Exploitation of Women in Media

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The exploitation of women in Ads

What are the dangers for the companies to use such types of ads? What are the different reactions of men and women to this kind of ads ?

The exploitation of women in the media has been part of the advertising industry since its beginning, although the level to which women have been exploited has changed drastically. Advertising is a highly visible and seemingly controversial agent of socialization (Paff, Lakner, 1997). Indeed, it appears everywhere in our lives, on television, on the internet, on busses, in our mailbox, in magazines, and now in the toilets of our favourite restaurants or nightclubs. Jean Kilbourne, one of the best-known advocate of raising awareness about the exploitation of women in advertising, claims that, “we are exposed to over 2000 ads a day, constituting perhaps the most powerful educational force in society”. But the problem is that it often exploits women as sex objects and adornment strips women of their individual identities. Women are viewed as “things”, objects of male sexual desire, and/or part of the merchandise rather than people (Hall, Crum, 1994). Body exposure and frequency of these ads have increased at an alarming rate over time. Fashion photography has incorporated blatantly sexual poses from pornographic publications that include sexual cues, such as closed eyes, open mouth, legs spread to reveal the genial area, and nudity or semi nudity, particularly in the areas of breast and genitals (Crane, 1999). These chest, leg, buttock, and crotch shots increase the stereotypes and images that women are “bodies”, rather than “somebodies” (with personalities) (Hall, Crum, 1994), which ultimately reflects the provocative, exploited images of women in advertising today. Why? Because society is under the impression that “sex still sells” (Schiller, Landler, and Flynn, 1991).

The women seen by the male gaze

Hegemonic masculinity is at the heart the exploitation of women in advertisements (Crane, 1999). Hegemonic masculinity represents a complex socio-political system of meaning generation that upholds and perpetuates dominant ideas from a male perspective and marginalizes any opposing ones, especially the feminist perspective (Crane, 1999). The concept “male gaze” is at the root of hegemonic masculinity. In the realm of advertising, a climate for hegemonic masculinity is created in, for example, Sports Illustrated, using the swimsuit issue to attract and secure a large male audience. Exploited images that express hegemonic masculinity present women in sexualized and demeaning poses, since media images are constructed for the male spectator’s gaze and embody his expectations of women and of male-female relationships. The codes are understood by both sexes and women are conditioned to respond to the ad in a male-directed fashion. As a result of this commodification of feminism, representations of women in advertising continue to privilege the “male gaze” by presenting women as objectified, often disembodied merchandising devices (Torrens, 1998). Through the exploitation of women, advertisers are attempting to persuade females into believing that they too can achieve this look and be subject to the “male gaze” if they consume these products. For instance, feminist scholars have argued that advertisers manipulate women by using idealized female images in advertisements that foster within female viewers a low self-esteem and the belief that the featured product will afford them the appearance or lifestyle that has been idealized in the given advertisement (Paff, Lakner, 1997).

An unapproachable ideal

Advertising exploits women by essentially making them, the women targeted by the ad, feel bad about themselves, because “ideal beauty” is virtually impossible to achieve. Advertisers play a critical role in the diet and cosmetic industry, constantly making women feel inadequate and not good enough for men, which is rooted in the...
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