A Critical Analysis of Feminist Theories Concerning the Representation of Women in Advertising.

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A Critical Analysis of Feminist Theories Concerning the Representation of Women in Advertising.

There are many forms of feminisms which often contradict each other and focus their efforts on issues which reflect their local concerns (Skeggs, 2004). Zoonen (1994) states that there are at least two notable themes which reoccur within feminist media theory, these are stereotypes and gender socialisation, and ideology. These issues will be addressed with reference to several feminist theories to determine how women are represented in advertising. Pornography is considered by some to be a third theme which is a growing area of research for theorists (Zoonen, 1994:15.) Some believe that these themes ‘belong’ to particular strands of feminism respectively liberal, radical and socialist feminism (Zoonen, 1994:15.) The classifications of political and theoretical strands work to differentiate the gamut of feminisms, Liberal feminism is largely attributed to political strategy concerns in the United States and has not incited as much theoretical analysis as the social and radical strands which are associated with Europe (Zoonen, 1994:13) Whilst these strands have identified clear differences between feminisms they are now of less importance as each strand overlaps the other and encompasses a diverse range of positions (Eisenstein, 1981). Throughout its history feminism has experienced a great deal of change both in the results of its actions and within its institution. The academic sphere first acknowledged feminism in the early 1970s when the collective effort of women to attain a more active role in public and academic matters was recognised (Byerly & Ross, 2006:1.) The first wave of feminism pre dates this and is characterised by the suffragette movement where women fought for their right to vote. Second wave feminism focused on political structures and the oppression of women, it sought change in legislation and industry for equal rights. Third wave feminism was realised in the 1990s which, instead of opposing ideas brought forward in second wave feminism, built on existing movements and ideals, ‘second and third waves of feminism are neither incompatible nor opposed’ (Heywood & Drake, 1997). With such a broad spectrum of alternative theories, purposes and strands of identity it is difficult to summarise the meaning of feminism. Amongst the many attempts to define the word, Caroline Ramazanoglu’s provides one of the most encompassing statements describing feminism as, ‘various social theories which explain the relations between the sexes in society, and differences between women’s and men’s experiences’, theories ‘which are also a political practice’ (1989:8) The aim to achieve equality in all aspects of women’s citizenship is a quality of feminism which is recognised almost unanimously. Feminist theorists such as Judith Butler highlight the importance of gender in society and believe that whatever your argument may be, consideration to gender must be given as it is key to the way society works (Zoonen, 1994:484). Her notions of sex and gender as socially malleable, a fluid variable which is subject to change has been revered by many and is often referred to in discussions of stereotypes and gender socialisation in advertising. As a vehicle for influencing social change and reflecting societies position on gender identities, mass media and in particular advertising, for its persuasive nature, are important areas of analysis for Butlers theories. Butler describes gender as a performance where the act constitutes the reality, ‘…performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its results.' (2006:25). She believes that our gendered identities are not a conscious choice but are socially constructed and formed by the performances of ourselves and others towards us, developed within a society where heterosexual hegemony is dominant. In a hetro-dominant world where traditional gender roles are enacted...
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