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Frederick Counsell

Gender Roles and Advertising

Gender Representation  -­‐  Erving  Goffman Everyday   we   are   bombarded   with   advertisements,   trying   to   sell   us   products   which   will   supposedly   improve   or   make   our   lives   easier.   Men   and   woman   are   both   represented   in   advertisements,  but  how?  and   how   to   they  compare  to  each  other?  This  Chapter  will  outline   some  basic  gender  representations  of  both  sexes   and  see  how   they  interact   with   each  other,   examining  a  selection  of  examples  from  the  last  60   years.  Moriarty  (1995)   writes  that  gender   representations   in  adverts  can  be  refereed  to   as  iconic,  symbolic   and  indexical.  Every  second   in   an  advert  is   thoroughly  planned  and  nothing   is   left   to   chance.   Almost  everything  you  see   will   have  been  scrutinised  to   have  been  deemed  Kit  to   make   the  Kinal   cut.   As  a  result,   when   analysed  there  can  be  connotations  and  messages  associated  each  frame  of  an  advert.

The relative   sizing   of   men   and   women   in   adverts   can   often   be   symbolic   of   many   things;   including   power,   authority   and  even   social   rank.   These   are   often   reKlected   through   relative   Fig 1.1

size in   social   situations,   especially   height   (E.   Goffman,   1976).  Examples  of  these  can  often  be  seen  on  billboards   and   television   adverts.   Fig   1.1   is   a   still   image   advert,   showing  a  man  an  woman  embracing  on  a  billboard  for  a   advertising  cigarettes.  Although  the  woman  is  the   target   audience   and   centre   of   attention   in   the   advert,   she   is   clearly   in  the   shadow   of   the  man.   She   submissively   lets   herself   be   taken   in   by   him,   snuggling   into   his   openly   gestured   jacket.   A   very   obedient   action.   The   woman’s   willingness  and  desire  to  be  embraced  by  the  man  is  also  

apparent. Desire   is   also  a  message   which  the  advertisers   would  want   to   communicate  to   an   audience.   The   desire  to   be  received   by   the   man  is  a   reoccurring  theme  and   is   also   associated  


Frederick Counsell

Gender Roles and Advertising

with the   desire  of   the   product,   the   cigarettes.   The  framing  of  the  advert  also  lends  itself  to  a   height   hierarchy.  The  portrait  nature  of  the   billboard  is  perfect  to  show-­‐off  the  height  of   the   male,   with   the   woman   resting   snugly   on  his   chest   whilst   his   upright   stature  Kills   the   whole   frame.  This  is  a  simple  social  message  that  can  be  understood  at  a  glance.    

In his  book,  “Gender  Advertisements”  Erving   Goffman  also   talks  about   the  difference  between   ‘masculine’   and   ‘feminine   touch’.   This   is   a   observation   of   the   sensual   nature   of   feminine   representation  in  adverts.  

“Women, more   than  men,   are   pictured  using  their  Kingers   and  hands   to   trace   the   outlines  of  an  object  or  to   cradle  it  or  to   caress  its  surface  or  to   effect  a  "just   barely   touching."   This   ritualistic   touching  is   to   be  distinguished  from   the  utilitarian  kind   that  grasps,  manipulates,  or  holds.” E.  Goffman,  1976

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Fig 1.3

The female   touch  is  used  a  lot  more  than  male,  females   use   their  Kingers  to  caress  and  guide   objects  as  well  as  touching  their   own  body.  The  way   in  which  woman's  hands  are  shown  differ   drastically   from   the   utilitarian   way   that   a   male   grasps   object.   Fig  1.2   highlights   the   female   hand  gently  caressing  the  the   perfume  bottle.  The     hand   is  barely   even  holding  the   bottle,  one  


Frederick Counsell

Gender Roles and Advertising

Kinger even   lightly   resting   off   the   top   and   the   only   point   of   contact   is   the   Kingertips.   This   delicate   Kinger  arrangement   emphasises   of   a   more   gentle  ‘female’  touch.   The  comparison   to   the  male   advert  (Fig  1.3)  is  stark.  The  male  is  shown  Kirmly  grasping  the  product  with  a  tight   Kist.   This   is   a   much   more   authoritarian   way   of   holding   an   item,   less   delicate   and   more   purposeful.  This  action  continues   physically  in  the  crossed  armed  stance  of  the  model.  Having   said  this,  there  are  also  deKinitely  metrosexual  qualities   associated  with    Kig  3.   The  model   looks   well  groomed  and  tidy,  his  smooth  skin  is  a  far  cry  from  the  traditional   ‘cave  man‘  stereotypes   often  linked  with   men  and   found   in   advertising   (J.   Katz,   2003).   Metrosexuality  is   a   growing   element  of  mens  culture,  which  in  recent  years  has  become  more  common  in  advertising.   The   models  eyes  look  seductive  and   sex  appeal  is  deKinitely  a  key   factor  in  this  image,   we  can  see   the   model   looking   provocatively   at   the   camera   (or   at   the   consumer).   Another   interesting   observation  is  that   both  of   these  products  are  in   the  cosmetic  sector  which  further  highlights   the   differences   between   advertising   strategies   for   each   sex,   even   when   selling   similar   products. Fig 1.4

