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The Impact of Gender Stereotypes in Commercial Advertisements on Family Dynamics

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Date added: 19-02-15


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As each one of us enter this world, society likes to begin stamping gender roles on us the second we are removed from our mother's womb. Baby boys are swaddled into blue blankets and baby girls in pink respectively. As we grow, more gender stereotypes of how we are supposed to act are ingrained into our subconscious. For example, little boys are told not to cry or show any emotion, while little girls are expected to be submissive and feminine. Our parents are the first persons we see and therefore whom we model ourselves after. It has been suggested that the media plays a powerful role in how we live, think, and behave. It could also be said that the media perpetuates gender stereotypes in how males and females are supposed to act regarding the typical family dynamic, or the “nuclear family.” There is always a father who is tall, handsome, and masculine, as well as a beautiful, slender, attractive mother and their two young children.

History of Commercial Advertisement

Advertising has greatly evolved from the printing press, to the commercials seen during the streaming of our favorite Hulu series. While sometimes being an annoyance to many, television commercials were the highlight of television with their comedic skits and catchy jingles. About thirteen years after the television was invented, the first legal commercial advertisement aired in 1941 before the Brooklyn Dodger's baseball game, lasting only 9 seconds (Luckin, 2013). This began the start of something new for advertising. Businesses now had the luxury of expanding their market by using commercials to advertise goods and services.

Around this time, the middle to late twentieth century, the United States was recovering from World War II and the Cold War. Service men were finally returning home and settling down, initiating the baby boomer period. This influenced the advertisers to sell the American Dream, a significant theme in many television commercials advertisements. Producers addressed the needs of consumers. One must consider that advertisers plan out the entirety of commercials. The actors, the script and the setting have all been chosen by someone who believes what will be showcased will grab the attention of viewers, in efforts to persuade them to buy the product.

Television in the twentieth century is not currently what is seen. Vintage commercials from the 1940’s to 1950’s were displayed in black and white. Looking at various commercials for Folgers, the actors are mostly white males and females aging from their late twenty’s to early forty’s, lacking in diversity. Majority of these advertisements all have similar storylines: a wife doing household chores or showing a husband going off to work. Commercial advertising in this time period is mostly selling household products, food and other domestic goods, alluding excellent cooking or cleaning to being an excellent housewife. Women are often presented as a product in a domestic environment or associated with a domestic product. One could infer that this theme presents itself as a type patriotism, perpetuating the idea that woman are serving the nation by serving their husbands. There is an unequal role of portrayal of women and men, conforming to common gender stereotypes. The portrayal of men and women in these classic commercials create “belief systems [that] create normative expectations and influence individuals’ perceptions of both themselves and others” (Fowler & Thomas, 2015).

Minorities in Advertisements

It has been suggested that representation in the media helps provide a positive image that affects the attitudes and perceptions of society. For minorities, it seems as though representation of Black or Latino families in television commercials has increased within the last several years. Most, if not all other minorities, are completely missing on television except for stereotypical roles. For example, African American men are often portrayed in stereotypical roles which include service providers and athletes, while Asian American men are typecasts in roles concerning technology or business positions.

Although audiences may see positive racial representations, such as African American athletes, or successful Asian American business men, many viewers are unaware of the racial stereotype that is hiding behind such advertisements. These ads suggest that black men are only skilled in physical jobs because they the lack intellect required for business, where Asian American men are only skilled in educational positions because they lack physical coordination for sports. It is due to these types of commercials that stereotypes continue to remain a part of the commercial advertising industry today (Christine M. Rubie-Davies, 2013).

Another reason that many minorities are virtually invisible in commercial advertisements is due largely to the gender stereotypes attached to their race. It has been suggested that, due to numerus reasons, racial minorities have been ignored in commercial advertising mainly because of stereotypes about certain stereotypes. According to a study done on magazines ads, both black men and Asian American women are always disproportionally represented in magazine ads versus television commercials. Some racial groups are viewed by society as more masculine whereas other groups are viewed as more feminine (Lay, 2017).

