Almost all societies across the globe showcase some form of structuring based on gender roles. It is often questioned whether an individual is born with inherent conceptions of gender or whether gender inclinations are developed through practices of social construction of the accepted gender roles that prevail in the society. In recent years, intellectuals from different disciples in both behavioral and social science have shown an interest in and concern about the social and cultural outcomes associated with the mass media. One of the matters related to mass media, mainly, commercials and advertising, is the possible strengthening of social stereotypes such as those grounded in gender roles particularly the portrayal of women in ads. Advertisements and commercials in many cases use gender roles to promote products. However, because of simplification and generalization, stereotyping often builds a false image of reality. Considering the influence of mass media in shaping individual’s attitudes and beliefs it is paramount to address its impact on the construction of gender roles.
The research paper intends to answer the question “How are women stereotyped and constrained by feminine expectations through commercials and advertisements? Applying insight from theories of hegemony and ideology, the study uses specific commercials and advertisements to illustrate mass media stereotyping. The research question is approached in three distinct points including attitudes towards gender roles linked to women and characteristics in commercials and advertising and perceptions on objectification, sexualization and body image in commercial and advertising. The article contends commercial and advertisements stereotype women and constrain them to feminine expectations since they rely on gender roles to persuade consumers illustrating social stereotype which subsequently reinforces stereotypical values and behaviors in the society. The rest of the article is organized as literature review, methodology, and analysis as per the main points of arguments, the discussion of implications and finally the conclusion.
Stereotypes describe a set of beliefs pertaining to a particular group in society. A gender stereotype is grounded on the assertion that specific characteristic differentiates women and men. Studies indicate four main independent components that influence gender stereotyping including trait descriptors such as concern for others, physical features, roles such as taking care of children and the occupational status (Eisend, 2009). Each of the four components has a masculine and feminine version that influences stereotyping.
While the fight for equity irrespective of an individual’s gender has reduced gender stereotyping in various categories, most women feel like their intellectual capabilities are ignored on the grounds of how they look (Miller, 2018). As such physical characteristics is a significant ground for stereotyping in advertising, which is often showcased in objectification and sexualization of women. Asemah, Edegoh, and Ojih (2013)carried out a study to ascertain the way individuals, particularly women in society perceive how they are depicted in television advertising and commercials. The findings of the study indicated that women are negatively portrayed in advertising and the majority of women in the society are not satisfied citing that stereotyping is not only sexist but also naïve (Asemah, Edegoh, & Ojih, 2013). Undeniably, many scholars concur that many advertisements often employ gender roles as tools of persuasion in their bid to increase their profits.
Balitaan (2011) focused on women in the advertising industry and revealed that despite the expanding number of women in the advertising industry, the content in many commercials still portrays gender stereotype. The study concentrated on how female advertisers negotiate their gender roles and their general attitudes towards gender construction that is particularly prevalent in the advertising industry. The study illustrated that women in the advertising industry lean towards a moderate pro-feminist stand with egalitarian perceptions of female gender roles (Balitaan, 2011). The respondents acknowledged that the media has an influence on how they perceive themselves as women, but ultimately they fail to perceive their participation and contribution towards an industry that continues to objectify women. The conclusion from this particular study correspond with an article published in the New York Times which acknowledged while women currently make almost half of all the individuals working in the advertising industry, the advertising industry continues to be sexist and gender bias industry (Ember, 2016). The article asserts that the content of advertisements and commercials pinpoint to the “mad men” world in advertising.
The concept of media stereotyping emerges from Gramsci’s theory of “cultural hegemony.” The model maintains that the most dominant ideologies in the society often become the most dominant social discourses and continue to find their position and acceptance in the community across different domains including mass media particularly advertising and commercials (Stoddart, 2015). Gender stereotyping is an example of a dominant ideology which is often used and reconstructed by the mass media. In advertising and commercials, gender stereotyping is usually applied as a tool of persuasion to make products and services appealing to a specific demographic. Undeniably, advertising images continue to showcase stereotypical gender images and content a factor that illustrates hegemonic ideological discourse.
Another theory that illustrates the concept of gender stereotyping in advertising and commercials is George Gerbner concept of “cultivation analysis.” The theory maintains that overexposure to the media can influence and cultivate certain perceptions (Mosharafa, 2015). The model insists that attitudes that the media cultivate are often mediatized perceptions of the society and labeled them “mean world syndrome.” The concept of mean world syndrome showcases that individuals that concentrate on heavy media consumption often start to identify with the virtual undertones in the media. This particular theoretical framework explains the influence of the media in general and that of advertising in particular (Mosharafa, 2015). The theory describes how women stereotyping in commercials and advertisements continue to expand despite extensive campaigns on gender equity.
This particular research expands research on gender stereotyping in the media particularly in commercials and advertisements. However, unlike previous research that approached the issue in general, the paper focuses on the “how.” The study explores how women are stereotyped and constrained by feminine expectations through commercials and advertisements through focusing on attitudes of women stereotyping in advertisements and exploring perceptions of objectification, sexualization and body image.
