Gender Stereotypes in Advertising and the Media

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According to Surviving for Thriving, a nonprofit organization that helps victims of rape and sexual assault, one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes. This means that a total of 17.7 million women have been victims of these crimes. While these numbers may or may not come as a shock to you, the real surprise is where they start (Surviving to Thriving, 2008). Due to rapid advances in technology and the effects of globalization we have facilitated the emergence of a media saturated world. While the media’s consistent presence has provided us with countless advantages, many negatives have also emerged. One such issue is our perception of women and men in the public eye. Because popular consumer culture is both producer and product of social inequality, we have unknowingly allowed advertising imagery to construct negative and perpetuate stereotypes of gender. Today’s advertising is inundated with the dehumanization, infantilization, sexualization, and animalization of both men and women. The gender stereotypes constructed in advertising and the media threaten society because they cause an irrevocable inequality between men and women. Standing before you today, I will discuss several types of gender stereotypes and the consequences of their perpetuation. Furthermore, I will be analyzing the situation from a conflict and interactionist theoretical perspective as well as discussing the historical roots of gender inequality in order to demonstrate how society is undermined by gender stereotypes. When dealing with social problems, it is typically helpful to examine the issue within a theoretical framework. In doing so, we can draw upon the patterns set by other similar issues and examine the advantages and disadvantages to the various approaches. The first theoretical perspective I propose is the conflict perspective, most commonly associated with Marxist ideals. The conflict perspective “emphasizes the role of coercion and power, a person's or group's ability to exercise influence and control over others, in producing social order” (Parpart, Connelly, & Barriteua, 2000). Much like Marxist ideas, the conflict perspective relies heavily on the idea that people compete against each other for scarce resources. The competition for these resources implies the natural emergence of constant inequality. In other words, men and women are expected to compete for limited amounts of power. However, this fight, as we will soon see, is fixed in favor of men, due to pre-existing social inequalities. Advertising and the media have taken this ongoing power struggle to create a consumer-oriented mindset that perpetuates these stereotypes. For the most part, men are often depicted as successful breadwinners, business-type individuals, superior, powerful, aggressive and strong leaders of society whereas women are often portrayed as vulnerable, emotional, child-rearing housekeepers and needy inferiors. In light of the persisting power struggle, these stereotypes are advantageous to men and provide them with the support needed in their endeavor to achieve power. Women; however, are essentially told that they are out of their league, so to speak. The second theoretical model is the interactionist perspective which “takes the position that it is people who exist and act…and that “society is always in a process of being created…[and that it] occurs through communication” (Parpart, Connelly, & Barriteua, 2000). Essentially, the interactionist perspective examines how society occurs as a result of interaction between individuals and groups. Proponents of the interactionist perspective would argue that women and men internalize the stereotypes depicted in the media (Parpart, Connelly, & Barriteua, 2000). As a result, men and women act in accordance with these stereotypes thus allowing them to be...
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