The black community has been sadly underrepresented in the advertising industry leading many to believe that the black consumer’s opinion is not valued in today’s advertising market. A recent study concluded that less than six percent of advertising managers are black. (Franklin, 2014) In addition, gay and lesbians have attracted little interest from the advertising market as well. Studies have shown that gay and lesbian consumers are more attracted to commercial advertisements that positively represent other homosexual couples over heterosexual couples. Another study had shown that heterosexual audiences are more positively attracted to ads that show lesbian couples than ads that show gay couples (Oakenfull, 2007).

Gender stereotypes in advertising are still common in many countries around the world. It has been suggested that consumer’s attitudes toward gender stereotyping in commercial may not be taken as seriously as many may think. Unfair portrayals of women in advertising has long been the discussion of many feminist groups, but many think that the unfair depiction of men is necessary to fully understand where these stereotypes come from (Zoto, 2016).

Gender Stereotypes in Advertisement

It has been found that for the past 50 years stereotyping in advertisements is typical, it is especially typical for genders to be stereotyped. Over time, the obviousness of these stereotypes has decreased, but they are still occurring in countries all over the world. There has also been an increase in understanding how to use social media to better reach specific demographics (Huhmann,2016). Research has shown patterns in types of stereotypes. Studies have shown that women are typically places in homemaker roles and seen in fewer professional roles. There is also an emphasis on women’s appearance when compared to males. Male figures are often shown as leader and breadwinners in the house hold. Studies have found, however, that there is a change happening where genders are becoming more equal over time, as women are seen in positions of power and men are shown as softer characters (Grau, 2016).

The type of channel also plays a large role in the amount of stereotyping that occurs. A study found that both private channels as well as public channels included gender stereotyping, however they two varied somewhat in type. For both it was found that women were shown to be younger and portrayed in home/reliant roles. Whereas men were shown to be in the work place or as independent characters. It was also found that location and occupation-based stereotypes were more prevalent on public channels, and physical characteristics and behavior were more common on private channels (Grau, 2016).

The use of social media has become an advantage as well as a disadvantage for advertisement industries. Using these internet-based platforms it is much easier to reach a target audience, however it is also easy to share said advertisement with the wrong audience. This can cause certain groups being offended or misinterpreting a product. For example, an ad may try to reach a young audience by using a popular rap song, but this same ad could be taken offensively by an older generation. These specific demographics may also cause variations of how much stereotyping is shown in each one (Huhmann, 2016)

The role media production plays in society is varied greatly. There are two theories when it comes to explaining advertising strategy’s and the use of stereotypes. The first is the ‘Mirror’ point of view in which advertisements are simply showing society as it is. They project what they see society to be, without adjusting the roles. A study done on Chinese advertisements support this point of view. It was found in the Chinese ads, men and women were equal, and not many stereotypes were prevalent, as seen in their actual culture. The second point of view is the ‘Model’, this one suggests that society is shaped by the advertisements around it. It is also argued that rather than these being two separate items, that they are on one continuum. This resulting in the continuation of stereotypes in society (Grau, 2016).

Advertising companies will use different methods of targeting specific audiences. This is especially true when targeting women. It was found that women make up most consumers, so it would make sense that companies pay special attention to how female react to advertisement. We see this in common in digital advertisements as well as physical displays in shopping malls. When it comes to displaying products companies will place promotions in a way that will influence women to buy more. For example, advertising professionals will place children’s clothes close to the women’s section, because most women will buy for their family primarily (Shkurkin, et al. 2017).

