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 people
throughout the country based on how one is brought up and
the expectations one is bombarded with on a daily basis.
These expectations are reflected in every part of our
culture and are 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 that certain mediums reflect the expected roles
in these institutions better than others. I originally
focused on gender roles as a depiction of stereotypical
behavior as reflected by advertising especially the
portrayal of women, but I discovered that there were other
stereotypes being perpetuated as well that were just as
institutionalized if not just simply less noticed or
studied. Therefore, although this argument will focus on
the depiction of females and the female role in
advertising. It will also mention the general use of
American 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 role being the behavior expected
from that, and a value being a socially shared idea of what
is good, right, and desirable and a norm being the behavior
expected from those ideas. When people 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 a certain way when
they are confronted with a situation or person. It is
"human nature" to fear the unknown and cling to the
familiar, and desire to fit in but want to stand out at the
same time. It is from here that advertising finds its most
potent weapons. By focusing on these culturally formed
stereotypes they can explicitly affect people, and by
feeding on these implicitly realized characteristics of
people they can also affect behavior . This seems
relatively harmless to the advertiser who simply wants to
sell his product, but it becomes harmful when it begins to
perpetuate certain undesirable stereotypes to the point of
cementing them in impressionable minds. Thus I will further
differentiate the discussion presented 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 the chance to form original
opinions without the hindrance of preconceived notions, but
I strongly feel that specific depiction's like that of "the
myth of women" need to be eradicated first and foremost
because of its direct halt of progress. That's not to say
that advertising has not changed somewhat with the changing
of women's roles and opportunities in the 1990's. Society
,and specifically men, can accept the need and desire for
women to work outside the home, but they still expect them
to be mothers who keep everything together from the home to
their looks. Perpetuation's of this myth of a woman's
abilities 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 of
gorgeous models that portray every ideal of our society.
The themes that I collected over and 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 without the 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 be
good enough without these alterations. The company that
typified this attitude the best was Maybelline: "maybe
she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline" ì Some women
have LIPS as SMOOTH as they talk. So SUPPLE so luscious
they make anything sound fascinating. Gift of nature? Get
real" The quotes could go on, but I think the message is
clear; one could never be naturally attractive to society
without the help of makeup. Next is the depiction of
perfumes. The basic concepts behind perfume ads are of sex,
intimacy, exotic drugs, and escape from reality. Without
the use of perfume one could never attract a man. By
portraying the scents as some sort of exotic pheromone they
seem to insinuate that one will be completely irresistible.
Names such as: Opium, Spellbound, Knowing, Escape, Poison,
etc. . . are typical examples. Then there are those
examples utilizing a different but no less potent theme as
with Estee Lauder's Beautiful. These ads target the less
wild side of women and depict the beautiful serene young
bride in an affluent house, often with a small child gazing
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 average women was
brought up holding true. The models reveal a plethora of
flesh not accepted as norm within this society, and still
they are praised for it. This conflicts greatly with how
much the average female reveals. The favorite body part to
expose is the female breast. Until this paper I had never
known that they showed full frontal nudity in a fashion
magazine. In one Vogue magazine of 576 pages are counted
almost 20 pictures focused directly on the barely covered
breast or cleavage. Including articles like "cleavage in a
can" for those poor unfortunate females who cannot pop out
of their clothing there now is a way so you can wear the
latest fad; or "the bra, meant to be seen! Don't be shy,
it's fashion, not lingerie! And besides you want to show
some cleavage!" Completely contrary to what I believe every
female has learned since us boys began teasing them in
junior high, it is okay to walk around in public in nothing
but a bra. Not only are these suggestions demeaning to
women insinuating that they all just want to wear as little
as they can get away with, but they are unrealistic. If
women were to walk around an every day shopping mall in one
of these suito-bras , they would be considered either a
call girl or a loose women. This leads into the last thing
that needs to be discussed. The portrayal of beauty and
supposed desirable behavior depicted in everyday magazines
is not only unrealistic but almost virtually unattainable.
The models are women of exceptional good looks that are
obviously 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 females
to feel like failures if they do not look similar. But many
do. I feel that this is where the societal tragedies
associated with eating disorders, silicone breast implants,
cosmetic surgery, 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
more with nature than man, who is considered associated
with culture. This can be put in the category of the
implicit almost subconscious themes in advertising. The
depiction of women on pedestals, frozen in time and space,
untouchable, is very common. Women are also often
associated with wild animals, exotic scenes and far away
places, putting them in the same out - of - reach,
mysterious category. This once again is forming a myth and
stereotype in society around women that preys on the human
fear of the unknown. This only hinders the female'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
seemingly spend 99% of their time and space dwelling on
beauty, sensuality, sex, health and attracting a man. A
very small portion is left for careers, goals and
intelligence. The theme that struck me was that of the
frivolous nature of women's lives depicted in magazines
produced for 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 and attract a males acceptance. Picture after
picture portrays the seductively dressed female displaying
herself for one or a number of men in any location from the
hood of a car to the privacy 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 just right. Like this is the
biggest problem confronting a female in a day. Another ad
is by Savvy, a jewelry company who's slogan is "be
Brilliant" depicting unclothed female bodies with an
example of their jewelry draped on them. Not only does it
remove the humanity in the picture, it gives the impression
of women's brilliance radiating only from the stones that
they must wear. Another example is the Liz Claiborne
clothing ads that equate style with life literally. Again
and again the female society is pelted with the images of
women's self worth derived from their outward appearance.
