Oppression Of Females In Advertising

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The Oppression of Females in Advertising Our society is a complex collection of institutions, status, roles, values, and norms, and the best way to understand and learn about them is through the use of cultural artifacts. These can be anything from music to art to literature, or as in the example of this discussion, the modern day creation of advertisement as seen in women's magazines. As Homo Sapiens moved from the hunter - gatherer way of life to industrial society , it was necessary to construct a framework for living so that such a concentrated number of people could exist together. This framework as come to consist of a myriad of expectations based on values and norms in the form of roles status and institutions. Desirable behavior is sought by peoplethroughout the country based on how one is brought up and the expectations one is bombardedwith on a daily basis. These expectations are reflected in every part of our culture andare used by people so as to know how to act in any given situation. The main examples are:the family, education, health and medicine, religion, and the law. I have found thatcertain mediums reflect the expected roles in these institutions better than others. Ioriginally focused on gender roles as a depiction of stereotypical behavior as reflected byadvertising especially the portrayal of women, but I discovered that there were otherstereotypes being perpetuated as well that were just as institutionalized if not just simplyless noticed or studied. Therefore, although this argument will focus on the depiction offemales and the female role in advertising. It will also mention the general use ofAmerican values , norms, and institutions to influence consumers. An institution is defined as "a stable cluster of values, norms, status, roles, and groups that develop around a basic social need" with a status being a person's position in society and a rolebeing the behavior expected from that, and a value being a socially shared idea of what isgood, right, and desirable and a norm being the behavior expected from those ideas. Whenpeople begin to form certain expectations in life there begin to be formed stereotypes. People recognize them universally and use them to form opinions and act or not act in acertain way when they are confronted with a situation or person. It is "human nature" tofear the unknown and cling to the familiar, and desire to fit in but want to stand out atthe same time. It is from here that advertising finds its most potent weapons. By focusingon these culturally formed stereotypes they can explicitly affect people, and by feeding onthese implicitly realized characteristics of people they can also affect behavior . Thisseems relatively harmless to the advertiser who simply wants to sell his product, but itbecomes harmful when it begins to perpetuate certain undesirable stereotypes to the point ofcementing them in impressionable minds. Thus I will further differentiate the discussionpresented here into the use of institutions that I do not find as harmful as others.Understanding that the perpetuation of any stereotype is bad in that it robs people of thechance to form original opinions without the hindrance of preconceived notions, but Istrongly feel that specific depiction's like that of "the myth of women" need to beeradicated first and foremost because of its direct halt of progress. That's not to saythat advertising has not changed somewhat with the changing of women's roles andopportunities in the 1990's. Society ,and specifically men, can accept the need and desirefor women to work outside the home, but they still expect them to be mothers who keepeverything together from the home to their looks. Perpetuation's of this myth of a woman'sabilities run rampant in the advertisements and articles in women's magazines. The portrayal of women can be broken down into several categories. First is the idea of beauty. Generally about 85% of each magazine is devoted to the beautification of women's hair, face,and body. Women are bombarded with airbrushed, perfectly lit, constantly happy pictures ofgorgeous models that portray every ideal of our society. The themes that I collected overand over again in my observations were the following: makeup, perfume, breasts and cleavage,and lots of skin. First is the makeup. Women are not expected to be presentable withoutthe help of the latest chemical technique to remove blemishes, darken eyes, lengthen lashes,coat the lips, and remove shine. Regardless of one's natural features, they will never begood enough without these alterations. The company that typified this attitude the best wasMaybelline: "maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline" Some women have LIPS asSMOOTH as they talk. So SUPPLE so luscious they make anything sound fascinating. Gift ofnature? Get real" The quotes could go on, but I think the message is clear; one could neverbe naturally attractive to society without the help of makeup. Next is the depiction ofperfumes. The basic concepts behind perfume ads are of sex, intimacy, exotic drugs, andescape from reality. Without the use of perfume one could never attract a man. Byportraying the scents as some sort of exotic pheromone they seem to insinuate that one willbe completely irresistible. Names such as: Opium, Spellbound, Knowing, Escape, Poison, etc. . . are typical examples. Then there are those examples utilizing a different but no lesspotent theme as with Estee Lauder's Beautiful. These ads target the less wild side of womenand depict the beautiful serene young bride in an affluent house, often with a small childgazing admiringly at her. No base human desire is left unexplored in this industry. Then there are the actual models. These women break the school girl norm that the averagewomen was brought up holding true. The models reveal a plethora of flesh not accepted asnorm within this society, and still they are praised for it. This conflicts greatly withhow much the average female reveals. The favorite body part to expose is the femalebreast. Until this paper I had never known that they showed full frontal nudity in afashion magazine. In one Vogue magazine of 576 pages are counted almost 20 pictures focuseddirectly on the barely covered breast or cleavage. Including articles like "cleavage in acan" for those poor unfortunate females who cannot pop out of their clothing there now is away so you can wear the latest fad; or "the bra, meant to be seen! Don't be shy, it'sfashion, not lingerie! And besides you want to show some cleavage!" Completely contrary towhat I believe every female has learned since us boys began teasing them in junior high, itis okay to walk around in public in nothing but a bra. Not only are these suggestionsdemeaning to women insinuating that they all just want to wear as little as they can getaway with, but they are unrealistic. If women were to walk around an every day shoppingmall in one of these suito-bras , they would be considered either a call girl or a loosewomen. This leads into the last thing that needs to