A research article categorized women into 5 groups to explain some of the characteristics advertising professionals look out for. First is the ‘rich and beautiful’, this group is often young 18-25 with high level education, no job, and above average income. This group typically has wealthy providers which could be a husband/boyfriend or parental figure. Priorities here are the desire to appear wealthy and live lavishly, family is not seen to be important in this category. Next is the ‘Dray-horse’, this group is aged over 27 years old and makes average to below average income. In this group dreams are relatively small and achievable (for example go on a vacation, spend time with family, raise well-mannered children). Women’s role in this category is to have a small job and primarily take care of the family. Next, we see the ‘modern and business-minded woman’, this group of 25-40-year-old women are feminist minded, make average income, and are typically childless and single. Their goals are to gain higher positions in their job, and they have little to no time to shop. Fourth we see the ‘Intellectuals’, in this group women are aged over 20 years old. These women are typically married with children, and have jobs in teaching, engineering, and economics. Family is not a major focus, but the search for inner and outer harmony is a large priority. Lastly, we see the ‘Student’ category. This groups of 16-30 years old women often don’t have money to shop regularly but see malls as a place to hang out. Their ideals are to appear cool and unique but feel the desire to purchase expensive things. Using these categories adverting professionals target each demographic (Shkurkin, et al. 2017).

Women’s stereotyping in advertising is often researched, but one that is sometimes forgotten is the impact of advertising on male gender roles. Males in advertising are usually depicted as non-feminine, heterosexual, and dominant. Their associations to family roles are shown as the breadwinner, moral guide, or a role model. It is rare to see a male being depicted as a child care giver or a stay at home character. These methods of advertising are based on the types of feedback advertising companies receive. Studies have found that more conservative demographics give most positive feedback to the ideology of women stays at home to do house duties and the male goes to work. Some traditionalists are accepting of an egalitarian relationship where couples work equally (Baxter, 2016.)

A study in which traditionalists and less-traditionalists were shown two ads in which a child was being taken care of by a woman, and the other was a child being taken care of by a male. The researchers record the feedback in which this ad received, and it was found that most were accepting of both ads, but more traditionalist preferred the female version. It also showed that some participants didn’t see the male as the primary care giver, with comments suggesting that the father was giving the mother a break for a while. Others acknowledged the change in society and how fathers were shown in more feminine positions. This information shows some of the acceptances being made currently, but also highlights the still existing male gender stereotypes (Baxter, 2016.)

Stereotypes based upon appearance also play a role in the way advertisements work. It is often found that beauty is associated with a positive life and or benefits in life. It was found the recognition of this concept starts as young as the age of 7 years old, at this stage of brain development children have higher levels of cognitive thought in which they can identify attractiveness and social associations of this. And at the age of 8 they can start to communicate a response towards these commercials (Vermeir & Sompel, 2014).

We see the concept of ‘beauty = happiness’ is shown in commercials, by using bright colors with high contrast as well as using attractive models. This concept is not implemented by advertisers alone but shown in any form of entertainment targeted towards children. For example, Disney movies often portray their hero using attractive characters or actors (Vermeir & Sompel, 2014).

A study shows that when children were shown 2 Wii commercials using ‘attractive’ models as well as ‘moderately attractive’ models the participants aged 8 years old associated the more attractive ones more positively. These participants describe the characters as ‘kind’ and ‘having more friends’. The same study was shown to 11-year-olds, but the results showed less bias for the attractive models. This is predicted to have occurred due to the high cognitive development and ability to better analyze the commercials (Vermeir & Sompel, 2014).

While a higher cognitive development can help people show less bias, commercials themselves can distract people and cause a cognitive interference. The effects of cognitive interference that are generated by such distractions extend well beyond the domain of judgment tasks (Miarmi & DeBono 2007). This distraction cause people to use stereotypes present to help judge and understand their surroundings.

“One advantage of a stereotype is that it enables us to respond rapidly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before.” When thought upon in terms of advertisement where information is presented and taken away at a rapid pace would explain why “communal female advertising characters are still being evaluated more favorably than agentic ones” (INFANGER, BOSAK, & SCZESNY 2012). This is important as what is more favorable will be what is advertised in the future and what is advertised in the future will be what stereotypes are continued to future generations.

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