In this chapter, a presentation of some concepts related to gender theories will take place in order to provide a theoretical fundament for the thesis and its study and the subsequent assessment. This is necessary to restrict the field to some extent and to conceptualize the study and its intended research aim. The analysis of the material (TV advertisements) will be based on and regarding these theoretical approaches. As mentioned above, a CDA is often conceived to unveil social drawbacks. Hence, the analysis and subsequently the discussion tackling these theoretical concepts will be to some degree of normative nature.
The main concepts presented in this chapter are the gender theories of sexism and feminism and masculinism – all theories in connection to advertising. These concepts of course are rooted in social sciences but they are nevertheless of crucial relevance for the given case. By analyzing TV advertisements these gender theories are translated into a media-scientific context. Chapter 4 which deals with the methodology used for the study also contains notions tackling these theories, mainly linking them to ideology since a CDA and its consequential critical engagement with the given case is always based on ideological and normative assumptions.
Sexism and gender stereotyping in the media
According to Cortese (2004, p. 51) sexism “is any attitude, behavior, institutional arrangement, or policy that favors one gender over another”. Sexism is most likely as old as mankind itself and derives from biological characteristics of and most importantly differences between women and men. The projection of these physical differences on social role allocation has a long tradition; men ever since have been linked to attributes like strength, authority and dominance (‘warriors and hunters’, i.e. the family’s protector and breadwinner) while female traits are commonly linked to tasks like house-keeping, giving birth and raising children etc., caring for the family on a rather domestic level. The result of this dichotomy is a traditional understanding that women and men are supposed to stick to their roles, not crossing borders and not interfering with the respective domains. These archaic principles are still visible in our modern times despite a blurring of the lines is occurring. To highlight it once again, the opposition of these assumptions of course is of normative nature. The term sexism nowadays appears to be negatively connoted resulting from efforts that foster gender equality. In the context of this theoretical conceptualization the term, for now, is used following a more neutral understanding without a normative assessment; it will merely help to highlight deeply rooted traditions within society that are expressed without bad faith. A normative evaluation will follow in the subsequent chapters.
Despite being rather negatively connoted in a social context, this general concept can be frequently observed examining the practical procedures of advertising. In fact, “advertising sells much more than products; it sells values and cultural representations, such as success and sexuality” (Cortese, 2004, p. 51). In line with the superficial disintegration of the classic allocation of social roles we experience today, advertising also has changed over the years, seemingly moving on to a more neutral interpretation of gender portrayal. The reality nevertheless differs from this perception. Mainly portraying women in advertisements as ‘stay-at-home mums’ some decades ago – an undoubtedly sexist action – the representation of stereotypes has maybe turned into a more subtle affair. Nowadays, advertising professionals frequently use sex appeal as a universal female trait. The line between sexy and sexist however is exceptionally fine as Miller (2005) states. All too often sex appeal would be exploited in an inappropriate way, relying on traditional demographic perceptions and methods debasing women to mere objects. To present sexiness per se is not necessarily a practice that needs to be abandoned but it should be used with consideration and good timing, argues Miller. Although not that frequently dealt with in the discussion, men are also objectified and reduced to certain attributes, as Feasey (2009) exemplifies. Feasey’s study pointed out that men just as women are forced to conform to societal expectations in order to stay in line with common traits of manliness. It of course can be argued if the stereotyping of men leaves males in a better position as their female counterparts. Nevertheless, stereotyping and consequential sexism within advertising appears to be a phenomenon that not only tackles females.
The result is, as already visible in the literature review, a construction and thematization of contemporary gender-related stereotypes as role models that are still influenced by tradition (Croteau, Hoynes & Milan, 2012). But is it eligible to put sexism on the same level with stereotyping? Gender stereotypes mostly depict ideals defining social roles, beauty, and appropriate behavior as well as life-style matters as they are still traditionally rooted in a cultural environment. Advertisements have a tremendous impact on gender identity, using idealized images of women and men; and vice versa media adapt perceptions that can be found in a society. Despite also using provocation as a tool to generate attention, media mainly seek to satisfy and to go in accordance with ideological believes and understandings that are shared by the majority of the potential recipients, as Croteau, Hoynes and Milan (2012) state. The media in general “give us pictures of social interaction and social institutions that, by their sheer repetition, on a daily basis, can play important roles in shaping broad social definitions. In essence, the accumulation of media images suggests what is ‘normal’ (…) and what is ‘deviant’;
(…) marginalizing or neglecting people who are different from the mass-mediated norm” (Croteau, Hoynes & Milan, 2012, p. 157). Accordingly, this is the common way how advertisement campaigns create a persuasive effect with the central aim of convincing people to prefer a specific product or service over another. On the other hand, a misconception of commonly shared attitudes would cause a negative impact which demands a certain familiarity with the underlying societal understandings. Simply said, advertisements create displays of people looking and behaving the way recipients (i.e. ‘we’) think they should. Without any doubt, these representations do not portray social reality (Goffman, 1976). This contradiction is promising to cause some social problems, e.g. objectification and consequential discrimination that could turn into an antagonist to the endeavors promoting gender equality. For instance, by particularly thematizing differences “media can become part of the spectacle of the bizarre” (Croteau, Hoynes & Milan, 2012, p. 157).
