Gender Inequality in Advertising Discourse
Unfortunately, we come across gender inequality almost in every aspect of social living. In this short article of mine, I will tackle the projection of gender inequality upon advertising discourse and its ramifications in popular culture. As we all know advertisements surround us most of the time; even bombard us. They are equally influential in the shaping of our thoughts and opinions as much as the education system, family background and environment. Marketing communication is omnipresent. Advertising communications that frame our lives in a 360-degree fashion plays a crucial role in the ways we perceive consumption practices, lifestyles and our self-perception even if we are not aware of it all the time.
There are certain roles men and women take up and play in advertising. Women are portrayed as homemakers who indulge themselves in domestic chores, personal care and fashion. Most researches show that most advertising targeted at women are about fashion and retail products making up 80% of this type of advertising. Male depictions in advertising are mostly more official, professional and self-assertive portrayals of men. In other words, the male figure is depicted as an active producer whereas the woman is a mere passive consuming cliche in most of the marketing communicational statements and portrayals. The female figure who is often constructed around passive boundaries in advertising discourse is depicted as someone who seeks to reach idealized forms struggling to complete her missing or broken down parts by purchasing beauty items to fulfil the male approval over the male gaze. For example, we rarely see the male figure in categories such as anti-ageing or slimming products because he is probably busy evaluating and gazing at the female figure trying to gain his approval. Children who grow up being exposed to this kind of marketing communication content from early ages sure would internalize these stereotypical gender roles. The worst part is that when that child comes of age he or she will keep on living with those givens and lose touch with reality unless he or she questions these prejudices. In the marketing world where patriarchal discourses and figures reign, women are being depicted as standing behind men in terms of personal characteristics, knowledge, talent or personal rights. If something does not go along with these terms and depictions then women who stand up to these cliches and representations are portrayed as “others” who are defined as caricatured, ugly, clumsy and unwanted hags in the world of advertising. There we see a very strictly defined template of idealized woman figures in the advertising industry. The brands come up with scenarios where women who at first are depicted as well beyond ideal standards are transformed into ideal women after using their products. These ads invite us to become like those ideal beauties and if we do not abide by these givens, they leave us with the feelings of being left out and failed. In a sense, they experiment with our self-esteem and make their profits over our feelings and fragile self-concept. They connote that a woman will be a real woman if and only she is slim and sassy. This perspective is completely a male-dominated one. This unrealistic and jaded take on the world reflects how society perceives womanhood. For instance, if a woman is working outside, she sure should go on doing the housework after coming home from work in advertising. However, when the male figure gets home from work, he takes his place at the dinner table set up by the woman who also came home from work. The patriarchal society always expects more effort from women.
One of the most recognisable issues in the world of advertising is the way women’s bodies are objectified as a form of marketing of almost all product categories using sexual appeal. This kind of advertising may lead women to develop compulsive behaviour as to how they should look in terms of idealized beauty standards.
Within this framework, if women do not go along with those standards, they are left out as unvalued and marginalized within the patriarchal system.
As a result as far as we can see the advertisements help to spread the given gender inequality within societies and function as an ideological mechanism that carves this twisted perspective on the collective unconscious. We need to fight this for sure! We need to spread progressive advertising for sure! We need to bring up diversity, talk about prejudices, bring them to light and make the “other” visible and viable. And we need to start from ourselves, we need to love and accept ourselves first, and then move forward. Hope to meet in a more equal and native media…