When a female skims through a magazine –Vogue, Cosmopolitan, or Fitness Magazine – she does not merely consume the words contained inside of it. In order to reach the articles within the magazine, she must pass a multitude of advertisements; advertisements that make up about three-quarters of the magazine and absorb the many different commodities she is being sold. More over, on a connotative level, women are being sold ideas on how to act, react, feel, perform, and think. It is through these advertisements that women absorb and internalize what is considered normative social behavior. The ideologies produced by advertisements have become so engrained in our society that the advertisements, as well as their ideologies, are considered necessity. If these magazines want to survive in the age of the internet, they must continue to sell space to advertisers so they can continue to compete in a capitalist economy. This competition leads to a holdfast on the pejorative way in which women are represented in media, thus continuing the idea that women are objects to be possessed.
In order to examine the connotations that advertisements present, I have chosen a Prada advertisement from a recent issue of Vogue. In the image, the signifier, a young woman in her twenties holds a large red purse and wears a black and white, checkered dress. The model looks disheveled, her dress open and off the shoulder, as if she were just in bed with someone. The submissive and despondent face she makes gives the impression that this hypothetical sexual experience she had just prior to the picture being taken, was not necessarily consensual. The use of submission in this photo is clear, showing the female in a powerless, yet “come and get it”
position. The nature of this image illustrates the ideology of rape culture; the idea that being sexually assaulted and submissive to the assaulter is acceptable. In Killing Us Softly, Jean Kilbourne explains how this objectification of women “creates a climate in which there is widespread violence against women...the violence, the abuse, is partly the chilling result of this kind of objectification...when you have this kind of definition of femininity- the passive submissive definition- inevitably, of course, this leads to violence.” Rape is not about the sex itself, but rather the control over women’s lives and ambitions. The advertisements in these magazines present that very same sentiment. The eroticism of violence has become widely accepted in advertisements, thus furthering this ideology as normal. Although the model’s hair appears disheveled, looking as though it was just pulled and twisted about, the model’s make-up remains pristine and angelic. The dress the model wears is not normally seen on a woman of her age. It is adorned with frills, lace, and buttons, materials more commonly associated with the dresses of baby dolls and little girl’s dance recital outfits. This brings about the contradictory idea that women are to be sexualized and virginal all at the same time. A culture in which women are portrayed as virgins until marriage is a rape culture. Within this culture, a woman’s role is to bare children and until that duty, she must protect her purity. If she does not, she is up for grabs.
In John Berger’s “Way of Seeing”, Berger explains how women are born into a position of the keeping of men and thus women must be continually accompanied by the way she presents herself to the world. He states, “[a woman] has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.” When the media
presents society with a rule book on how a woman should act and think, it becomes even more difficult for women to be individuals because there is the fear of being outcast and shamed by society. It seems as though the only choice that women are given, in order to maintain any sort of power in their life, is to conform to these arbitrary behaviors set forth by the media. On a connotative level, the signified means that the woman in the ad is desired by the male surveyor, because it appears that she has just been with this surveyor. If I were to wear this dress and sport this purse, I too would gain the affection of this off camera male surveyor. Since the Prada advertisement presents the idea that women must be submissive to be found attractive, the power that women attempt to cultivate with this submission is ultimately eliminated. It seems impossible to overcome this ideology of rape culture with so many advertisements presenting a consistently degrading signifier. This process of power over others, over the readers of the magazines, must be viewed as a means of violating others, a form of rape itself. It is important that these representations of women continue to be analyzed and critiqued so they do not become further woven into the fabric of our society.