be discussed. The portrayal of beautyand supposed desirable behavior depicted in everyday magazines is not only unrealistic butalmost virtually unattainable. The models are women of exceptional good looks that areobviously not the average American female; they have been painted, sprayed , teased ,lighted, angled, and touched up to give the perfect image, and it is ridiculous for femalesto feel like failures if they do not look similar. But many do. I feel that this is wherethe societal tragedies associated with eating disorders, silicone breast implants, cosmeticsurgery, etc. . . stem from. Eating disorders are exceptionally high in young females.Constantly showering women with a desirable image that they cannot hope to attain is unfair,wrong and irresponsible of corporations. Next is the concept of women as objects. Within the biology and sociology courses that I have taken, there has been the theme of women as mysterious, unknown creatures associated morewith nature than man, who is considered associated with culture. This can be put in thecategory of the implicit almost subconscious themes in advertising. The depiction of womenon pedestals, frozen in time and space, untouchable, is very common. Women are also oftenassociated with wild animals, exotic scenes and far away places, putting them in the sameout - of - reach, mysterious category. This once again is forming a myth and stereotype insociety around women that preys on the human fear of the unknown. This only hinders thefemale's struggle for equality. Finally is the portrayal of the frivolity women. This idea takes the theme of beauty one step further. In everything from the covers to the articles inside, women's magazines seeminglyspend 99% of their time and space dwelling on beauty, sensuality, sex, health and attractinga man. A very small portion is left for careers, goals and intelligence. The theme thatstruck me was that of the frivolous nature of women's lives depicted in magazines producedfor women. Over and over it is repeated that all a female needs to be happy is good looks,good health, and a good man. Women's worth is based on their ability to be beautiful andattract a males acceptance. Picture after picture portrays the seductively dressed femaledisplaying herself for one or a number of men in any location from the hood of a car to theprivacy of her home. One ad is a lipstick advertisement for Revlon. The theme is one of"choices, choices, choices", how will one ever be able to choose a shade of red that is justright. Like this is the biggest problem confronting a female in a day. Another ad is bySavvy, a jewelry company who's slogan is "be Brilliant" depicting unclothed female bodieswith an example of their jewelry draped on them. Not only does it remove the humanity inthe picture, it gives the impression of women's brilliance radiating only from the stonesthat they must wear. Another example is the Liz Claiborne clothing ads that equate stylewith life literally. Again and again the female society is pelted with the images ofwomen's self worth derived from their outward appearance. The final concept that Iobserved was that of tokenism. The working women of the 90's is becoming more and moreaccepted , but magazines still cannot seem to divorce themselves from the concept that thework place is just another medium in which their consumers can display themselves. Theyfeel obligated to include the token working article, but it is often in the form of thelatest style of working clothes, like the article in Cosmopolitan titled "the Great LittleOffice Dress" Little being the operative word in that sentence. They promote theimportance of not conforming to a man's world by dressing like a man and the necessity tomaintain a feminine image, yet the image they depict as desirable is one of short skirts,sleeveless tops, and high slits up the front and back. The advertisements that were notutilizing gender stereotypes seemed to fall into any of the following categories. First is the values surrounding the home, the family, children, the elderly, and what ever else in normally included with those ideas. Second is the use of patriotism, and the good ol'all-American life. Somewhat included in this previous idea is the use of "reality" asmeaning every day hardships, problems, "facts-of -life" as an attention grabber. Anotherdepiction is that of the dismissal of biology, especially in the avoidance of aging, illnessor unhappiness. Examples of advertisers exploiting these values and institutions abound throughout the literature. The use of children, young animals (like puppies), and smiling elderly people are oftenused to evoke the nurturing response in readers. Certain social values and feelingssurround these subjects and are quite useful in eliciting attention from the observer. Forsome reason the picture of a beautiful women holding a puppy can give the double image ofsexuality and nurturance at the same time, appealing to both types of men. The favoritetactic of liquor and food commercials is that of the family and good friends. Everyone isalways having the best time when they are drinking or smoking in an advertisement, givingthe impression that happiness is much more attainable with these products. Exploiting thevision of good friends and family gathered together with soft lighting and fuzzy homeydecorations is a common technique of companies like Stouffers, and Smirnoff vodka. An interesting theme that I think is also just a typical American value , is the desire to deny the biology of human beings and the extent to which it pervades our lives. This goes hand inhand with the concept of unattainable beauty, but it also goes further. This concept can beseen exemplified in all the anti- aging advertisements, as well as the ads for liposuction,cellulite creams, quick tanning lotions, and the general habit of portraying everyone asyoung, healthy, and physically fit. This is simply ignoring the facts of reality. Anexcellent example is the Oil of Olay advertisements: "some people grow old gracefully, Iintend to fight it every step of the way" Not only is this not natural, I feel that this isperpetuating the younger generations to shun and neglect of the elderly in our society. Inmost cultures around the world elderly people are revered for their knowledge andexperiences in life, and they are taken good care of by their children and the wholesociety. But Americans are so stuck on the eternal youth and never losing one's looks, thatbeing old is often seen as simply out of shape, senile, and ugly. This concept goes alongcompletely with the advertisers entire avoidance of reality. NIKE athletic appareladvertisements are one of the few that utilizes reality to get they point across and does itwell. It is almost as if it is necessary to shock the reader into paying attention.Benneton clothes and makeup commercials are similar. They prefer to use harsher realitiesto grab the eye, but they also make it a point to have a constant ethnic blend in all theirads, thus supporting the theme of their company. The reality is that America is not ju

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