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Sunday 19 October 2014

The mass media and commercials stereotype Gender

Aparna T.V
I-MA English

Discuss how the mass media and commercials stereotype gender
Introduction :
Mass media play a significant role in the modern world, by broadcasting information information and  entertain the vast audiences. Media consist of press, television, radio, books and the Internet. The latter is now the most developing medium, however, TV also has a wide field of influence. By creating a certain type of message, media can manipulate people’s attitude and opinions. Media in general, are often said to be the reflection of the society. Or at least , what majority of people in India consciously or unconsciously believe and cater to. While it’s arguable whether the media truly reflect the society or not, there’s no doubt that media have a big sociocultural influence on the society.
The way women are portrayed in media these days is hardly different than those before a decade or a few. Women were portrayed as an ideal homemaker in movies or were newsreaders. Media of recent times have hardly shown an ‘ideal woman’. Women are used as commodities and are ‘objectifies’ to please the male gaze in advertisements and most medias which includes movies as well. The problem begins with the stereotyping women as an object of attraction, thereby, stereotyping. In addition to this gender roles play a major role in media where, women are allotted to certain concepts to attract the male audience.

Gender in mass media

                  In order to create a medium which is universal, understandable and acceptable for numerous and diverse recipients, senders very often use stereotypes, which fill the social life and evoke certain associations. In the case of gender roles, the societies have established the hegemony of males by institutionalizing of male dominance over women. Men have been perceived as the head of the household and women were mainly housewives. Nowadays the differences between male and female roles are smaller, however mass media still perpetuates traditional gender stereotypes. Moreover, due to their great influence on people’s attitudes, they can depict certain social groups in negative and unrealistic manner. They can be a very useful tool for those remaining power. By manipulating the message, media can create a certain image of reality, which is consistent with the policy of the dominant group. As a result, the reflection of a real world is incomplete and distorted. Although people are aware of the unequal representation of certain social groups in mass media, it is hard to remain objective and insensitive to its influence.

Gender Stereotyping and Gender roles in media :

A division of gender roles is deeply rooted in the social archetypes. In the past, the patriarchy was a dominant family model. Through the ages men have been considered to be financial providers, career-focused, assertive and independent, whereas women have been shown as low-position workers, loving wives and mothers, responsible for raising children and doing housework. Nowadays a family model is based rather on a partnership than on patriarchy and women have more rights and possibilities on the labor market. Feminist environment had a significant impact on the change in this situation. Women’s liberation movement fought for the rights of women and for redefining traditional gender roles. They claimed, that there should be no distinction between typical masculine and feminine occupations, and that traits of character should not be ascribed once and for all to one gender. Although females and males are still not equal, the differences between gender are not so vast anymore. Nevertheless, many social institutions, such as mass media, still use gender stereotypes, basing on the assumption, that they are well known to everyone and help the receivers to understand the content of the message.

Stereotyping commercials

              Commercials are the vast source of gender stereotyping, because they are adapted to the specific, either male or female target, and are “the reflection of the recipient”. The aim of the modern commercial is not only the satisfaction of needs but also their creation. Women are more often presented in commercials, because they are seen as responsible for making everyday purchases. Men generally advertise cars, cigarettes, business products or investments, whereas  women are shown rather in the commercials with cosmetics
and domestic products. They are also more likely portrayed in the home environment, unlike men, who are shown outdoors. Another important distinction is the face-ism phenomenon in  the commercials, which consists in showing the entire figure in case of women and close-up shots in case of men (Matthews, J. L. 2007). The first method lowers the receiver’s estimation of the intelligence of the person on the photo. The second one more often evokes positive associations.
According to Steve Craig’s research (1997), women can be presented in commercials in several variants. The first one is the most popular: a housewife obsessed by a steam on a new tablecloth or a woman whose main problem is lack of ideas for dinner. The other examples are less traditional, however, they are still very stereotypical. One can distinguish commercials with female vamps – sexy seductresses, the objects of desire of every man. They mostly advertise cosmetics, but they also appear in the commercials directed to men. When a beautiful woman accepts and praises the male cosmetics, it is treated by men as a guarantee of its quality. Another type is a woman, whose major concern is to preserve her beauty. Hence, she presents a healthy life style, is physically active, uses a wide range of body and facial cosmetics. However, one can observe mainly the presence of very thin actresses in this type of commercials, which can lead to the assumption, that only thin women can be beautiful and healthy. As a result, many female receivers fall into the obsession with their weight, which sometimes can have negative effects.
Male stereotypes are also various. The first model is “a real man”, athletic, successful, professional, seducer with a beautiful woman by his side. He also has a branded car and a smartphone. The other type is less popular and presents men devoted to their families who can save enough time for them. Men are very rarely presented during housecleaning. And if they are, it is rather a satirical image – e.g. in the Mr. Muscle commercial – or they appear as the experts and they advise women, for instance, how to do laundry properly. Advertising specialists also use the stereotype of male friendship, which can be called “buddy narratives”; men are presented as acting together, for instance by going to a football match or to the pub. They share the same interests and opinions, and they enjoy spending time together by doing something extremely interesting and adventurous . (Craig, S., 1997   )
More and more commercials are directed to children. They  indicate “the proper place” in the society for girls and boys. Girls are shown as babysitters nursing dolls or cleaning house with a pink cleaning kit, whereas boys do sports or play computer games (ibid).
If men and women appear in the commercials together, they are mainly presented as a couple or marriage. A sexual subtext is also often used in this case, even if the advertised product has nothing in common with the erotic sphere. In the situation of competition, women appear to be weaker than men.

Breaking gender stereotypes

In spite of significant presence of the stereotypes in commercials, advertising specialists more and more often use non-schematic ideas of the promotion of products and services. Women are presented as liberated, strong and independent of social expectations and men are shown while washing or cleaning.
The most popular, non-stereotypical commercial is Dove campaign aimed at women at every age and with different kinds of figures. It emphasizes natural beauty instead of perfect shapes. The female viewers prefer to watch women, with whom they can identify, thus the campaign proved to be a great success.Male roles in advertising are redefined as well – British commercial of a cleanser called Ajax presents handsome men cleaning kitchen with this product; in the other example a man is striping for his girlfriend and then throws his clothes in the washing machine called Ariston. This situation is opposite to the traditional scheme, in which a girl is a seductress and a man is a viewer.

Conclusion :
The main aim of mass media is to be universal and suitable for everyone, in order to gather the largest possible audience. Thus television, responsible for providing the central social discourse, is supposed to be “a mirror of the society”. However, because of stereotypical way of explaining the reality, some groups are underrepresented or ignored, and therefore the society image is incomplete.  Although people are aware of the dangers posed by generalization, they tend to be conformists and would rather submit to the dominant patterns than oppose them and risk a negative reception of such behavior from the others.

Works Cited :
Books :
1. Craig, S., 1997    Men, Masculinity and the Media. California: Sage Publications, Inc.
2. Matthews, J. L., 2007    Hidden sexism: Facial prominence and its connections to gender and occupational status in popular print media. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 57, 515-525.
Websites :
1. Lukas, A. Scott, 2002    The Gender Ads Project. South Lake Tahoe, California. http://www.genderads.com, Accessed on: 2nd April 2014
2. Pryor, Debra; Knupfer, Nancy Nelson, 1997    Gender Stereotypes and Selling Techniques in Television Advertising: Effects on Society.http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/16/c4/8c.pdf, Accessed on: 2nd April 2014

1 comment:

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