The research adopts a qualitative research methodology through the analysis of ads and commercials that illustrate women stereotyping. Advertising has been characterized with sexism particularly towards the female gender since the first forms of ads. In the 20th century, the marketing industry portrayed women as housewives and focused on their duties to the family and building a home. A case in point of an advertisement that was sexist is the 1946 ad by Hoover that was titled “Give her a hoover and give her the best” which insisted that the perfect holiday gift for any woman is the hoover (Rittenhouse, 2018). The women in the advertisement were surprised that the best gift from their husbands is the hoover, a vacuum cleaner.
In the current society, advertising agencies and their clients do not tolerate an extensive kind of sexism but instead do so in subliminal levels. For instance the 2018 “I like beer” advertisement by Michelob Ultra through the FCB Chicago advertising agency showcases Chris Pratt and other men in various scenes including a particular one where the men surround one woman sitting at the bar singing “I like beer.” Throughout the different scenes of the advertisement, not a single woman was depicted alongside the men surfing and lifting weights. However later, the woman is portrayed as a prop on a barstool (Rittenhouse, 2018). The creative director at Publicis, Lori Korchek stated: “It would be wildly refreshing to see beer advertising that portrayed us as something other than the hot babe on a barstool- a reward for a guy who picked the right pint.”
Another example of a sexist advertisement that objectified women in efforts of increasing sells is the Lynx shower gel advertisement which was intended for the male demographic yet it portrays a filthy female dressed in a bikini with words ” wash me” written on her stomach. This particular advertisement is sexist since it showcases a woman as a plaything and nothing more. In the scene, the face of the women is not even depicted illustrating objectification.
In the society today, many commercials and advertisements stereotype women and constrain them to feminine expectations since they often rely on gender roles and objectification of women to sell products and increase their profit margins. Stereotyping in the society occurs through the development of factors that influence attitudes that results in women stereotyping and is illustrated through the perceptions of sexualization, objectification and body image issues in commercials and advertisements.
Factors that influence attitudes on women stereotyping in advertisements and commercials
In the society today, individuals particularly women views towards stereotyping in advertising are often influenced by their personal beliefs and worldviews and whether they identify with the scene or the role depicted in an advertisement as conditioned with social, environmental and demographic factors in the society. These factors often generate an emotional reaction from the audience which impacts positive or negative perception regarding the way they are depicted in the advertisement. According to the cultural hegemony theory, the dominant ideologies in the society often prevail in the community as it is the case with gender stereotyping in the media that has expanded throughout the 20th century to the 21st century. Individual ideologies of both the male and the female genders in the society to no small extent continue to influence cultural objectification in advertisements.
When an advertisement emphasizes a woman’s personal beliefs and views, it is more likely that the person will positively identify with the ad. Individuals often perceive the advertisements negatively if the role, scene or individuals portrayed do not collaborate with their personal beliefs or views. A case in point is the sentiments of Lori Korchek who believed that the ad of men in the bar singing to the girl sitting on a bar stool was sexist since it merely portrayed women as “playthings.” The Lynx shower gel advertisement objectifies women through showcasing a woman in a bikini in a role that is not consistent with the shower gel advertisement that was meant for the male demographic. Objectification contradicts the personal beliefs and views of many women in society as such a factor that influences perceptions of women stereotyping. Moreover, when women identified with the person in the advertisement, they tend to be more accepting of the ad unlike in the event when they do not identify with the individual in the advertisement. According to the cultural hegemony theory, the dominant ideologies in the society often prevail in the community as it is the case with gender stereotyping in the media that has expanded throughout the 20th century to the 21st century.
Other factors that impact individual’s perception on women stereotyping are related to secondary factors such as the understanding of the advertisement or commercial, association with the product or brand advertising or components of the advertisement. These factors could distract an individual from the message or reinforce their reactions. For instance, in the Lynx shower gel advertisement, the fact that the advertisement showcased a woman in the bathroom while the product was meant for the male demographic illustrates women confusion which influences their perception of gender stereotyping in ads. Components of the advertisement such as tone, language, music also prompt reactions. In the “I like beer” advertisement, the music in the advertisement is one of the reasons that many female viewers perceived the advertisement as sexist.
Therefore, it is evident that female perceptions on gender stereotyping in the society depend on primary factors, such as the interrelation between the advertisement and their personal beliefs and views and their identification with the person or scene in the video. Other secondary factors include their understanding of advertisement and association with the product or the brand that may reinforce or distract a woman from the stereotype in the video.
Body Image in Advertising
The concept of female stereotyping in advertisements and commercials is often evident in three distinct ways including objectification, sexualization and the portrayal of a particular body image. Body image describes the view that an individual has of their physical self. Body image encompasses how an individual perceives him or herself and how they consider others identify them. An entirety, body image also includes the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are influenced by perceptions of their bodies. Many advertisements in society promote a problematic message in society when they use women with specific physical characteristics and as such ridicule those that are not considered to be stereotypically attractive.
