Gender Stereotypes: the role of Advertising

This post will look at the depiction of gender roles within the advertising industry. Given that the public recognises that notions of gender-specific social roles have evolved over time, examples will be made to show that this evolution is documented in advertisements.

Whether it is advertising that follows social norms or society that shapes its ideas around the media is a tough question to answer. If we look at a time frame of 50 years, there is no denying that society has had its progresses and gender-based norms have come a long way. Sexism in media is still a hot topic nowadays and it is difficult to weigh in on the state of stereotyped depictions of genders. As Eisend finds, it much depends on the type of outlook. Is it pessimistic or optimistic?

“Pessimistic studies stress that women are still being portrayed in a negative, stereotypical way, and this kind of stereotyping is even becoming worse. […] Optimistic studies consider women as gaining substantial ground on their male counterparts and breaking out of negative stereotyping. They suggest that role portrayals in commercials are more representative of contemporary women and are gradually becoming equal to men (Furnham and Mak 1999; Sharits and Lammers 1983).”

Eisend, M., (2009), A meta-analysis of gender roles in advertising, (p. 420)

This could seem rather a simplistic conclusion, especially because it focuses on only one side of the issue, the way women are portrayed.

But what happens if we consider the male counterpart?

2fca391600000578-0-image-a-1_1451924114443Source: dailymail.co.uk  

This famous image was part of Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2016 womenswear campaign. The casting of male model Jayden Smith to showcase pieces that are meant for women was positively acclaimed and considered as groundbreaking and example-setting. The campaign sparked a review of gender norms in the fashion industry and it paved the way for non-binary clothing and mixed sex fashion shows, which are on the rise today. The acceptance of gender-fluid fashion and fashion personalities comes at a time where trans awareness is made public by gender non-binary celebrities and characters in TV shows, especially on Amazon and Netflix — all of which are actively changing the perceptions of society. 

If it was for the optimistic route, one could say that if society changes for the better then advertising must follow. But the ultimate goal of an advert is to create revenue, this stands with no compromises, whether society is ready or not. A great example is the following ad.

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-01-08-17Source: telegraph.co.uk

This 1973 Barclaycard poster caters to women, promoting their personal use of credit cards. This came at a time where credit cards and loans were usually denied to women and only allowed on special circumstances, under the supervision of a male figure, either a husband or a father. The gender norm was that women were less reliable when left with financial responsibility, as they were mainly involved with housekeeping activities. This preceded the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. Shortly after the Government started pushing for more lans to help the economy.

This goes to show that advertising, with the mere aim of making profit, can lead a change in gender stereotypes ahead of its time.

References:

Scott, J., Clery, E., (2012), Attitudes to gender roles: change over time (30th edition)

Eisend, M., (2009), A meta-analysis of gender roles in advertising, (p. 420)

Friedman, V., (2016), New York Times: Gucci Calls for End to Separation of the Sexes on the Runway. [online: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/fashion/gucci-calls-for-end-to-separation-of-the-sexes-on-the-runway.html?_r=0, accessed 14 February 2017]

Murdoch, C., (2016), Vocativ: The Unstoppable Rise Of Gender-Fluid Fashion, [online: http://www.vocativ.com/278310/the-unstoppable-rise-of-gender-fluid-fashion/, accessed 14 February 2017]

Bates, C., (2016), BBC: Credit card sexism: The woman who couldn’t buy a moped, [online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36662872, accessed 14 February 2017]

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