Toying with the Image of Women in Ads
In the past, information was not as readily available to the public as it is nowadays. This is especially true during war, when news and information are still subjected to gate-keeping or filtering by those who have access to it. Today, we are living in the digital age brought to us by the dynamic technological advances. We are also currently living in the world of mass media wherein news and information are readily handed to us when we turn on our television and radio sets and when we browse on the world wide web.
According to Beth Lane, by technical definition, mass media is the channel by which mass communication or message for a large, diverse audience is transmitted. At present, there are eight mass media industries: books, newspapers, magazines, and recordings, radio, film, television, and the Internet. Mass media plays a very important role in society as a channel of communication.
They serve as the main source of news and influence the public in forming opinions, as well as in making decisions. For instance, during election, people get information about the candidates on TV and newspapers, after which they decide who to vote.
Mass media in a modern democratic society are considered as the fourth branch of the government and perform an independent and equally important role as the government (McChesny). Media also serve as the watchdog of the government to prevent irregularities on the political machinery. Undeniably, mass media reach all walks of life, regardless of their race, age, and gender. Media mutes all differences and caters to all kinds of individual.
Producers, businesses, and advertisers also find a way to utilize the scope of mass media to reach their respective consumers. Therefore, we are bombarded by different advertisements of various products whenever we watch or read. Advertising or commercial mass media is regarded as the lifeblood of publication (Wilson and Gutierrez 290). Advertising includes all form of mass paid communication intended to influence consumers. Through advertising, publications and other forms of media obtain funds to continue the publication. Mass media gets half of their revenues from advertisement and sponsorship (Wilson and Gutierrez 290). Therefore, networks and publishing companies must maintain a harmonious and productive relationship with businesses and advertisers. In this way, business owners and advertisers will be encouraged to keep on placing their ads on the publication and in effect, keep the cash flowing (Wilson and Gutierrez 290).
Advertisements have a strong influence on consumers. Advertisers, in order to sell their products, create strategies that will make buyers to patronize their products. They create the “buying mood” and as a result, make consumers avail of the product. These advertisements make individuals think that their product is essential and necessary in their daily lives.
In an article written by Gloria Steinem for the MS Magazine, she cited examples of functions of mass commercial media. One of these functions is to keep the price of the magazine affordable for the target market. She used MS Magazine as an example to illustrate her point. According to Steinem, the reason behind MS Magazine’s inclusion of ads in the issues it releases is to keep the price of the feminist magazine low enough for it to become marketable. Since advertisements support the publication, street sales would be just an extra income for the publication. The main purpose of this is for the reading material to reach their intended audience and to serve their purpose at low cost.
Steinem also cited that ads in women magazines are mostly about beauty products and considered as “business as usual.” Thus, another role played by advertisement is to inform the public what they need and what new products are for sale. When products are created or modified, companies advertise to inform the public of such innovations or changes on their functions or new varieties available in the market.
Finally, Steinem stated that ads in MS magazine provide a forum where women and advertisers could deliberate. Her example depicts another function of commercial mass media which is highly regarded—to provide a niche for forum between advertisers and consumers to improve advertising itself. Through these forums, the companies can solicit views from consumers concerning their products.
In the variety of ads we oftentimes see on TV and in print, we can see the creativity of the advertisers on the strategies in which they make the products in demand. In these advertisements, we see different portrayals of women and how they are being perceived by the public. Despite the influx of women in the workforce and the emergence of Women’s Liberation Movement, there are still stereotyped gender roles in commercial ads. Many of the women’s roles portrayed in these ads are traditional and very limiting.
Some of the examples used by Steinem in her article reflect the female traditional roles in society. For instance, in the second example mentioned earlier, Steinem stated that women’s magazines mostly contain home and beauty products. This implies that women’s interests mainly focus on making themselves more attractive, while their role is limited to the corners of their home. This is consistent with the study conducted by Courtney and Lockeretz which reports that women are traditionally portrayed in ads as homemakers, fashion or sex objects (Wortzel and Frisbie 41). More often than not, ads only show that women are the domestic providers incapable of doing significant decisions and are confined in the private sphere of home. Thus, these stereotyped ads suggest that women, with their limited capabilities and strengths, do not posses the power to do the same things that men can do, which contradicts the multiple roles played by women in modern Western society. (Wortzel and Frisbie 41). Limpinnian used the ad of Mr. Muscle Toilet Bowl Cleaner to illustrate how the traditional role of women are portrayed I ads. This advertisement shows a helpless mother scrubbing the grime on the toilet. Then, Mr. Muscle enters the scene and offers solution to the mother. Thus, not only this ad reflects the domesticated image of women, but it also implies that women depend on men for things they are unable to accomplish (Limpinnian).
According to Morrison and Shaffer, the reason behind this stereotyping is it is impractical or even fatal for advertisers to disregard gender stereotypes especially when selling certain products that are used only by one sex. This is because gender role stereotypes in ads perpetuate the image of a certain sex as set by culture and not as a reflection of his or her role in modern society. Moreover, the power of mass media influences a great number of their audience who perceive these traditional gender roles to be correct (Morrison and Shaffer).
In her article, Danielle Limpinnian stated that another reason for the portrayal of women’s traditionalized roles in advertisements could be the high ratio of men in the advertising industry. Also, it could be attributed to the fact that we are still living in a patriarchal society (Limpinnian).
Advertising is a representation of an ideal culture, reflecting only traditional cultural characteristics such as values and traits as well as gender roles. We can never claim gender equality in ads as the proliferation of stereotypical gender roles continue. The primary significant objective of advertising is neglected, which is to show the mere mirror image of our ever-changing environment, when the vested interests of producers and businesses interfere and all they care about is the increase of their sales. Hence, society must accept the current trend that advertising, upon serving its purpose, must prioritize and secure the interest of businesses, producers and advertisers over the reaction of a few people who may find the images portrayed in ads as inaccurate.
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