In both the Lynx shower gel and the “I like beer” advertisements, the advertisements use slim and toned women. According to the cultural hegemony theory, the most dominant ideologies in the society often expand to become the most dominant social discourses as is the case of what is considered attractive in a woman. The case of using women that are perceived as stereotypical attractive often illustrates that many advertisements and commercials in the current society lack diversity in the type of people depicted in advertisements. Additionally, many advertisements were cynical in the bid for the perfected and idealized body that they apply unconventional techniques such as photo-shopping which illustrates the depiction of something that was unattainable. The more advertisement insists on the “ideal body,” the more women in the society are pressured to perceive their bodies negatively. According to the cultivation analysis, the over-exposure to the media often influences individuals’ perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. Therefore, as advertisements and commercials continue to insist on the “perfect body” most females are encouraged to pursue such bodies, and in many cases, they resort to unhealthy activities.
Therefore, it is apparent the media, particularly advertisements and commercials objectify women through emphasizing the concept of an ideal body which often adversely affect women who do not possess these characteristics. In many cases, these commercials prompt women to identify with these unrealistic expectations with many using unconventional techniques such as cosmetic surgery and photoshopping to achieve the stereotypically attractive body.
Objectification and Sexualization
Apart from issues of body image, advertisements and commercials also objectify and sexualize women. Objectification is a concept that describes a situation where the viewer is prompted to perceive either the male or the female gender as sexual objects. The depictions may be applied in ways that may be considered as demeaning, subservient, degrading or humiliating or in some cases they can be portrayed as controlled by others. A practical example of objectification is where the advertisement focuses on an individual’s body while ignoring the body or in the case where a woman is used in an advertisement when she does not actively contribute to the advertisement. A case in point is the Lynx shower gel advertisement where the only the woman’s body is showcased. Sexualization, on the other hand, describes a situation where women or men are presently in an overly sexualized manner through images or videos that depict highly suggestive sexual acts or pleasure or fuels the aspect of being sexually available.
In many cases, advertisements and commercials overtly apply objectification in efforts of appealing to the members of the opposite sex. In this particular adverts, the women depicted often wore few clothes, shown in a sexual pose and many cases the scenes illustrated problematic behavior that often illustrate women as an inferior gender. In the Lynx body shower gel advertisement, a filthy woman is depicted in a bikini with the words “wash me” written on her stomach. The face of the woman is not even showcased in the advertisement illustrating objectification of the woman. Moreover, the advertisement was meant for the male demographic as such using the overtly exposed woman body was meant to appeal to the male gender.
Similarly, in the “I like beer” commercial the woman in the barstool is depicted in a problematic position that showcases women as inferior to men. Undeniably, such advertisements often encourage unrealistic expectations especially among teenagers and young adults who often desire to emulate this behavior. According to the cultivation analysis theory, perceptions that are reinforced in the mass media influence the opinions of individuals in society. As such, as advertisements continue to profit on objectification and sexualization of women, the views of individuals in the society continue to erode resulting in a community that holds sex above character and intellect.
The argument on objectification and sexualization of the female gender illustrates the extent that advertisements and commercials go in efforts of increasing sells and their profit margins. It is deductive advertisements, apply the notion of “sex sells” without any regard of the adverse consequences of objectification and sexualization to the society at large and young female in particular.
Discussion and Implications of Analysis
The current society values democracy and equity irrespective of race, gender or cultural orientation. Indeed, the concept of gender equity has been a significant topic in society before the dawn of the 20th century. While the USA among other nations has made substantial progress in the fight for gender equity, the concept of gender stereotyping is still evident in advertising. The creation of brands, products and markets, and the subsequent marketing and advertising prompted organizations and institutions to devise a technique to appeal to their consumers. While advertising is inherently a good thing intended to inform consumers of available products, their prices, functionality among others, there are many ramifications associated with it. Through the analysis the study established that the perceptions of women stereotyping depended was influenced by various factors whether primary or secondary that were impacted by social, environmental or demographic factors.
The descriptions of factors that influence stereotyping provide insight into how women stereotyping occurs in advertising and commercials. As such, the study reveals that advertisers often rely on the concept of cultivation analysis to influence individuals’ opinions and as such continue to drive the cultural hegemony associated with gender stereotyping in advertisement and commercials. It is necessary for ads to be conscious of the content they showcase in advertisements especially since almost half of all the individuals employed in the advertising industry are females.
Advertisements and commercials often stereotype and constrain women to feminine expectations since they ground the advertisements on gender roles in their bid to persuade consumers, increase their sales and subsequently their profit margins. Undeniably, the advertisements and commercials often rely on certain aspects that stereotype women. A case in point is a product meant for the male demographic that objectify and sexualize women in efforts of appealing to the male gender. In efforts of understanding “how” advertisements and commercials stereotype women, the paper initially investigated factors that influence the developments of attitudes related to stereotyping in women. The paper established various reasons from an individual’s personal beliefs to the understanding of the advertisement. Women are stereotyped in various ways through objectification, sexualization, and advertisements that portrayal of the “ideal body.” Since stereotypes are oversimplified and generalized, they misrepresented women while influencing the general female population to perceive themselves negatively or inadequate. Therefore, it is essential for advertisers to be conscious of the images and content they depict in advertisements to avoid cases of gender stereotyping in a society that is focused on equity.
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