In my essay, I will scrutinise feminism in advertising. We live in a world surrounded by commercial advertisements. For a very long time, advertisers have used tactics such as gender representations for targeting their audiences (customers). It is described by others as the science that captures the human mind long enough to get money out of it. With theories of advertising and their sophistication, my assignment will look at both the advantages and disadvantages of feminism in advertising. Society and social structure are immensely affected by popular culture. Strinati (2004) says, “in a modern setting, popular culture is the culture produced which is commercially created by a few for consumption by many”.
Mass media such as television, films, magazines, bus stop shelters, billboards, the internet and newspapers are the common forms of communication used by product manufacturers who portray and interpret society. Kellnar (1995, p 5) says “media is the form of art that teaches us how to be men or women, how to react to society, how to be successful and popular”. These are some of the advantages for manufacturers concerned about the commercial success of their products hence presenting a culture that will be consumed by many. These few points by Kellnar(1995) are some of what manufacturers or capitalists with one thing in mind success of their product use as an advantage forcing them to present a culture they believe will attract and be consumed by the most audience.
In doing so, popular culture often results in stereotyping people such as women, the disabled and other minorities because depicting them as stereotypes is easy. With advertising as another form of popular culture, the stereotyping becomes very bold to ensure fast selling of huge volumes within a short time. To make achieving these targets, manufacturers/ capitalists will not have time to build up their own characters meaning stereotyping must be used.
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Although these manufactures of these manipulated mass cultural images say popular culture mirrors or echo the society, the opposite is also true. Unaware of the behaviour of society is being affected by these manipulated media images. More and more people are becoming more concerned and worried about how society sees itself and sometimes adapt to these impressions left by this art of popular culture especially feminist who are saying images of women in popular culture are undermining and degrading women. To some extent, the feminist concerns are true when you look at what Srinati (2004) says that society does not award the same privileges it offers to men to women. This justifies the argument from feminist regarding the representation of women in mass media.
Having started on feminist theory, I will describe it feather more before moving on to how women are represented in popular culture. Feminism speaks for women in terms of social equality for the sexes against patriarchy and sexism (Macionis and Plummer 2012). Feminists trying to eliminate gender inequality have four different main theories of feminism, liberal feminism, socialist feminism, radical feminism and what Sylvia Walby calls the dual systems of feminism and each responds to the oppression of women in a different way, outlining different causes and different solutions. However, they also have criticisms.
Liberal feminists oppose prejudice and discrimination that stops women from pursuing their goals (Macionis & Plummer 2012) and Gidens (2009) also says liberal feminism searches for answers of gender inequality in cultural and social attitudes. It has great support than the other perspectives because it is more tolerant and its views are less threatening to existing values.
In Western societies, liberal feminists’ plans are to change the political, economic and social systems. Liberal feminists believe that both men and women are not benefiting from gender inequalities (Haralambos and Holborn 2008). Some of its criticisms identified by Valerie Bryson (1999) are basing liberal feminism on male assumptions and norms. The other is emphasizing public life at the expense of private life. Abbort et al. (2005) say liberalism does not explain the exploitation of women, it takes no account of structural sources of inequality.
Marxist and socialist feminism started from Marx’s conflict theory, blaming the sexual divisions of labour as the barrier preventing women from wealth (Marsh et al 2009) and this Marxist analysis of feminism blames capitalism as the key source of oppression rather than patriarchy, and capitalist as the beneficiaries. Just like radical feminists they have a desire for revolutionary change and want a communist society where production is communally owned. Although Marxist and socialist feminism had a lot of influence during 1970s and 1980s it has lost influence in recent years and some of its aspects have been adopted by other feminists. Just like the other feminist theories it has its own criticisms. It has been criticised for using the masculine theory which does fail to explain of women’s position (Haralambos et al 2008). Its main criticism comes from failing to emphasise how men oppress women (Abbort et al 2005).
Radical feminism puts all the exploitation of women on men (Gidens 2009). Radical feminists believe that men are the beneficiaries of women subordination. Valarie Bryson (1999) says radical feminists see women as an oppressed group who had to free themselves from their oppressors in this case men (Haralambos & Holborn 2008, p 101). Radical feminism is criticised for encouraging women to focus on negative experiences with men and for portraying women as good and men as bad.
Banks, 1981; Barry,1983; Stacey, 1983; and Vogel,1983 (cited in Macions and Plummer 2012, p 407) say these distinctions describe the problem of patriarchy in different ways and call for correspondingly distinctive solutions for social damage. We already know that societies and individuals take time to adjust to change and to adopt the new routines therefore the representation of women in media can speed up the process of change, as already demonstrated, that popular culture has an enormous effect on society. Even though the representation of women in media is largely hidden by capitalism profit-making agendas, an exact representation of society would harm the feminist motives. There are other feminist theories like black feminism and postmodern feminism. They are all associated with femininity some with theories that try to put limitations on the way women are portrayed by the mass media.
Despite the shortcomings of social and commercial limits on advertisements, advertisers are always a step ahead in terms of change to social reality and they have proved that they can provide a better reflection of social changes than any other media. The truth is advertisers continue to misrepresent the female body and women are still seen as cheap of free labour for housework in spite of all the changes in the representation of women over the years. In television adverts for both sexes, men appear 76% more as experts than women (Hasseltine 1982). Hasseltine also says women are often portrayed as mothers or housewives without common sense knowledge about their roles. A recent study (Yoder et al 2008) has proved that although women still appear as housewives, they no longer appear as people without a voice and mind of their own instead they are now competent, have a voice and perform professional duties just like the male colleagues. This shows a clear picture of change from the past couple of decades.
