Gender undermined by advertisement and mass mediaIn mass media, gender is often delegated to a binary consisting of man or woman; when in reality, gender is a spectrum full of complexities and nuances.
In mass media, gender is often delegated to a binary consisting of man or woman; when in reality, gender is a spectrum full of complexities and nuances. The polarisation of gender is often exaggerated in the news and social media. Advertisements focus on hyper-femininity or hyper-masculinity as a way to attract audiences and sustain the societal concepts associated with each gender. In this hi-tech world, ads have flooded all platforms including television, magazines, and social media. However, they have recently encountered hurdles in the form of ad blocking tools in social media.
Now, consumers can create art and images that they can not only control but also share and propagate the content that interests them. This creates a resistance to the practice of traditional advertisement, promoting more individual ways to attract consumers. As a result, consumers are no longer forced to interact with corporate advertisement and are somewhat free to create the images that reflect their interest. While social media does allow individual representation of gender which helps counter stereotypical gender concepts, it has not pushed back against the corporate commodification of women related illnesses and its subsequent awareness. Specifically, corporations in America has taken advantage of the breast cancer awareness movement and reduced it to a trend for product advertisements. Gender is undermined in popular culture by the production of hyper feminine images in ads related to women’s illnesses.
Many advertisements are gender based. In the modern age where media dictates body image, people are more influenced by the expectations of what they should look like.Thousands of advertisements deal with physical attractiveness and beauty. The commercial ads for clothes, cosmetics, and physical fitness have negative effects on the self-conception of teens, especially girls. The constant pressure of impossible beauty standards leads to a direct profit for advertising companies and product corporations, resulting in millions of dollars. Women and men try to mimic the life shown in ads.
However, the way women are portrayed in advertisements is awful and unjustifiable in comparison to how men are presented, which results in an undermining of gender in mass media. They are used as tools of beauty and sex appeal. Their body is controlled by the fashions and standards of beauty that represent femininity. For example, Victoria’s Secret is a popular company that often portrays women as fantastical creatures. Each year they present their ‘Angel’ fashion show on mass media which shows dozens of beautiful women wearing angel wings and colorful lingerie, and each year the show attracts nationwide audiences of women and young girls fascinated with the angels. Their success directly depends on the idea that their audience will want to look like these women and, therefore, buy their products.
In this digital world, individual representation is popularised on social media. Now, social media users aim for thousands of ‘likes’ and comments on their most popular selfies. Selfies are considered a self-portrait by product of social and pop culture, often created on a smart phone’s camera and were initiated by millennials using social media. The purpose of the selfie is to get the right angle, lighting, and focus on an effort to create the perfect brand for the person who posts it. Selfies offer a new type of advertisement because an individual can control the way people see them, since they make direct choices regarding their clothes, makeup, and facial expressions.
James Franco, an actor, talks about how selfies function to establish and maintain self-identity, says, “If you are someone people are interested in, then the selfie provides something very powerful, from the most privileged perspective possible.” Each selfie posted builds a reputation and creates the images they want to see and that contributes considerably to the growth of self-esteem and thus development of self-identity. As women continue to create selfies and other social media posts that demonstrate varied forms of beauty and gender, corporate advertisers will have to look to social media to discover the types of images and content female audiences are attracted to.
Advertisements are not only used to convince the consumer to purchase a specific product, they also function to create a new trend in culture if the product type gains enough popularity. An example of this type of trend is the ‘pink’ campaign initiated by corporations as an effort to popularise their products by associating them with breast cancer awareness. This particular trend uses women’s illnesses as a launching point for selling their product. The only connection many of these products have to breast cancer awareness is the small pink ribbon stamped somewhere on the item. The pink
campaign has been adapted in many mass consumer-oriented ways from clothing, to water bottles, car decals, children’s toys, and even NFL players’ uniforms. On the surface, these advertisers may claim that these products raise awareness about breast cancer, but in reality, they do not reveal any useful information for a woman to further understand or prevent breast cancer.
Thus, these advertisements and products undermine the gravity of the illness. Peggy Orenstein, a New York Times Bestselling author, considers the capitalistic motives behind the ‘pink’ campaign in her article, ‘Think about Pink.’ Orenstein states, “I hate to be a buzz kill, but breast cancer is just not sexy. It’s not ennobling. It’s not a feminine rite of passage.” The advertising companies are using cancer patient’s body image as a crutch for profit. They are raising awareness but on the other side they are using the sexuality of the nipple and its “power” rather than focusing on the disease. The subject is sexualised even though it deals with people’s lives, confidence, and livelihood. Having breast cancer is not sexy to deal with and the concept should not be patronised. Nothing is sexy about cancer. Cancer is miserable—women lose their hair, even breasts, become weak, and go through awful pain during chemotherapy. It’s true that advertisements are removing the sad truth of breast cancer by spreading a vacuously hopeful message, but not entirely. These mass corporations market breast cancer as pink and frilly. They make consumers think that breast cancer is easy to overcome. Some companies even produce t-shirts depicting reductive slogans like “Protect the ta-tas,” which ultimately enables a joke or a laugh about a deadly disease. But the truth is women go through serious depression, anxiety disorder, and fear and must deal with social and emotional issues which ultimately change their body image, self-esteem and confidence level.
We live in the twenty first century; the age of technology and mass media whose cradle is capitalism. Our life is influenced by social forces such as online advertisement, social media and networking. So, we cannot ignore the significance of these forces in our world. However, these social forces should not be able to play with human emotions and their life—not even in the name of profit.
Shrestha is an undergraduate student in Computer Science at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA