Women and Representation in the Media
Today, modern society is exposed to a vast amount of media; it’s inescapable. People may not even realize how often simple advertising appears in their daily routine and, as a result, takes root in their minds. It’s quick. It’s effective. It’s subconscious, and it’s everywhere. The average North American is exposed to 3,000 ads per day (Media Awareness Network, 2010). The question may be, however, how are these ads truly affecting society?
Surely people can make up their own minds as to how they feel and think towards media. The truth is, eventually the concepts portrayed within advertising create ideologies, which can alter peoples’ perception of things like beauty, class, value, and much more. Stuart Hall defines ideologies as, “those images, concepts and premises which provide the frameworks through which we represent, interpret, understand and ‘make sense’ of some aspect of social existence” (1981).
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Hall supports that ideologies contain three main ideas; that they are a chain of meanings not separate from concepts, that they formulate our intentions within ideology and not individual consciousness, and that these identifiers allow people to relate to themselves (Hall, 1981). Media is complex. On the surface of an advertisement, ideologies like sexuality may be portrayed through visual simplicity, taking advantage of “pleasing” ideals. However, beneath the surface, there are other ideologies, including objectification and control that can be analyzed to help understand the true effects of advertising media.
Through the example of a Gucci advertisement, this paper will provide an analysis for how modern media, presented in North America, supports hierarchies of gender through representations of power and beauty, and perpetuates modern ideologies of sexuality, objectification, and control through the use of gender, race, and body language. Scott Addis reflects in his article that people form their first impression of others within the first 30 seconds of meeting them (2008).
If a living, speaking individual can make such a significant impression at that first meeting, how are simple print advertisements so impressionable when their only method of voice is through visual means? Luxury brands, such as Gucci, are among some of the greatest offenders at using visual sexuality in the media. This can be analyzed through the advertisement presented in this paper. Intersectionality plays an important role in how the ad may be interpreted. Valentine acknowledges that, “it is not possible to separate out the categories of gender, race, class, and sexuality, nor to explain inequalities through a single framework” (2007).
In this Gucci advertisement, the man is displayed as a white, heterosexual, physically appealing and able-bodied being. The woman is also presented as not only heterosexual and able-bodied, but with North American ideological qualities of physical beauty, petite build, and although she is of colour, her facial features are Caucasian and the tone of her skin appears more tan-like than of racial difference. Gucci uses the combination of these physical attributes to portray their brand as high-class. All of these different social messages can be experienced together, subconsciously, simply by viewing the advertisement.
Railton, through an analyses of modern music videos, dissects the presentation of females and their sexuality, and notes that quite often, clothing present “not the exterior body, the flesh of the body, but rather its interior, the architecture of the body” (2006). Gucci’s advertisement, presents the woman as sexually attractive, but also as seductive through the architecture of her body. Large portions of skin are exposed while the shape and clinging structure of her dress hugs and displays her curves.
A comparison can be made between this Gucci advertisement and Railton’s analysis of Beyonce’s “Baby Boy” music video. Railton refers to the representation of the woman of darker skin colour as animalistic and with her long, free-flowing hair as one who needs to be tamed, in this case by the white male who appears to possess and control her body as demonstrated by the placement of his hand and the positioning of her body (2006). As previously discussed, the effects of advertisement reach deeper than the visual display; it also reaches the subconscious of those exposed to the media.
Scott Addis, in his article on the effects of body language as nonverbal communication and its importance in the sending and receiving of messages, states, “nonverbal signals have five times the impact of verbal signals” (2008). Body language is a large factor in the Gucci advertisement presented in this paper. Addis supports that posture is one of the most important aspects of body language; that it is responsible for transmitting the message of “authority, confidence, trust and power” (2008). In analyzing Gucci’s advertisement, the posture of both the female and male can be seen as sending specific messages.
The posture of the woman demonstrates that she is not only without power, but displays her body in an objectified way. She is shown face down, with her arms and shoulders arched into a fetal-like concave position. Her body is presented as closed off and as she lies in the man’s lap, she is presented in a vulnerable manner. The man, however, supports a strong back and opened body position, indicating confidence and authority. His body, although open, angles slightly toward the woman, with a hand positioned palm-open on her buttocks.
The interaction and body language portrayed between these two completely different postures suggests not only the control of the male over the female, but also objectification through his empowerment to control her and maintain her vulnerability. Ultimately, the translation from advertising to the subconscious creates ideologies in society, but how do these translate on a broader scale in the international world? Despite the efforts to resist pressures from advertising in the media, Hall supports that, “ideologies tend to disappear from view into the taken-for-granted ‘naturalized’ world of common sense” (1981).
Regardless of how abhorrent people may find the expectations of beauty and sexuality, these ideas, which are maintained in the subconscious, result in the creation of ideological norms. There is a distinct danger when the concepts of sexuality, objectification, and control are ‘normalized. ’ The danger exists not only for the direct and immediate viewer exposed to the media, but translates through their attitudes and creates stable gender hierarchies within society and, on a broader context, a global scale.
North American media and advertisements, like the one presented in this paper, are generally broadcast worldwide. These ads misrepresent different cultural ideologies of what beauty is, and how it is constructed across the world and implies that the North American construct of beauty and power is superior. The implications from such images may cause a misinterpretation of how woman, as a whole, should be treated and represented. This is also misleading because each advertisement is strategically built to convey specific messages, and those messages in turn create ideologies. It is a vicious cycle.
How are women to continue to develop and grow internationally with the continuation of media that represents women as the weaker and more vulnerable sex? As long as these ideologies are maintained globally through the North American media, the challenge for women to break through hierarchies of gender will persist and women will continue to be sexually ridiculed through objectification and control. The existence of media and its impact in society are undeniable. On the surface of a print advertisement, such as the one presented in this paper, sexuality can be visually recognized instantly.
The luxury brand of Gucci presents sexuality and high class through the interaction of a man and a woman, portraying a heterosexual relationship between two individuals while displaying North American values through ideologies of perceived beauty. Although both are presented as privileged, heterosexual, able-bodied, and sexually attractive upper-class people, the hierarchy of man’s control over a woman is depicted through this advertisement and its representation of objectification and control.
Hierarchies of gender are supported in this advertisement through the display of power in the body language portrayed by the positioning of both the man and the woman. The man shows objectification through his perceived ability to control the woman in her vulnerable position. The projection of this image implies an acceptable treatment of women, their representation, and their place under a man’s control. Additionally, the image’s projection on an international scale pushes North American values and ideologies across cultures.
Through the example of this Gucci advertisement, an analysis can be drawn from how modern media, presented in North America, supports hierarchies of gender through representations of power and beauty, and perpetuates modern ideologies of sexuality, objectification, and control through the use of gender, race, and body language. The impacts are subconscious; the effects are evident. References Addis, S. (2008). Body language… Actions speak louder than words. ProQuest, 151(7), 58-60. Hall, S. (1981). The whites of their eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media. Silver Linings: Some Strategies for the Eighties, pp. 1-32, 34-35, 36-37, & 29-41. Media Awareness Network. (2010). Advertising: It’s everywhere. Marketing and Consumerism. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from http://www. media-awareness. ca/english/parents/marketing/advertising_everywhere. cfm Railton, D. & Watson, P. (2005). NAUGHTY GIRLS AND RED BLOODED WOMEN Representations of female heterosexuality in music video. Feminist Media Studies. 5:1, 51-63. Valentine, G. (2007). Theorizing and Researching Intersectionality: A Challenge for Feminist Geography. The Professional Geographer, 59(1), 10-21. GUCCI ADVERTISEMENT [pic]