Although changes in the way women are portrayed on adverts are said to have improved, the stereotyping still remain and are adding worthiness to some of the feminist objections about the portrayal of females in mass media. For examples women were seen as voiceless, passive sexual objects for male gaze, nevertheless today it is still the same, except women are no longer presented as inactive but as desirable sexual subjects who presents themselves in that objectified manner because they want to (Goldman, 1992).
This is now postfeminism and advertisers still use their narrow ideas that create feminine qualities and feminists are finding it difficult to persuade advertisers to change these gender identities because advertisers put so much money towards these ideas and cannot afford to have low commercial results (Cortese 2008) and to achieve high commercial results they must use their femininity ideas. They then persuade a beautiful female in what they call a perfect body, slim and tall without blemish. Storey (2003) in his book “Inventing Popular Culture” calls the advertisers, the ruling class, who constitute themselves under the guise of democratic populism, exploits the art of popular culture and the manipulative art of advertising to promote docile conformism and worship of the new which keeps the consumer in a confused state of changing fashion and insecure about his/her taste. Especially on beauty products, the manipulation of the art of advertising is extended by airbrushing the women to look extra fine causing women to feel inferior among others. Men as a result of these manipulated images raise the expectation of women which creates more gender stereotyping.
Even though postfeminism shows women as professionals and not as stupid mothers or housewives, they persist in showing them as objects, even in advertisements/commercials meant for the male audience. The female audience has the worst adverts that objectify women for purposes of selling products such as lingerie. Postfeminism shows semi-naked female bodies that are considered as showing the sexual power of women over men, this in pre-feminism time was seen as offensive (Amy-Chinn 2006). This is one form of feminism that has limitation to the feminist theory of popular culture.
Like I said before, feminist objections of stereotyping women are more evident in commercials that sell products for women and in magazines for a female audience (Lindner 2004). Research conducted by Lindner (2004) concluded adverts from magazines for female audience stereotyped women 78% more than any other magazines, so if it is true that adverts/commercials are created with the targeted audience in mind, then women find themselves in inferior positions in such magazines and are identified better with such stereotyping. Such advertisements limit the work of feminists and their theory of saying advertisements should reflect social reality become invalid as such advertising do reflect reality but harming the feminist plan.
If this kind of female stereotyping is a reflection of society, then there is nothing wrong with the popular culture that presents the female body in such away. Unfortunately, popular culture has a great impact on how people carry and see themselves around others. The air bushed female bodies on advertisements will lead to denial of how they look without the manipulation. Individuals exposed to sexist commercials had negative thoughts about their own body image (Lavine et al 1999). This, without criticism from feminists, is not best for society and it’s best not to show sexist advertisements which show the female body as an object. It has serious consequences on a lot of women especially the younger ones where it may result in problems like eating disorders, plastic surgeries, locking themselves away from society
Another disadvantage of sexiest advertisements is that showing women as sex objects, excluding them from society, can cause men to have a negative perception of women. For example (Rosewarne 2005) says criminality can lead to the perception of fear in women, and this is not acceptable in society especially from feminists who are fighting for a woman to be equal to men.
Unfortunately, another form of commercials that is increasing masculine power is the outdoor advertisements that sexually degrade women and strengthening their exclusion is on city spaces (Ibid, p67). This cause sexual violence which forces women to reduce their movements and this type of popular culture creates an environment that are not acceptable in society. Feminists need to come up with more powerful arguments than the ones mentioned above to solve this matter that is rising from stereotyping and showing women as sexual objects.
Strinati, (2004) says some feminists are campaigning for a female world that excludes men. Gill (2008) says by purchasing underwear to tea or coffee they are representing power and independence. This is also adding to advertisements that are meant for the female audience meaning more stereotyping especially if it’s a woman to women commercials, resulting in feminists failing to field the answer to the problem of stereotyping women in popular culture.
In the last 30years changes have happened in favour of women about their representation in popular culture especially the way they are portrayed in commercials. From stupid mother or housewife without a voice in the 1980s to professional knowledgeable people with a voice in the twenty-first century, despite all these changes in the way women are represented in advertisements they still experience stereotyping. Pre feminists saw the stereotyping of women as harmful today, the postfeminist supports the idea of showing the female body as sexual objects saying it signifies the power that the female body has over men. The objectification of the female body is still seen as the main way undermining women’s bodies and the limits found in feminism have made it hard for feminists to outrightly challenge the deception of women in popular culture.
In conclusion, there clear evidence that feminists do not agree about the origins of inequality between men and women. They argue that women have always been in a subordination position while some say gender inequalities originate from particular historical events (Haralambos and Holborn 2008). Women have suffered oppression in the past without a voice and today they have a voice but still experience oppression in one way or the other. In advertising we saw objectification of women in advertisements as harmful in the 1970s and 1980s and in the twenty-first century the objectification of women in the advertisement is still happening but is now called the sexual power of women over men.
We have also seen that stereotyping and portraying women as the object is a tool for advertisers trying to achieve their targets for whatever they are selling. Stereotyping the depicting of women has been part of advertising and will continue to be a very useful tool for advertisers. The manipulation of images can have a devastating effect on women living them with all sorts of problems. Finally, feminism is a metaphor for transformation, having s voice, for women who did not have a public voice in the past and it is seen as moving from object to subject (Storey 2009). Today the feminist movements are still tackling the adverting industry with the introduction of new revolution ways to tackle mass media about these images that depicting women as sexual objects.
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