Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Women in Advertisements

One of the great things about studying feminist legal theory is the heightened awareness that is gained about women's issues everyday life. I have begun to pay more attention to how women are portrayed in popular music, tv shows, books, and film. For the most part, the treatment of women in these various mediums runs the gamut from sexism to empowerment. I have noticed, however, that the treatment of women in television and radio ads is fairly consistent.

Consistent with stereotypical gender roles, that is.

Perhaps it's just my experience, but I feel like whenever the ad aims to sell anything related to household duties, a woman is always the one shown using the product. Whether it's a super strong garbage bag, an exotically scented candle, a disinfectant wipe (pictures on their site), or the flashiest new appliance - it's a woman that is shown using/praising it.

Often times (and this is even more annoying), the husband just sits on the couch while the wife cleans up the mess with her fabulous new cleaning spray. A self satisfied smile appears on her face as she looks fondly at her husband (while cleaning). What about marriage being portrayed as a partnership? An equal partnership (at least in my mind) is what it's all about!

While I understand that corporations are looking to sell their products to their target audience, most women today have a job in addition to their household work. In 2009, the United States Department of Labor reported that 59.2% of women were labor force participants. Thus for things to get done, both partners have to share in the household chores. Even from the corporation's standpoint I don't think it's beneficial to only show the woman cleaning in the home. After all, these products are mostly aimed at working class families because the very rich can afford to hire someone to clean for them.

Given that traditional gender roles no longer reflect the lives of many women, why do companies insist on promoting this image? It just serves to reinforce stereotypes that have been thrust on women (and men) for generations. Hopefully as public awareness of these issues increases, the frequency of these types of irritating ads will decrease!


Kate said...

I was struck by a commercial I saw yesterday, which showed a mom borrowing her daughter's shirt to go out clubbing, staining it, and rushing to remove the stain before the daughter saw it. Of course, it still reinforces the idea that women are responsible for cleaning up, but at least it assumes that moms have their own lives outside of housework, which may involve making messes and not (just) cleaning them up. Baby steps!

To be honest, my first response to this post was that as long as women are responsible for the majority of housework, advertisers will keep targeting the majority of cleaning ads towards them. Men need to start doing their share of housework and the ads will follow. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that this was the kind of buck-passing that leads to no one doing anything.

Advertisers are great at creating demand where none existed before- witness the new pressure on men to buy hair products, moisturizers, and fancy clothes to meet the "metrosexual" standard. And as you point out, it's hardly beneficial for corporations to ignore men.

There's huge money to be made if advertiser's can convince men that they need twenty different cleaning sprays and laundry detergents. Maybe society can channel corporate greed for gender-equality good.

Of course, it would be even better for us to accept that the house doesn't always need to be squeaky clean and the laundry doesn't always need to be done right away, but I doubt advertisers will ever go for that!

Rebecca said...

I was comforted to know that I was not alone in my view that Domestic Goddesses are a relic from the past that should be retired.

There is a terrific documentary filmmaker named Jean Kilbourne who recently did a great series called Killing Us Softly. Number 3 in the series is a groundbreaking critique of advertising’s portrayal of women. She analyzes print and television advertisements revealing patterns of disturbing and destructive gender stereotypes. It is very thought provoking and hits on the connection between culture, identity, sexism, and gender violence. Below is a link where you can view the film.

Betty said...

Given that traditional gender roles no longer reflect the lives of many women, why do companies insist on promoting this image?

I agree. It's a pressing issue that even in this day and age, the image of the traditional homemaker/domestic mom/wife/woman is still being perpetuated in advertisements. I think one of the reasons for this is because advertising really took off back at a time when these images were not stereotypes, but basically the norm.

Mostly, I think the disturbing truth is that in the world of advertising, one of the primary goals in executing an ad is to reach as much of the masses as possible, so this speaks to me as a reflection of what studies might show - that the traditional domestic woman is still a role that reaches more audience members and resonates better than any other type of woman, unfortunately.

Bijorn Turock said...

I think that this type of advertisement still persists in today’s society for a different reason. I believe we discussed this in class, but many women today have two jobs, their regular nine to fives, and their stereotypic “housewife” role. So I can see how advertising agencies and marketing departments still find ads that are geared toward this image of women appealing.

Also, it seems that these advertisements might actually be enforcing this image of women. One might even view these ads as depicting the “ideal” women. Although I don’t agree with that, I feel that it would be easy for someone to buy into these ads and begin to feel that it is the norm.