Gender Roles in Advertising

Since the end of the 19th century, advertising has occupied an increasingly significant area of social life, shaping the images of men and women for its purposes, using both pictures and language.

Appearance plays a huge role in advertising. Advertisers aim to establish a connection between a product and a person, which is an appearance-based relationship. The images in advertisements aim to convince viewers that beauty and success come along with the products. Ads sell beyond just objects -- they sell ideas and values, teaching people who they are and who they should become. Advertising sells love, sexuality and normality. If a product does not match a person's material needs, advertisers turn it into something that satisfies his or her social needs.

The advertising business uses both female and male sexuality to help sell products, although women's bodies have tended to be exploited by advertisers to a greater extent. Feminist author, speaker and filmmaker Jean Kilbourne has dedicated a large part of her work to exposing the exploitation of female sexuality in advertisements. Kilbourne points out that for decades advertisements have been perpetuating the concept that the most important thing about women is the way they look. Tall and skinny women looking at young girls from televisions and billboards depict the concept of the perfect body. Many teenagers who acquire eating disorders have their illness traced to the influence of advertising.

Ads often treat women like objects, focusing on a single part of their bodies. Kilbourne considers that approach in advertising the most de-humanizing one, stating that representing a person as an object is the first step to justifying violence against them.

Gender stereotypes in advertising reflect the male-dominated values of our world. Advertisements represent an exaggerated stereotypical image of a world, where men, mostly white and heterosexual, outnumber women. The results of a comparison on gender roles in advertising showed that 90 percent of doctors in ads were portrayed by men, while more than 50 percent of women in advertisements were depicted as housewives. Women in advertising can usually be found in the kitchen or in the bathroom doing some domestic task. The female image outside the house always has a sexual subtext. A woman is pictured either as a secretary, or as a young and beautiful doll-like fashion model. The ideal proportions, consisting of large breasts and thin legs and waists, are indispensable in advertisements.

Ads are flooded with images of young and beautiful men and women, stating the society's greater values, youth and beauty. Advertisers use the images of older men and women most commonly for products related to health issues and discomfort, for example for pain killers or laxatives and various hemorrhoid treatments.

Advertising also shows the "right" and "normal" gender roles in families. While husbands are out at work earning money, their wives are at home cleaning the house or buying household products and cosmetics. The roles are strictly divided: men buy cars, women buy detergents. Men are either husbands and fathers, or businessmen. They are never stupid or ugly. Men can give advice, they are competent and knowledgeable. Outside home, men are athletic and sexy. Women, on the other hand, are often pictured serving food to their husband and children.

Social scientists believe gender differs from sex. Therefore gender roles are not determined by genes. The genders' behavior is constructed rather than innate. Men and women learn their social roles from their surroundings, and advertising is par

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Critical Readings: Media and Gender
Cynthia Carter; Linda Steiner.
Open University Press, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "From Mrs. Happyman to Kissing Chaps Goodbye: Advertising Reconstructs Femininity"
Advertising to Women: What Works, What Doesn't, and the Two Words That Serve as Their Kryptonite
.
Marketing to Women: Addressing Women and Women's Sensibilities, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2011
Women, Feminism and Media
Sue Thornham.
Edinburgh University Press, 2007
Librarian’s tip: "Image as Commodity: Advertising and Women's Magazines" begins on p. 38; advertising is also discussed in other parts of this book
Body Panic: Gender, Health, and the Selling of Fitness
Shari L. Dworkin; Faye Linda Wachs.
New York University Press, 2009
Textual Portrayals of Female Athletes: Liberation or Nuanced Forms of Patriarchy?
Carty, Victoria.
Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2, June 2005
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Drivers to Divas: Advertising Images of Women in Motorsport
Ross, Sally R.; Ridinger, Lynn L.; Cuneen, Jacquelyn.
International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, Vol. 10, No. 3, April 2009
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Advertising Portrayals of Indy's Female Drivers: A Perspective on the Succession from Guthrie to Patrick
Cuneen, Jacquelyn; Spencer, Nancy E.; Ross, Sally R.; Apostolopoulou, Artemisia.
Sport Marketing Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4, December 2007
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Subordinated Stills: An Empirical Study of Sexist Print Advertising and Its Implications for Law
Preston, Cheryl B.
Texas Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 15, No. 2, Spring 2006
Selling Girls Short: Advertising and Gender Images in Sports Illustrated for Kids
Lynn, Susan; Walsdorf, Kristie; Hardin, Marie; Hardin, Brent.
Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, Vol. 11, No. 2, Fall 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Portrayal of Women in Movie Ads Changes Little from 1963-1993. (Research in Brief)
Lee, Tien-tsung; Hwang, Faith Hsiao-Fang.
Newspaper Research Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4, Fall 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Advertising and Consumer Citizenship: Gender, Images, and Rights
Anne M. Cronin.
Routledge, 2000
Communicating Gender
Suzanne Romaine.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Advertising Gender"
Sexual Rhetoric: Media Perspectives on Sexuality, Gender, and Identity
Meta G. Carstarphen; Susan C. Zavoina.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Advertising is discussed in many chapters
From "True Woman" to "New Woman": An Analysis of the Lydia Pinkham "Animated Ads" of 1890
Burt, Elizabeth V.
Journalism History, Vol. 37, No. 4, Winter 2012
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Right at Home: Freedom and Domesticity in the Language and Imagery of Beer Advertising 1933-1960
Corzine, Nathan Michael.
Journal of Social History, Vol. 43, No. 4, Summer 2010
'For the Ladies.' John Strachan Looks at Women and Advertising in Late Georgian England
Strachan, John.
History Today, Vol. 54, No. 4, April 2004
Gender Issues in Advertising Language
Artz, Nancy; Munger, Jeanne; Purdy, Warren.
Women and Language, Vol. 22, No. 2, Fall 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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