Feminist research   into   the   mass   media   has   shown   that   women   tend   to   be   shown   as   submissive,   passive   and   are  portrayed  largely  in  terms   of  their   sexuality   or   domesticity   while   men   tend   to   be   shown  as  dominant,  active  and  authoritative. Women  and  Media,  Helen  Baehr  (1980)   Gender   function   ranking   is   also   a   representation   which   we   can   see   in   advertising.   When   a   man   and   a   woman   collaborate   in   an   undertaking,   the   man   is   likely   to   perform  the  executive  role.  This  hierarchy  of  functions  is   pictured  either   within  an  occupational   frame  or   outside   of  occupational   specializations  (E.   Goffman,   1976).  Fig  1.4   is   a   still   image  advert   for  a  ‘Roberts’   radio   from   the  1950’s.   The  adverts  a  woman  using   the   radio,  with  the  male  Kigure  taking   a  back  seat  and  overseeing  her  actions.  Although  the  woman  


Frederick Counsell

Gender Roles and Advertising

is granted  freedom  to  use  the  radio,  she   does  so   under  the   watchful  eye   of  her   husband  who   is   literally  on   hand   to  help  her  out  if  she  needs  it.  It  is  almost  as   if   the  woman  is  not  granted  full   responsibility  of  the  task  in  hand.  But  what  if  the  male  is  being  depicted  in  environment  which   is   alien  to  him?  Surely  advertisers  would   be  so   bold  as  to  break  social  boundaries  and   show   Fig 1.5

the male   cleaning  and  cooking  better   that   the  woman?   In  these   situations   and  interesting   strategy   is   adopted   in  order  to  preserve  the  male  integrity.    

Fig 1.5   shows   stills   from   Carling   ‘Black   Label’,   a   30   second  TV   advert  aired  in  2002.  When  the  woman  Kinds   her   partner   has   still   not   cleaned   the   house,   she   commands   him   to   Kinish   the   job  by   pouring   beer   over   the  dirty  items  and  having  him  lick  them  clean.   He  duly   obliges,   not   whiling   to   waste  a  single  drop  of   his   beer.   Although   the   woman   is   in  control   of  the   man   at   this   point   it   is   portrayed   in   a   comic   even   ridiculous   way   and,   of   course,   not   without   the   help   of   the   beer.   It   is   through   humorous   methods  such  as  this   that  men  are  able  to  be  shown  being   bossed  around.  The  audience  do  not   seem  to  mind  so  much  when  it  is  done  in  a  joking  fashion,  it  is  simply   laughed  off  and  brushed   aside.

The Family  unit  is   a  very  important   part  of  advertising,  and  many   products   are  marketed  and   sold   with   families   in   mind  or  and  appeal   directly  to   certain  members   within  the  family  unit.   Functionalist  Sociologists  argue   that   families   have  speciKic  duties  and  roles  imposed  on   them   for   the  beneKit   of   society.   This  functionalist   view   that   the  family  serves   as   a   vital   socializing   agent  and  is  seen  as  an  institution  for  social  stability  and  cohesion  (Parsons,   1943)  can  lead  to   interesting   representations   of   the   various   family   Kigures   and   their   roles   in   advertisements.  


Frederick Counsell

Gender Roles and Advertising

The whole   family   can   be   contained   in   a   single   frame,   and   because   of   this   many   forms   of   symbolisation  of  gender  roles  can  be  seen.    

Fig 1.6

Fig 1.6   shows   an   1960’s   poster   advert   for  a  new  television  set,  focusing  on  how   the   televisions   brings   the   family   unit   together.  Firstly  we  are  presented  with  a   typical   nuclear   family,   in   which   the   mother,  father   and  children  are  depicted   in   harmony.   The   mother   is   seen   in   her   typical   role   as   the   housewife,   satisfying  

the needs  of  the  rest  of  the   family,  whilst  the  remaining  family  members  congregate  contently   round   the   televisions.   The   father   is   dressed   smartly,   which   implies   that   he   is   the   ‘breadwinner‘  who  has  been  at  work  during  the  day  to  support  his  family.   It  is  also  interesting   to   notice   that   the   family   are   watching   a   couple   embrace   on   the   television,   illustrating   the   television   as  a  social  agent  for  the   young  and  re-­‐enforcing  the  view  that   they  should  continue   to  develop   their   own  family.   Obviously  family  representations  such  as  this  have  become   quite   out  of  date  with  modern  families  becoming  increasingly  diverse.

