Women and Representation in the Media

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Today, modern society is exposed to a vast amount of media; it’s inescapable. People may not even realize how often simple advertising appears in their daily routine and, as a result, takes root in their minds. It’s quick. It’s effective. It’s subconscious, and it’s everywhere. The average North American is exposed to 3,000 ads per day (Media Awareness Network, 2010). The question may be, however, how are these ads truly affecting society? Surely people can make up their own minds as to how they feel and think towards media. The truth is, eventually the concepts portrayed within advertising create ideologies, which can alter peoples’ perception of things like beauty, class, value, and much more. Stuart Hall defines ideologies as, “those images, concepts and premises which provide the frameworks through which we represent, interpret, understand and ‘make sense’ of some aspect of social existence” (1981). Hall supports that ideologies contain three main ideas; that they are a chain of meanings not separate from concepts, that they formulate our intentions within ideology and not individual consciousness, and that these identifiers allow people to relate to themselves (Hall, 1981). Media is complex. On the surface of an advertisement, ideologies like sexuality may be portrayed through visual simplicity, taking advantage of “pleasing” ideals. However, beneath the surface, there are other ideologies, including objectification and control that can be analyzed to help understand the true effects of advertising media. Through the example of a Gucci advertisement, this paper will provide an analysis for how modern media, presented in North America, supports hierarchies of gender through representations of power and beauty, and perpetuates modern ideologies of sexuality, objectification, and control through the use of gender, race, and body language.

Scott Addis reflects in his article that people form their first impression of others within the first 30 seconds of meeting them (2008). If a living, speaking individual can make such a significant impression at that first meeting, how are simple print advertisements so impressionable when their only method of voice is through visual means? Luxury brands, such as Gucci, are among some of the greatest offenders at using visual sexuality in the media. This can be analyzed through the advertisement presented in this paper. Intersectionality plays an important role in how the ad may be interpreted. Valentine acknowledges that, “it is not possible to separate out the categories of gender, race, class, and sexuality, nor to explain inequalities through a single framework” (2007). In this Gucci advertisement, the man is displayed as a white, heterosexual, physically appealing and able-bodied being. The woman is also presented as not only heterosexual and able-bodied, but with North American ideological qualities of physical beauty, petite build, and although she is of colour, her facial features are Caucasian and the tone of her skin appears more tan-like than of racial difference. Gucci uses the combination of these physical attributes to portray their brand as high-class. All of these different social messages can be experienced together, subconsciously, simply by viewing the advertisement. Railton, through an analyses of modern music videos, dissects the presentation of females and their sexuality, and notes that quite often, clothing present “not the exterior body, the flesh of the body, but rather its interior, the architecture of the body” (2006). Gucci’s advertisement, presents the woman as sexually attractive, but also as seductive through the architecture of her body. Large portions of skin are exposed while the shape and clinging structure of her dress hugs and displays her curves. A comparison can be made between this Gucci advertisement and Railton’s analysis of Beyonce’s “Baby Boy” music video. Railton refers to the representation of the woman of darker skin colour as...
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