There is a need to appreciate the fact that in advertising, we cannot escape from media stereotypes. In the mass media industry, stereotypes are regarded as more of codes whose role is to award audiences a common and quick understanding of the available information. However, the use of gender stereotypes in advertisements by the mass media has also elicited a lot of problems. To start with, individuals have been judged based on their gender, as opposed to their personalities or capabilities. The same case applies across ethnic, class, and racial divides. In this case, advertisements are seen as perpetrators of inequality and social prejudice.
Gender stereotyping and ads
Gender stereotypes refer to the common beliefs or concepts that a given culture upholds about the behavior of women and men in such a society. Over the years, mass media have managed to legitimate gender stereotypes. In addition, the media has also managed to enhance the receptiveness of gender stereotype messages to the intended audience (Lucas par. 3). The use of ads has especially been instrumental in helping the media to achieve this objective.
There are two kinds of patterns that characterize the issue of gender in advertising. To start with, we are made to believe in the existence of enormous differences between, on the one hand, the expected or appropriate behavior for women and on the other hand, the behavioral expectations from their male counterparts. In addition, advertising, along with other forms of mass media has created an illusion in the minds of consumers that by and large, women are less dominant compared with men (Lynn, Walsdorf, and Hardin 81). This is more of a cultural assumption. Besides, even as the male gender roles appear more valued from a cultural perspective, that of the female gender is either devalued or disregarded. Already, society considers advertisement as having a fundamental impact on it. In addition, advertising greatly affects the various definitions regarding what is acceptable behavior in society, and what is not.
Numerous ads depict women as more of sex objects, if not “mindless domestics pathologically obsessed with cleanliness” (Cortese 53). According to Kang, advertisements “have consistently confined women to traditional mother-, home- or beauty/sex-oriented roles that are not representative of women’s diversity” (980). As early as the 1970s, scholars, and academicians in gender issues had already recognized such visual images as photographs are responsible for conveying a large amount of the stereotypes that are found in advertising. As Kang has noted, Images “carry a great deal of responsibility for the message decoding in an advertisement” (Kang, 1997, p. 981).
There are various stereotypes that the media uses about girls and women. Some of these include the supermom, the “nasty corporate climber”, the sex kitten, and the femme fatale, amongst others. Regardless of their role, popular magazines, films, and television are adorned with images depicting girls and women who are desperately thin and typically white. However, we need to appreciate the strides that the media has made in depicting women in television, film, and magazines. In addition, over the last 20 years, the influence and presence of women behinds the scene of media has not gone unnoticed. Nevertheless, the media is still basking in the glory of female stereotypes.
Mass advertising has been instrumental in perpetuating stereotypes regarding gender relationships and gender roles. For the entire history of advertising, this type of mass media has provided different definitions of what can at best be regarded as the perfect female. However, the central issues raised include her societal roles, her beauty, and her sexuality. There exist in literature numerous illustrations of restrained stereotyping. In terms of functional ranking, ads portray men as more functional while relating with women. Regarding size, ads normally portray men as the larger and taller of the two genders (Lynn, Walsdorf, and Hardin 78).
The only difference is when there is a clear indication that in terms of social status, women are superior to men. The subordination of women is also depicted in the ads. In this case, images of women are shown, either lying on beds or floors. The media therefore deliberately depicts women as objects to be mock assaulted by men. Perhaps the most widespread illustration of gender stereotyping by the media is the feminine touch. In this case, there is the tendency by the media to show images and pictures of women using their fingers to either caress or cradle certain parts of their bodies, if not objects.
For a long time, teenage magazines have sought to promote the issue of female beauty. In this case, beauty is deemed as physical perfection. The audiences for these magazines are usually females in their teens. This is important because, at this age, females tend to be very conscious of their bodies. Accordingly, the beauty and cosmetics industry features images of supermodels who are also consumers of the beauty products that they are marketing. Even so, one is bound to question how developmentally appropriate the ads are for the audience. The owners of the magazines and firms marketing beauty products, for example, appear more intent to cash in on the revenues generated by the sale of their products to their target market.
Advertisers use various patterns of messages and images about gender to fuel the debate on gender stereotypes. Men are depicted as the stronger of the two sexes, while their female counterparts are seen as being weak. Therefore, males are depicted as being on top of the power structure in society while females are shown to be submissive. Incidences of restrained stereotypes are documented in the literature, and they indicate how the media perpetuate gender stereotypes.
Cortese, Anthony. Images of women and minorities in advertising. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Print.
Lukas, Scott. The gender ads project. 2002. Web.
Lynn, Susan, Walsdorf, Kristie and Hardin, Marie. (Selling girls short: advertising and gender images in sports illustrated for kids. Women in sport & physical activity journal, 11.2 (2002): 77-100.
Kang, M. The portrayal of women’s images in magazine advertisement analysis revisited. Sex Roles, 37: 979-96