Men outnumber women by two to one on most television programmes except for in adverts. However, the physical presence of men is not the only dominance that they have. According to Huston et al (1990) men are usually used for voice-overs in adverts. Gender portrayal has altered over the years as society’s views have changed. The main change has been in how women are portrayed in advertising and on television.
Women began registering complaints about the portrayal of women in the media in 1951. Over the years, a number of studies have documented the problem, looking for areas of change. A study carried out by Carrie Cooley, Christine Duerst, Amber Oslen and Steve Ryan states that in the 1950’s women were shown as unemployed, low-income earners who had little purchasing power. It continues to say that women became sex objects, wives or mothers in the 1960’s and were portrayed as achieving fulfilment by looking beautiful for men. Although there were an increasing number of women in the labour force in the 1970’s, a woman’s place was still in the home and women were generally isolated from their own sex in adverts. Men still had the authoritative position through the 80’s, with only 24% of female characters shown in paid occupations.
Nowadays, however, women are not only gaining ground in workforce participation, but are also filling positions once held primarily by men. This has resulted in a change in the portrayal of women in advertising. There is a far greater range of roles taken by women in adverts, many of which are roles traditionally filled by men. The most important thing to realise is that there would be no point in a complete reversal of stereotypes. The macho man shouldn’t suddenly become the passive housewife. Portrayals should be more true to life, they should be more representative of the population. Basically, adverts should portray what our lifestyle is – diverse. Advertisers have come under criticism for their use of women shown as ‘sex symbols’ to sell products. Women are shown in provocative ways to get the attention of the viewer.
An example of this can be seen in the Vauxhall advert where Claudia Schiffer is used as furniture in the commercial for a car. She is used in order to persuade the male viewers to buy the car because the advert makes them see the car as a sexy car that will attract women. She has nothing to do with the quality or advantages of this car. However, men are used in this way as well, though to a smaller extent. A great example of a man being used for his sex appeal is the Diet Coke adverts where a topless man drinks the Diet Coke while women stare, gasping in desire. This advert also shows men in a stereotypical way, as a builder (or in another manual job) to exploit the rough, rugged stereotype.
Some critics attempt to minimise concerns about the media portrayal of women. One line of reasoning is that the portrayal of gender roles is a feminist issue, of little concern to the majority of people. However, many that study gender in the media take the opposite view. They argue that every portrayal of men and women is important in that it contributes to the overall model of social reality. Stereotyping and portrayal of gender has a particularly strong affect on girls and young women. This is because of the constant portrayal of thin ‘stick-insect’ women in magazines. This brainwashes girls/women into thinking this is how they should look and this view has brought about the increase in the problems of anorexia where girls/women starve themselves in order to lose weight.
In researching into the gender portrayal in advertising, I will be looking at different types of advertising in order to gain a full perspective of the problem of stereotyping at hand. I will be looking at the advertising on bus stops and billboards. These adverts are designed to be striking and memorable and for this reason will be different to that on television. The other types of advertising that I will be looking at are those in printed media like magazines and newspapers. For each of these types, I will be studying the tactics used by advertisers to gain attention and sell products.
Billboard Advertising I have noticed, from the study of my photographs, that there are several different ways that gender is portrayed. There are those, which show men as dominant over women; those that can be seen to exploit sexy imagery, as well as those do not conform to traditional roles. Firstly, with reference to adverts 1 and 8: These two adverts portray men as taking care of important decisions. Advert 1 is for insurance and advert 8 is about the payment of bills for energy (electricity, etc). Both show men as being the persons taking care of these matters, and this can be seen to portray men in a dominant role and in control of the money.
Adverts 2 and 6 look to portray women in the traditional stereotyped roles. They both portray women in activities linked to the kitchen. This portrayal is a traditional one and not necessarily accurate as a lot of men nowadays are staying home and cooking the food. However, advert 6 is supposed to be for a traditional food and so the advertisers are likely to have intentionally played on this stereotyped portrayal.
A traditional role is also portrayed in advert 4. The adverts shows a man and a boy (father and son possibly) hanging up wallpaper. This plays on the idea that all men have the skills to do fix-it jobs around the house. This is a stereotyped view as not all men can do these things. The portrayal shown in adverts 5, 9 and 10 all use the appeal of the body as their main tactic. All of them show semi-naked people in order to sell the product and promote its image. Image 5 uses an attractive woman in a low-lit room in order to push the sexual imagery of the advert. The advertisers are using the women to attract both men and women. Men would see the advert and be influenced to buy the product because it looks good on the model and they want their wife/girlfriend to look just as good. Similarly, women would buy the product for themselves, but for the pleasure of their husband/boyfriend.
Advert 9 and 10 use people, along with the background setting, to promote the image of the product. Advert 9 shows a woman in a bikini on a beach. This is used to mirror the way of life in Ibiza as well as to show the product enjoyment. Advert 10, however, show a man leaning against a wall holding the product whilst in a beach resort somewhere (possibly in the Caribbean). The posture of the man shows him to be relaxing and this in turn implies that the product is relaxing. All the character is adverts 5, 9, and 10 are slim and attractive. This is intentional because the public likes to see good-looking people, but this portrayal may be contrary to reality.
