Created by WS-71, 2015

Sexism in Advertising—Essay 1

In our days life is full of advertising aimed to influence the buying behavior of customers or clients by providing a persuasive selling message about a product and/or service. However, there is a new advertising strategy – sexism, especially against women. Although it has been defined more violent in past times, it is still damaging women’s dignity, behavior and thinking. Practically every advertisement tells us what it means to be an ideal man or woman. Man must be rich, powerful, confident. For woman the message is simply the same - she must be beautiful. In this way advertising is facing sexism since images of the beauty ideal are made more pervasive and more unattainable, than ever before.

Woman is now seen as a sex object or a decorative object. Modern ads, commercial and media in general focus on the value of woman's body, rather than her ability to successfully promote product with good ideas. The simplest example is beer advertising when beautiful clad women catch the consumers' attention. Therefore, female body seems to be a decoration or a favorable background of advertising.

Using sex to make a sale remains a favored marketing strategy for many products, and ads that sell sex along with products are standard features in the world of advertising. Men and women are often targeted with different messages, and ads for men frequently present women in sexually available and vulnerable positions, especially in cigarette and alcohol advertising. Scantily clad models in alluring and sexualized poses draw the interest of male consumers and in doing so objectify women as little more than commercially designed male fantasies.

On the other hand, woman becomes a product itself. Being used as an advertising strategy females could be associated with the product they actually advertise. These products are often produced for men. Hence, it creates in men the idea of women as a trophy and he is able to buy and use certain products or services to achieve having a beautiful woman by his side.

Everyone sees tones of advertising every day. But no one is aware if one or the other ads good or not. Adverts always instill us to look younger, be skinnier, have shinier hair, have less hair in other places, cook more for our families, clean more, smell nicer – but was is done in appropriate way? Maybe it hearts someone's feelings? But actually not so many people think about it seriously. It’s a mass media phenomenon that infiltrates our daily lives while we’re not even paying attention, and they scream out a lot of sexist epithets underneath all that BUY, BUY, BUY.

There are far too many adverts selling anything to do with food or kitchens or cleaning that only star women in domestic scenarios. Sure, they’re not as blindingly sexist, but it’s as though advertising is literally shouting at women to get back in the kitchen love, and make a sandwich.

The range of female images in advertising has no doubt expanded but not much has changed. There are seven forms of representing women in advertising proposed by Christiane Schmerl more than 20 years ago and listed below are still valid today. Added to which there are now fragmented depictions of women, parts of their bodies missing, as well as pornographically charged images.

Woman = sexuality: women are reduced to sexuality, to a role of vamp and virgin in equal measure. By reducing women to sexuality it is possible to use female bodies at liberty and universally as objects of decoration. Woman = product; product = woman: women are treated as commodities, women resemble commodities: young, beautiful and unused. Household = woman: household, children, husbands. Here is their place, here is where they know the ropes. Typical woman! Women are ascribed specific features, big weaknesses, they are naive, like to gossip.

 Cosmetic constraints: women are prompted to always look beautiful for heterosexual men.

Emancipation: emancipation can be bought, e.g. a car, comfortable clothing.

Male cynicism: male jokes put women in their place.

Stereotypes which lead to sexism in advertising:

·                Women as sexual objects, always available, ready for sex around the clock;

·                Women are not subjects but objects, commodities with no will of their own;

·                Women as fragmented bodies, always ready for sex;

·                Women are reduced to body parts, stylized and ready for penetration;

Fragmentation and pornographic elements are new sexist style devices for advertising.

Housewifization of professions: Technical careers are set aside for men. The advertisement shows a woman using a power line as a clothesline. Clearly this undermines her competence as a technical professional, allocating her the housewife role she can handle instead.

Here is one example of Doritos, which was broadcasted in 2010. The main idea of this ad was that The only way to get a man to pay attention to you instead of a football game is to strip naked and cover your body in nacho-cheese flavored chips. Of course it made someone laugh, but is it right to shoot such adverts?

When examining sexism in advertising it is important to address images and depictions of men and masculinity. Again, we are called upon to familiarize ourselves with gender clichés, stereotypes and questionable male images. Recent decades in general have seen a change in the way male images are presented. Traditional images of men as patriarchs are no longer a matter of course and have given way to far more diverse forms. Potentially there is now a wider range of male images than before.

Unfortunately though, images of modern men reflecting balanced gender relations are far from self evident as a whole. Men in advertising are still depicted in a way which reinforces traditional, gender-based distribution of labour. Performance, success and power are attributed to men, their readiness for violence is endorsed while they are subtly denied the ability to run the household. Added to which messages addressed at men avail themselves of sexualized images of women combined with images of dominant and eager men. Messages like these establish or reinforce patriarchal male attitudes in a male target group. Gender democratic, emancipatory and alternative male images are marginalized, as they are not considered the norm.

Two perspectives therefore need to be taken into account when analyzing sexist images involving men: one being sexism towards women, the other sexism towards men themselves. Both have a damaging effect in the sense that they either support structures conducive to putting women at a disadvantage in society or they increase the pressure on men to comply with traditional male standards in areas where men are seen to be at risk, e.g. in health care, alcohol consumption or propensity towards violence. Men who are unable or unwilling to meet these standards are marginalized, e.g. gay men, socially disadvantaged men, men objecting to violence.

In advertising at least the following themes and focuses can be identified:

Images of masculinity and messages to men which support sexism against women in advertising, making it appear as normal. Examples are images of scantily clad women employed for decorative purposes, triggering associations with men in more powerful and/or determining positions, often linked to suggestive or sexualizing connotations. Images may also allude to sexist biases, assuming that a lot of men have these without talking about them, except at the imaginary “regulars’ table” or off the record. Such disclosure of “secret preferences” serves the purpose of attracting attention by involving the (re)production of sexist clichés and prejudices. Images portraying and epitomizing men as performance-driven dominant winners. Men are shown as career minded from childhood on. Images like these often insinuate superiority over other, devalued men or forms of maleness, or superiority over (young, attractive) women. Muscular, well-trained male bodies are frequently staged to lay claim to men’s complete and utter performance and their “natural and indisputable male superiority“, in some instances alluding to their willingness to engage violence.

Social scientists argue that commercial images of women are important forms of social communication that include influential messages affecting public attitudes towards the place of females in society. Advertising images are related to gender stereotypes, and as they do, they reinforce gender prejudice. Calling for an equality of imagery is first step along the way to social and economic practices that treat women as equal partners with social standing in our society.