Women in Advertising

The aim of the advertising industry is to persuade people that the goods or service that is being advertised is something that the consumers need, and must have. In order to grab the audience's attention, advertisements frequently use images of beautiful men and women. These images reflect the way the society believes that each gender should behave. Those are idealized visions of masculinity and femininity.

In advertising, women are usually represented as sexual objects or in traditional roles (as a mother or housewife) The ads addressing the female audience focus on a specific set of characteristics of femininity such as dependency, extreme attention to beauty, typical roles as mothers and housewives. Since the late 1950s, the feminist movement has struggled to make advertisers change this image, saying that it is offensive and discriminates against women.

An analysis by two American advertising professors, Tom Reichert and Courtney Carpenter-Childers, conducted in 2006, showed that only 3 percent of women were shown in a "progressive," manner in print ads: occupying managerial or professional roles with emphasis on the aspects of their personalities such as abilities, competences or goals. Around 25 percent of the advertisements analyzed showed women in traditional roles: as wives, mothers or homemakers; or employed in traditionally female-oriented jobs such as secretaries, nurses or teachers. The bulk of the ads, 73 percent, showed women merely as decorative ornaments to enhance the product. These advertisements emphasize women's bodies and their attractiveness, but neglect their competencies, goals or skills.

Advertising uses images showing that women differ significantly from men and their behavior should comply with different rules for what is appropriate and what is unacceptable. Women are passive and subordinate. In his book Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising Anthony Cortese says that a key component of the passive, subordinate role of women is their lack of voice. "The sexual objectification of women requires that they remain silent," Cortese says. He adds that, while the masculine gender role is valued, the feminine counterpart is disregarded or devalued.

The image of the perfect woman is used to sell all types of products, from cosmetics to cars. The ideal look is of a young (often under 24), slim, good-looking, seductive woman without any imperfections (no scars, pores, wrinkles). This image carries the message that women would be only liked by men if they are young and pretty, and if they fail, then they should feel guilty. Feminists say that advertising industry creates a cultural environment that forces women to seek physical perfection as the only advantage that would matter.

Cortese calls this image a "provocateur," and says that this unreal image can only be achieved through the purchase of vast quantities of beauty products. "The perfect provocateur is a mere facade. Even the models themselves do not look in the ?esh as impeccable as they are depicted in ads. The classic image is constructed through cosmetics, photography, and airbrushing techniques," Cortese says.

Researchers have examined the link between the image of women in advertising and the obsession of girls and women with dieting and their self-image. Advertising is blamed for increasingly common, life-threatening eating disorders among young females such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

"Advertising gives us a constant stream of representations of perfect — and, of course, unattainable — female beauty. The ‘waif look,' epitomized by ultrathin supermodel Kate Moss, has colonized the dreams of young girls. However, the failure to attain such an unrealistic look has been more like a nightmare than a dream for girls who consider the waif look the only valid form of female identity," Cortese says.

A research of a cosmetics company conducted in 2004 showed that most women are not satisfied with their bodies and that they believed that their physical appearance is more important than personality or intellectual development. These findings provoked some companies to start campaigns where they promote their beauty products showing images of real women. Others put focus on women in their role of successful executives who have equal rights to men.

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"
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
Advertising and Consumer Citizenship: Gender, Images, and Rights
Anne M. Cronin.
Routledge, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Female Visions: Advertising, Women, and Narrative"
Mass Media and the Shaping of American Feminism, 1963-1975
Patricia Bradley.
University Press of Mississippi, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Reforming Images" begins on p. 238
Sport, Culture and Advertising: Identities, Commodities and the Politics of Representation
Steven J. Jackson; David L. Andrews.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Women's Sports in Nike's America," Chap. 4 "Enlightened Racism and Celebrity Feminism in Contemporary Sports Advertising Discourse," Chap. 6 "Sport Sexuality and Representation in Advertising"
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).
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).
The Gender of Branding: Early Nike Women's Advertising a Feminist Antenarrative
Grow, Jean M.
Women's Studies in Communication, Vol. 31, No. 3, Fall 2008
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).
Driven from the Public Sphere: The Conflation of Women's Liberation and Driving in Advertising from 1910 to 1920
Ramsey, E. Michele.
Women's Studies in Communication, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring 2006
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).
As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising
Daniel Delis Hill.
Texas Tech University Press, 2004
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
Is Beauty a Joy Forever? Young Women's Emotional Responses to Varying Types of Beautiful Advertising Models
Goodman, J. Robyn; Morris, Jon D.; Sutherland, John C.
Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 1, Spring 2008
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).
"Who Would Know Better Than the Girls in White?" Nurses as Experts in Postwar Magazine Advertising, 1945-1950
Johnson, Emily.
Nursing History Review, Vol. 20, January 1, 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
Consuming Angels: Advertising and Victorian Women
Lori Anne Loeb.
Oxford University Press, 1994
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).
'For the Ladies.' John Strachan Looks at Women and Advertising in Late Georgian England
Strachan, John.
History Today, Vol. 54, No. 4, April 2004
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