While Jada Pinkett Smith was talking about a girl in a horror movie, I feel this quote is applicable to the portrayal of women in the media, specifically advertisements. Julia Wood (2005) states in Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, & Culture that “media present us with images of what women and men are and should be … both sexes are portrayed primarily in stereotypical ways that reflect and reproduce conventional views of gender (p. 266). The first thing that may come to mind when thinking of advertisements with stereotypical gender norms, we may remember the Old Spice parody commercials.
Yes, we all laughed at the randomness and the comical nature of these commercials but, think about it, why? Because while it may seem inane and frankly, dumb, these are the typical gender norms we hold in high esteem in our culture. Men are stereotypically seen as “hard, tough … sexually aggressive … [and] violent” (p. 267). Women are typically shown “shopping, grooming, being emotional, and engaging in domestic activities,” but the most traditional stereotype is “women as sex objects, and that continues to dominate media” (p. 269).
In our world today there is a very commonly accepted phrase: sex sells. Is this phrase becoming too common and to accepted? Almost all the ad campaigns, it seems, has a sex angle to it. From high fashion to food, to cologne to (even) People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), even if it is not blatantly thrown in your face, there is at least a hint of sex. For example, here is an American Apparel advertisement for their 2011-2012 Fall/Winter line:
Now, both this man and woman have all their clothes on, but the woman is still sexualized because of the context of her position: on her back, legs spread, and a man over top of her. These highly “sexualized portrayals of women have let some media commentators to refer to the pornification of mainstream media” (Woods, 2005, p. 270). But by the “pornification” of our culture’s “mainstream media”, we are also condoning, though obliviously, another, more prevalent issue: sexual abuse and assault.
As countless others, like Dr. Naomi, have said, we need to stop portraying men in an aggressive way and women as merely the victims in media. If we continue to show men and women in this light we encourage “a rape-prone society,” as Nancy Scwartzman stated in her documentary, The Line. If our culture shows that it is okay, in an advertisement, for a man to overpower a women because “it’s sexy” and “sex sells” then what are we telling men who actually overpower women or other men? We’re telling them that it is okay and acceptable, when that is not the case. It is never okay for another human being to take something from another that is not theirs. Abuse and assault is never okay, nor is it right, so why are we putting it in our media?
Why are we portraying women as sexual objects? Why are the majority of men in advertisements in a domineering position? Why are women depicted as helpless victims? If “media present us with images of what women and men are and should be,” we are absent-mindedly condoning violence against women (p. 266). We need to hold these companies responsible for these ads, while not purposefully condoning violence against women; I’d really like to know what Dolce & Gabbana were trying to portray with their advertisement above. If we, as a whole society, want to stop violence against men and women, we need to start with the little things. I propose one of these steps is taking the sexualization of women OUT of our advertisements.
Craven, W. (Director& Producer). (1997). Scream 2 [Film]. Hollywood: Craven-Maddalena Films
Scwartzmann, N. (Director& Producer). (2009). The Line [Documentary]. Northhampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.
Wood, J. T. (2005). Gender lives: Communication, gender, & culture. Belmont, California: Holly J. Allen