The final concept that I observed was that of tokenism. The
working women of the 90's is becoming more and more
accepted , but magazines still cannot seem to divorce
themselves from the concept that the work place is just
another medium in which their consumers can display
themselves. They feel obligated to include the token
working article, but it is often in the form of the latest
style of working clothes, like the article in Cosmopolitan
titled "the Great Little Office Dress" Little being the
operative word in that sentence. They promote the
importance of not conforming to a man's world by dressing
like a man and the necessity to maintain 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 not utilizing 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" as
meaning every day hardships, problems, "facts-of -life" as
an attention grabber. Another depiction is that of the
dismissal of biology, especially in the avoidance of aging,
illness or 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 often used to
evoke the nurturing response in readers. Certain social
values and feelings surround these subjects and are quite
useful in eliciting attention from the observer. For some
reason the picture of a beautiful women holding a puppy can
give the double image of sexuality and nurturance at the
same time, appealing to both types of men. The favorite
tactic of liquor and food commercials is that of the family
and good friends. Everyone is always having the best time
when they are drinking or smoking in an advertisement,
giving the impression that happiness is much more
attainable with these products. Exploiting the vision of
good friends and family gathered together with soft
lighting and fuzzy homey decorations 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 in hand with the concept of unattainable beauty,
but it also goes further. This concept can be seen
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 as
young, healthy, and physically fit. This is simply ignoring
the facts of reality. An excellent example is the Oil of
Olay advertisements: "some people grow old gracefully, I
intend to fight it every step of the way" Not only is this
not natural, I feel that this is perpetuating the younger
generations to shun and neglect of the elderly in our
society. In most cultures around the world elderly people
are revered for their knowledge and experiences in life,
and they are taken good care of by their children and the
whole society. But Americans are so stuck on the eternal
youth and never losing one's looks, that being old is often
seen as simply out of shape, senile, and ugly. This concept
goes along completely with the advertisers entire avoidance
of reality. NIKE athletic apparel advertisements are one of
the few that utilizes reality to get they point across and
does it well. 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
realities to grab the eye, but they also make it a point to
have a constant ethnic blend in all their ads, thus
supporting the theme of their company. The reality is that
America is not just all white beautiful , young, healthy,
in shape ,well - off people running around with no care
except the latest fashion trends. Reality is that no matter
how many articles written by "experts" that you read on how
to improve your life and your looks, no-one can mold you
except you. The reality is, is that no matter how many
articles you read on the most beautiful and successful
people in the public eye, chances are you won't be like
them. People take this to mean that they are failures, and
here we find the breeding grounds for the psychological
problems that plague our society, not to mention quite a
few health problems as well. Smoking Marlboro cigarettes is
not going to make you a rough, tough, strong, macho man,
it's going to give you lung cancer. Marlboro does not
advertise with the original Marlboro man because he is
attached to a respirator after the onset of emphysema.
Therefore, there are several take home arguments in this
paper on advertisement. First is that no matter how liberal
and advanced we feel our modern day America has come, it is
obvious that our values and institutions are still being
controlled by old-fashioned notions. There is a
conservative trend going on in America, and underneath the
token attempts at change the old stereotypes are hard at
work; at work molding minds and opinions in every day
situations that are not needed in our close-minded culture.
Some of the hypocrisy is blatant, and other is not so
noticeable. I was appalled by an article in Allure magazine
titled "crimes of Beauty: Americans live in a society
that's preoccupied with physical appearance and violence,
and the annals of crime prove it" This article was back to
back with a ten page photo shoot of scantily clad,
perfectly shaped, gorgeous models. The final message is a
reiteration of the concept of avoiding reality. The purpose
of this paper is to psychologically, sociologically and
biologically argue that the cultural artifacts of magazines
are more suppressive of women that the advertising
companies would admit to. America is riddled with
stereotypes and the perpetuation of them through
distortions of institutions, roles, status, and norms into
advertisements molding the average female American. If one
stops to consider the impressionability of the human mind,
especially the young ones. It becomes frightening to think
that these blatant stereotypical depiction's can be picked
up in any library or drugstore for anyone to read. Of
course I believe that people should be allowed to formulate
their own opinions and have the freedom to read and look at
whatever they choose, but I feel that the people developing
these magazines and advertisements should act with a little
more responsibility towards society and pay more attention
to what they are printing. An advertiser would argue many
of the points previously stated. They do not agree that
there are oppressive undertones present within their
advertisements. They also contend that they do not force
women to confine them selves to the norms depicted with in
their advertisements. However I believe that since these
companies have power they should take on more of the
responsibilities of having that power. I feel it is a moral
obligation for the companies not to degrade their
consumers. Additionally many may argue that since I am a
male, I am unable to accurately depict hoe these
advertisements affect females. I am also unable to
accurately state the arguments of my opposition, for they
deny the argument even exists. That is until they find a
way to make the argument profitable.
Name: fema.txt 


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