Advert 7 uses Cat Deeley, a television presenter on MTV to promote a service. The advert uses the phone number for signing up to Sky Digital as Cat Deeley’s private phone number. This advert design is based on the fact that Cat is a very desirable woman. Although, those who see the advert know that this number does not get them through to Cat, by phoning the number and connecting to Sky Digital, the public will be able to see Cat Deeley on MTV.
The character portrayed in Advert 3 is a middle-aged woman. She is shown as a working woman, independent and not needing the help of men. This portrayal goes against the traditional view that women belong in the home and need men to support them both financially and emotionally. Magazine Advertising The advertising in magazines also uses a number of tactics in using gender to sell products. As with billboards, there are those adverts, which use sex, those which use imagery of traditional roles and others using role reversal.
Adverts 1,2,3,5 and 6 all use sex to sell the products. Advert 1 shows the most blatant use of sex I have ever seen. The advert shows a pair of female legs with the text ‘Opening in July! Don’t miss it!’ Readers will instantly take this to mean that the legs will be opening in July, but in reality, the text is referring to the motorcycle shop. This advert is likely to get noticed and remembered because of its use of sex and will probably be effective in that it will have good recall.
The way in which advert 2 is designed is quite an original slant on the use of sex. It is designed in the style of the Kama Sutra. The advert is for beer and the idea of the Kama Sutra is relating the pleasure of sex to that of drinking a beer. The use of sex in advert 3 is very different to that in advert 1. While the portrayal in advert 1 might be seen as dirty, the portrayal in advert 3 is very much more sensual. It portrays a male and female, naked, holding each other very close. They are wearing similar watches and this may encourage readers to buy both male and female versions of the watch, one for themselves and the other for their partner.
Advert 5 and 6 are the same product, but one was found in ‘FHM’ and the other in ‘B’ (a magazine for girls/women). The advert portrays an attractive, blonde female wearing only lingerie. The target audience for the advert is different in the two magazines. In FHM, the advert aims to attract men to buy the product for their wives or girlfriends. However, in advert 6, (the advert in ‘B’) the audience changes to women. The advert is now aiming to attract women to buy the product for themselves, perhaps to please their husband/boyfriend. If they have no partner, they may buy it in order to gain attention. The characters portrayed in these adverts (except for advert 2) take up nearly all the advert space. The emphasis is on the bodies as this is the tactic used. These characters are also of a great body form. They are slim and attractive in order to appeal to readers.
The appeal of the desire to be ‘cool’ is the selling point for advert 4. Bruce Willis (a notoriously cool actor) is shown wearing the product (sunglasses) and a leather jacket. These two items are known signifiers of being cool. As well as the clothing that is being worn, the use of a celebrity helps to sell the product. Readers will see the advert and think that if Bruce Willis is wearing these sunglasses, they must be good, ‘very’ cool and therefore desirable. The advertisers understand the impact of his celebrity status and this is shown by the inclusion of his name in the advert.
Advert 9 again uses the appeal of sex to sell the product but combines it with a more traditional portrayal. The advert portrays women as household keepers. It suggests that women enjoy doing the dishes. The advert shows a young, slim, attractive woman in her underwear. This is somewhat confusing, as this is likely to be a situation of sexual appeal. The main purpose of this is to advertise a new promotion where silver rubber gloves are being given away. The text ‘What does it take to get me into rubber?’ is again playing on the use of sex, but this time with more of a fetish slant. I feel that the promotion is degrading to women by suggesting that the give-away of silver rubber gloves is going to influence a purchase.
The portrayals in adverts 7,8 and 9 are of women is positions of power and in control of men. Advert 7 shows a woman wearing a full PVC cat suit holding a riding crop. This portrayal is used to suggest that the woman is a dominatrix (a women who controls men in a sexual way). This portrayal uses an element of humour in the way that the text states ‘she makes love like no other woman with… sandpaper’.
Advert 8 portrays a woman standing in a very confident, yet cocky position. The text in the advert says ‘I don’t chase men who can’t run away’. This statement relates to two things. Firstly, the woman is powerful and looking for a strong-minded man. Secondly, the statement is also referring to the beer. It suggests that the beer is also strong. The advert is suggesting that the beer is strong and if you don’t watch yourself, you will, get drunk and not be able to ‘run away’.
The way in which advert 10 shows women as controlling men is more subtle. The advert is all about using Persil Non-bio because it is kind on the skin. It shows a good-looking man putting on a clean white shirt and text ‘Is he the sensitive type?’ The portrayal in this advert is complicated. On the one hand it is showing women as looking after men which a modern portrayal of women. On the other hand, women are still being depicted as the ones seen to be doing the washing. This portrayal is a more traditional one.