It becomes obvious that a certain dilemma is present in this construct: while gender equality in our (Western) societies is promoted as and widely considered something favorable, people – and media as symbiotic actors – unconsciously/unintentionally seem to build up a counterpart to this proclaimed ideal. Again, this is not necessarily the result of bad intentions; it is rather the legacy of sticking to traditional archaic ideologies that subliminally shape our everyday life.
Feminism and masculinism in opposition to advertising practices
This part of the theoretical conceptualization will deal with social movements that at least to some degree question the methods of media practices. The theories of feminism and masculinism are somehow the approaches trying to establish an opposition to sexism, even though the concepts somehow are intertwined with each other. Without sexism (‘gender inequality’ detectable in all kinds of situations) there would have been no need conceiving feminist and masculinist approaches. The widely accepted idea of feminist movements is to achieve and establish equal political, economic, social etc. rights for women and to actively fight misogyny (Beasley, 1999). Especially in modern times however, feminism seems to be more complex and is perceived and performed differently, many different understandings and philosophies are expressed. Anyhow, the concept of feminism will be used according to Beasley’s definition to facilitate the structure of the discussion. The traditional understanding of feminism implicates potential clashes with practical advertising, as the research review and the theoretical examination of sexism and gender stereotyping already displayed. In contrast to sexism, feminism and to some degree masculinism are mostly social movements that pursue a certain aim, namely to break down gender inequality. Going in accordance with Beasley’s definition, the intention of these movements is to fight just the phenomenon of sexism that was previously introduced. Taking the apparent subtlety of modern day sexism into account, these movements appear to find its limits. While being very effective in fighting obvious drawbacks – e.g. banning political and economic inequality – these normative initiatives somehow lack to attack the source of the problem. Feminism “points out that there are gender differences and argues that the gendered position of the understanding subject has a part to play in, and makes a difference to, the activity of understanding” (Barnard, 2011, p. 89). This statement suggests that the way someone conceives and interprets a messages is dependent on the own position. It is always difficult to tackle issues that are hard to detect and define, that are not visible as an apparent disproportion, noticed by everyone. Believes and attitudes that are expressed publicly and on a social basis are harder to ban than sexist policies. But: this ‘soft sexism’ (not officially constituted, e.g. on a social level) seems to be the origin of all gender inequality. Traits that are linked to femininity and masculinity are translated into advertising patterns that are harder to challenge since they are backed up by societal traditions. Potential hegemony – connecting questions of culture, power and ideology – can be established basing on the public’s consent and/or the use of power, as Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1971) already stated in the 1920s and ‘30s. Since the media in our societies do not make use of any kind of force advertisers may argue that there methods are publicly accepted (Croteau, Hoynes & Milan, 2012).
1.1 The research problem
1.2 Aim, purpose and research questions of the study
2.1 Research examining the existence of gender-related social roles and stereotypes in advertising
2.2 Research on the recipients’ perception of gender stereotyping in advertisements
2.3 Remaining gaps in the body of research and positioning of the study
3. Theoretical framework
3.1 Sexism and gender stereotyping in the media
3.2 Feminism and masculinism in opposition to advertising practices
4. Method and materials
4.1 The principles of qualitative research
4.2 Preset theoretical assumptions and brief modeling of the study
4.3 The method of visual critical discourse analysis and the selection of relevant instruments
5. Analysis/presentation of findings
5.1 Iconography (attributes, objects & settings)
5.3 Gaze and poses
5.4 The visual representation of transitivity
6.1 Answering of the research questions
6.2 Connection of the findings with the theoretical concepts of sexism, feminism and,masculinism
7. Summary and conclusion
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Gender Representation in TV Advertising regarding Social Interaction