While many take this role for granted and assume that it simply functions to sell us certain products it actually has the potential to shape who we are, who we want to be and who we are seen to be. Therefore, it acts as that of a powerhouse to reinforce and construct dominant ideologies in society. A primary example of this can be seen through notions of gender that are presented to us via advertising, with these establishing what is meant to be either ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’.
Such conditioning is particularly prevalent through products targeted towards children. This is often executed through the depiction of certain practices that have societal connotations with either femininity or masculinity. For instance, advertisements targeted towards young girls often focus on the importance of beauty, among other stereotypically feminine pursuits. Whereas, advertisements targeted towards young boys largely promote action based activity such as sport or warfare. Consequently, this establishes defined interests that girls and boys are expected to possess from early on in their lives.
However, these tropes are continually reinforced through advertisements targeted towards older generations. Though this isn’t executed by showering said adverts in pink or blue, they are still very clearly gendered. Think for a second about advertisements for cooking or cleaning products. By default, do you imagine a woman fronting the advert? Conversely, when you think about advertisements for something such as outdoor maintenance, do you immediately picture a man as the spokesperson?
The power relationship between women and men is equally important when examining gender representation, or more accurately, misrepresentation in advertising. For example, women are always depicted as being shorter than men, unless she is intended to be socially superior to him – in which case, he is often deemed as having been emasculated.
Similarly, when women and men are displayed alongside one another, women are often painted out as being an extension of the man through the fact that he is often instigating some sort of possessive bodily contact over her. Subsequently, one’s repeated exposure to these messages about the submissive female and the dominant male, means that they not only believe, but also replicate these messages, whether consciously or subconsciously.
You may not take issue with this as it has become so naturalized in society that women and men should carry out particular roles. However, this has very adverse effects on audiences, with everyone falling victim to it. This is because of the fact that it establishes a very narrow scope of what femininity and masculinity supposedly entail. Therefore, many people exaggerate their gender in order to meet this standard of hegemonic femininity and masculinity – otherwise feeling inadequate if they fail to do so.
Additionally, these depictions of hyper femininity and masculinity suggest that gender is simply a pink and blue spectrum, with people only being able to identify as female or male. As a result of this, the gender binary becomes further entrenched and those who identify as gender neutral and gender fluid receive little to no exposure within advertisements and media in general.
Though this is a stripped back demonstration of the role that advertising plays in society, I hope that it illustrates the sheer power that it has. While notions of gender suitably exemplify this, advertising also promotes certain messages in regards to race, class, sexuality and so on. Though it’s easy to passively accept these messages it’s important to think twice about them as a means of realizing that there is no singular way of understanding such heavy subjects.
Author: Harry Reid
Hi – my name is Harry Reid. I’m eighteen years old, and I’m originally from Greytown in the Wairarapa – which is approximately an hour out of Wellington. I’m the youngest of three children, with a twenty-year old brother and a twenty-two-year old sister. After finishing Wellington High last year I’m now in my first year at the University of Otago, doing a double degree in Law and Arts, with my Arts Major either being Communications or Politics – and whichever one I decide against will become my Minor. Some of my interests outside of University include photography, socializing with friends and keeping up with current affairs– among other things. Over the coming weeks I’m going to share with you some of my experiences (both good and bad) in my weekly blog. Feel free to follow my Instagram @harrrryreid for a more personalized view of what I’m up to!