the results were compared to a variety of statistics, past studies and research.
The comparison found many similarities including that although it is proven that women were the primary purchasers of goods and services, they are nonetheless given a secondary character in prime time commercials (Ganahl, Prinsen and Netzley 550). Most often, women are seen in commercials for household products which demonstrate the concept of their primary role as “housewives” who are to clean the house and take care of the children.
This is proven in a study conducted in 2008 which reports that women are twice as likely to be represented in advertisements as nurturers compared to men (Robinson and Hunter 485). We will examine the Lysol Disinfect Spray commercial in which a female(s) who represents the mother, is in a family oriented environment with her children (Lysol). In this commercial, we can see how women are depicted as the caretaker of the family whose main purpose in life is to provide a clean and safe environment for her family in which this encoded ideology consequently creates a societal norm.
The more commercials that perpetuate this social meaning, the stronger the belief will be however, with the male dominance in the advertising industry this is bound to happen. Such advertisements which portray the women in a domestic role create gender division stereotypes which destructively impact the false norms that society decodes, accordingly creating barriers and furthering the difficulty to abandon the norm.
The analysis of advertising campaigns disseminating gender role stereotypes have demonstrated social destruction as they objectify women and create societal norms. Although we have moved into a more modern era, the feminist concern of the patriarchal society is yet present in society and is extremely difficult to diminish and overcome.
Mass media stereotyping has the ability to reach affect a wide audience reach due to revolutionary technology which only improves with time. Although we must consider that media scope carries an inverse effect as producers and their families are accordingly harmed with these stereotypes as they too are considered to be a part of society that also follows the accepted norms. I believe that for this reason, gender role stereotyping and its effects is an extremely complex concern to eliminate.
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- Kellner, Douglas. “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism and Media Culture.” Gender, Race and Class in Media, Ed. Gail Dines and Jean Hume. Calif.: Thousand Oaks, 1995.5–17.
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