Third Wave Feminism and Advertising

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In this essay, I intend to analyse the language and images of two magazine advertisements that use a woman to sell a product. With a view of third-wave feminism and micro politics, I will ascertain if there is a politic present in the delivery of the message.

Third wave feminists strive to raise consciousness about gender equality within society, especially the workplace. They also rebel against the generalised image perceived by society of how a woman should be, namely: feminine, submissive, weak, passive, intuitive and emotional. This is contrasting to what men are generally perceived to be, namely: masculine, dominant, strong, aggressive, intelligent, rational and active. Feminists also rival the ideas of what woman should be interested in (Macdonald 2006). Feminists today criticise the previous generation of feminists, namely the second wave, of not fulfilling their goals. Third wave feminists have also been criticised because they do not have a common aim very different to that of the second wave feminists, some have called third wave feminism ‘second wave, part two.’ (Burr 2007).

Magazine advertisements like all other forms of printed media reach millions of people daily and are considered to be very successful. They have a longer life, i.e. they can be kept for an undecided amount of time, because they are more tangible than other forms of advertising - like outdoor, television and radio advertising. They can also be used as reference in future conversations (Kang 1997).

The advertisements I chose, advertise products that are bought and used by both women and men. They were taken from Glamour magazine (April 2007). Glamour is a women’s lifestyle magazine focusing on fashion, beauty and romance but also has articles on career and life. The target market for the magazine is young working women aged between 18 and 30. “Women's Magazines Send Us a Strange, Confusing Message” Sandra Porteous from The Daily News once stated. Although it was intended for the variety of contradicting articles in women’s magazines, it could also be applicable to the advertisements placed in these magazines. Paging through a magazine targeted at women, one could notice the contradicting perceptions of idyllic women that are being communicated by advertisers. A study done by Rob Roberts, also from The Daily News, shows that advertisements for the same products are portrayed differently, according to the target audience, in other words, whether male or female. From an advertising point of view, this seems obvious, but this might be what Third wave feminists are apposing.

The first advertisement (Image 1) I chose to analyse is for the men and women fashion label, ‘Guess’. The model is wearing a leopard print scarf and gloves, gold jewellery and belt, as well as a cropped halter neck denim corset and jeans. The clothing and accessories are all presumably Guess products as no other products are presented. She is lying on a zebra print background, her pose is provocative, her make up is heavily done and her facial expression is seductive. The different elements chosen could portray value, exotic, luxury and wealth. The model herself portrays an idyllic lifestyle that one might have if one uses the product. This appeals to women who desire this particular lifestyle and personal image. Third wave feminism challenges this ideal, as it is a definition of femininity. The angle that the photographer chose to take the photograph could suggest the submissiveness that is generally associated with females. Stereotypically, women are the weaker sex and are rarely seen in advertisements portraying dominant roles. This advertisement could also tell the reader that in order to be as successful as the model, one needs to be less dominant, more feminine. Because this advertisement was placed in a women’s magazine, one can safely assume that the product advertised is women’s clothing. They way the image is cropped shows the viewer more of the model...
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