Goffman also   writes   about   the   ‘Ritualization   of   Subordination’   in   gender   representation   within  advertisements.   It   is   often   the  case  that   women  are  portrayed   in   a   more   submissive   manner  than  their  male  counterparts.  Goffman  argues  that  people  in  charge  of  their  own  lives   typically   stand  upright,   alert   and  ready   to   meet   the  world.   In  contrast,   bending   of  the   body   conveys   unpreparedness,   submissiveness   and   appeasement   (Goffman   1976).   A   typical   example  of  this  is  shown  in  Kig  1.7,  showing  the  woman  model  submissively  lying  back   onto  a   chair.  Her  arms  are  raised,  as  if  to  remove  any  resistance  and  her  eyes  are  partly  covered,  in  a  


Frederick Counsell

Gender Roles and Advertising

Fig 1.7

Fig 1.8

very sexual  manner.   Goffman  argues   that   this  traditional  representation  of  females   is   a  stark   contrast  to  the   way  in  which  men  are  traditionally  shown  in  advertising,   mainly   woman  being   both  physically  and  sexually  submissive  compared  to  the  male.    Kig  8  shows  a   stark  contrast  in   the  representation  of  both  males  and  females   in  the   same  advert.   The  male  Kigures  are   seen   standing   tall  with   very  straight  postures,   almost  authoritarian  in   nature.   These   typical   male   signs   of  dominance   are  a   world  away   from  how  the   female   is   portrayed.   We  see   the  woman   lying  prone  beneath  the  male,  who  appears  to  have  control  of  the  woman.   Both  Kig   1.7  and  1.8   appear   to   sexually   objectify   woman.   In   Kig   1.7   the   body   position   of   the   model   on   the   sofa   implies  sexual  availability,  where  as   in  Kig  1.7  we  see   the  woman  as  a  sexual  prize  for  the  men.   The  image  also  appears   to  imply  the  woman  is  being  forced  to  act  against  her   will.  They  is  also   a  voyeuristic  element   about  the   image,   with  the   other  male  Kigures   looking   ominously  on  at   the  couple.  

It is   no   surprise   that   gender  representations   such  as   these   provoke   strong   responses   from   feminist   philosophers.   There   is   a   general   view   from   these   that   female   stereotypes   in   the   media   are,   on   the   whole,   undervalued   (B.   Coleman   2010)   and   that   media   stereotyping   of   women   as   objects   and   helpless   beings   creates   very   low   expectations   for   society's   girls   (J.   Kilbourne  2002).   There   is   also   a  strong   consensus  amongst  feminist   writers   that  women  are   exploited  for  their  sexuality  for  the  beneKit  of  the  product  to  increase  sales.


Frederick Counsell

Gender Roles and Advertising

women’s bodies  are  sexualized  in  ads  in  order  to  grab  the  viewer’s  attention.  Women  become   sexual  objects  when  their  bodies  and  their  sexuality  are  linked  to  products  that  are  bought   and  sold. S.  Graydon  (2007) Gender   representations   have  changed  over  time,   especially   as   far   as   women  are  concerned.     The  traditional   housewife  of  the   1950’s   would  be   completely   out   of   place   in   todays   adverts   and  would  no  doubt   fail  to   Kind  an  audience  in  todays  diverse  society.  Likewise,  we  have   seen   changes   in   male   representations   and  stereotypes   over   the   last   60  years.   We   can  also   see  a   connection   between  gender   rolls  and   desire  in  advertising.  In  order   to  sell  a  product   adverts   try   to   create   a   desire   within   the   consumer.   We   often   see   products   simulating   desire   in   products.   This   is   often   heavily   linked   with   offering   woman   as   prizes   or   rewards   for   purchasing  the  product  advertised  (T.  Hodsen,  1999).

We can  see  a   number  of  different   representation  of  both   genders   throughout   these  adverts.   There   appear  to  be  a   number  of   different  forms   that  gender  representation  has   taken  which   become  apparent   depending   on   the   advert.  Relative  sizing   is   simple   technique  which  can  be   used  to  show  power   an   authority  simply  by  putting   two   models   together   on  the  same  frame.   Feminine   touch   can   be   used   in   situations   to   illustrate   control   through   the   way   in   which   objects.   These   are   just   some   of  the   different   ways   in  which   we   see  gender   representations   formed  and  presented  to  audiences  in  advertising.

Erving Goffman, Gender Roles and Advertising  

An extract from Frederick Counsells 2011 Dissertation 'Gender Roles and Advertising'.

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