Gender stereotypes in advertising

Advertising has become an essential part of our life. It can offer lots of information and bring convenience to the consumers. At the same time, it can benefit the businessmen. Advertising came into being with the advent of the production and exchange of commodities. It has been developing as the economy develops. Whenever we switch on the TV set, leaf through the newspaper or walk down a street, we will be bombarded by advertising. Wherever there are people, there is advertising, no matter in the real life or on the internet.

Advertising is a powerful form of social communication in modern society and gender stereotypes are a powerful tool for advertising. Companies and advertiser apply certain kind of stereotypes into their advertisements to appeal target audience. Through analyzing the ads on four different magazines, M. E. Thomas and L. A. Treiber found that men were rough, “ real”, average and natural (everyday), whereas women were fashionable, charming, young, and sexually attractive (trendy). Beauty–glamour messages were aimed relentlessly at women. (M. E. Thomas and L. A. Treiber, 2000) Women were exaggerated or beautified.

Jean Umiker-Sebeok showed several gender differences in his article:

•relative size (males take up more space than females in terms of body size and/or posture);

•psychological withdrawal from the social context (males stay attuned and ready for potential threats to their control of the situation while females’ attention drifts away)

•ritualized subordination (females adopt postures which indicate submission to control by others; females adopt softer [i. e., curvilinear] postures than males, who exhibit more dominant [i. e., angular] postures);

•function ranking (males control and lead the actions of others, while females are controlled and submitted );

•locations (females are found primarily in domestic settings or containers, males in a wide variety of other locations);

•touch/manipulation (males manipulate objects while females caress or finger them);

•movement (males move faster and farther than females).

In general, female stereotype is to get married and have children. Women should be dependent, careful, docile and sympathetic. In their life, families’ welfare should take priority over their own. In ads, feminine images usually convey affection, beauty, sexiness, obedience and nurturance. So women are typically portrayed as motherly types and sexy goddess. In many ads, women belong to families and associated with household products, such as milk powder, laundry detergent, etc. It is a bounden duty for them to be care takers. We can often see women in ads for stain removers.

People believe that it is female who should do washing at home. On one hand, women are target audience in some ads, such as ads for perfume, cosmetics and clothes for women. These ads spend a lot of energy to stress outward traits, including beauty, sexiness and so on. Women are encouraged to believe that using the advertised products can bring the perfect result like the models. On the other hand, women are symbolized in ads to appeal men. Maxim, the bestseller of magazines for man, is often with a scantily clothed and sexually attractive woman on the front cover, which is aimed to appeal male audience.

With the development of the society, women are playing a more and more role in modern society. They began to go into many fields in which they had no rights to participate in the past. Magazines and newspaper sports sections ignored women in terms of sexual difference, robbing female athletes of much of their subjectivity when women began to participate in sports game. Now, there are magazines specially for women. (Susan Lynn, Marie Hardin, Kristie Walsdorf, 2004) Male stereotype is to be the breadwinner. They should be aggressive, independent, initiative, confident and career-oriented.

Therefore, Masculine images typically show power, strength, courage, manliness, athleticism, and competitiveness. Men are often associated with scientific, productive and authoritative products. Harold found that although men and women both appeared in family scenes, men were more found in workplace and women often played a role as ornaments (Harold W F, 1976). Furnham and Virginia compared the differences of gender roles in Italian, American and British ads. They found that there were more male models than female models in ads and men were more authoritative and knowledgeable than women. Women were often associated with low-priced products.

We can also see an image of a sloppy man with messy hairs and scraggly beard. Then he shaves himself. The next scene he becomes refreshed and handsome. And beautiful girls attempt to approach him. It conveys the information that if you want to attract women, you should use the shaver to shave yourself. Ads for men’s product are more associated with business, victory or other matters that can convey manliness. Men in society are positioned as successful people, such as athletes, doctors, businessmen and professors. And men in families are positioned as enjoyer, enjoying warm family atmosphere and delicious food.

Why do gender stereotypes work in ads? Stereotypes simplify the way that people process the information. It is easy for people to store and organize the information they receive by using stereotypes. It is positive from cognitive economics perspective and can make a contribution to cut cost. The gender stereotypes enable consumers to get the information in a minimal amount of time. The sexy woman in the perfume ads tells that the perfume can make you sexier. The man in the men’s suits ads tells that if you wear the suits, you can be as professional and successful as him.

We all desire to be perfect. We desire for the beauty, the intelligence, the courage of the ads models. So we are willing to pay to imitate them. However, almost everything has two sides; the same was the case with stereotypes. Stereotypes also have negative effects. The future of ads lies in creativity. Stereotypes make ads featureless and sameness. Ads may lose their charm to appeal consumers. Stereotypes are not universally effective. If two kinds of products apply the same form to appeal audiences, you may choose neither of them.

In addition, stereotypes are adverse to the harmony of the society and the development of human beings. For example, gender stereotypes have been rooted in advertisers’ minds. It may be believed that men should go out and earn money while women should stay at home, take care of the children and do housework. These stereotypes may bring difficulties to women when finding jobs. Studies find that current views on entrepreneurs are heavily weighted toward traits traditionally viewed as masculine and these stereotypical beliefs adversely affect the entry and development of women in entrepreneurship.

Action can be taken to relieve stereotypes. One solution to address the problem is reverse thinking. Advertisers can find out conventional expression form and think from the opposite side. For example, we can use male models to demonstrate the superior performances of the kitchenware. Advertising exists in any occasions in various forms. It plays an important role in our daily life. Using gender stereotypes can be an efficient way to convey information in life.

Feminine images usually convey affection, beauty, sexiness, obedience and nurturance. Masculine images typically show power, strength, courage, manliness, athleticism, and competitiveness. As an indispensible part in modern life, advertising offers us plenty of information. The advertising content and expression forms are different according to different groups of target audiences. Applying stereotypes into ads is a way of communicating a message clearly in a minimal amount of time. Yet it doesn’t always work and has side effects. It is a fine art to balance stereotypes and real life.