“How texts such as Ester Boserup’s Woman’s Role

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Last updated: September 28, 2019

“How is gender portrayed in commercialisedmedia?” is the question I will be scrutinising in this essay. Within the essay Iwill discuss the preconceived ideas surrounding gender stereotyping within themedia, how differing from the established stereotypes can be seen as abnormaland how role models can be seen to both reinforce negative gender stereotypesor how they can challenge our preconceived ideas. My main focus for thisdiscussion will be an advert released by Aptamil in 2017, which appears todepict a male child that is destined to become an engineer or rock climber,roles that require a high level of physical strength and intelligence. On theother hand, the female child is only seen to aspire to be a ballerina, a very fastidiousindustry to be successful in.

The slogan “Their future starts today” impliesthat children are taught from a very young age to conform to gender architypesand find it hard to see beyond the box the media has created for them. Through analysingtexts such as Ester Boserup’s Woman’s Role in Economic Development and Gendered(re)visions: Constructions of Gender in Audiovisual Media I will closelyreflect on the extent of the media’s manipulation over gender identity and stereotypingand evaluate the effects it can have on people exposed to day to day advertisements. For centuries it has been widelybelieved by many cultures that women typically remain at home caring forchildren whilst men work and provide for the family through manual labour,leadership or political roles. If perusing a career, females have often beenlimited to jobs that are not particularly physically challenging and mainlypart-time so as to allow for household duties.

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Over time the architypes havebeen challenged by various cultures, however some remain unchanged as thisquote by Ester Boserup highlights.  “In Iceland, for example, almost no one(3.6%) believes that a woman has less right to available jobs than a man,whereas in Egypt, almost everyone believes such as an ineffable truth (94.

9%)” 1.It is obvious that the commercialised media has played a large role insupporting and therefore enforcing these preconceived ideas by targeting eachgender with specialised products. A good example of this lies within electricaltool company, Black and Decker’s product advertisements.

The hand-held steamcleaner is targeted towards women and the advert shows a woman in a maternalrole, using the product to clean the house. Whereas, the power tool advertshows a father in a workshop, constructing a go cart for his son. (Black andDecker http://www.blackanddecker.co.uk/) This links directly back to the preconceived idea of men performing manuallabour and women taking care of children and carrying out household chores,even in leisure time. Thus, suggesting that women find enjoyment in carryingout household tasks.  The Advertising StandardsAgency is to ban adverts display harmful gender stereotypes for beingmisleading, however the evidence to ban adverts depicting women carrying outhousehold duties and men doing DIY is insufficient.

2The Aptamil advert supports thewidely established trend of using colour to identify gender. Pink for girls,blue for boys. In Western cultures pink symbolises tenderness, romance andfemininity, whereas blue represents stability, confidence and intelligence.These traits go hand in hand with the methods of branding used in commercialmedia, particularly for babies and young children. However, as highlighted inan article in The New York Times, the preference for each colour is notintrinsic and is in fact learned. “Girls’preference for pink is learned, not innate; cognitive research suggests thatall babies actually prefer blue. … It was around the age of two that girlsbegan to select the pink toy more often than the blue one; at two and a half,the preference for pink became even more pronounced. Boys developed an aversionto the pink toy along the same timeline”.

3 This suggests thatexposure to the media in everyday life as a child is growing has a largesubliminal effect on a child’s choice of colour. The commercial media has taken advantage of the fact that childrenfind their identity through these colours to make products more personal inorder to increase sales as they are targeting an impressible, young audience. “By the 1960s, marketing teams of children’sapparel and toys were largely responsible for the trend of gender-specificcolours. The more specialised a product was, the higher the premium it coulddemand over its competition”.4 When using colours foradvertising, cheerful and bright colours are used for younger children, with pastelpalettes representing babies. Due to this, it can be argued that it isincreasingly difficult to decide on colours to use that don’t connote the ideaof femininity or masculinity.

When analysing media coverage of gender,it is important to take in to account the question: What defines gender? Thelines are often blurred between the meanings of terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. While’sex’ is a term based on the genitals a person has, ‘gender’ refers to thesocial and political aspects of this topic. Gender Spectrum website outlines the”complex interrelationship between threedimensions” that the term ‘gender’ is comprised of.5 It is howother people socialise with us due to our body and how we feel in our own body,how we psychologically identify as male, female or other and how we expressourselves to society. The intention of the Aptamil advert is to show how it’s productwill give a child the best possible start in life to allow them to expressthemselves, through their identity and life aspirations. In the past, differing from genderroles or going against established identities was seen as abnormal, however, theidea of pushing boundaries has become more normal in recent years with thenumber of established and socially accepted normal genders increasing.

Therehas also been a rise in the amount of people who believe they are gender fluid,a concept that involves the person switching between genders based on how theyfeel on a day to day basis. This creates an issue when it comes to clothing asfashion brands tend to stick to the basic misconception that there is only maleand female. It is a risky business move for large companies to differ from thetried and tested advertising formats, however some big companies are beginningto push forward modern attitudes. For example, in 2015, US company, Target changedits ethics to remove gender specific labelling and remove stereotypical coloursfrom its stores and went on to release a gender-neutral clothing line 2017. Itwas observed in Gendered (re)visions: Constructions of Gender in AudiovisualMedia that “Today one can observe atendency towards representing and ‘normalizing’ a wide range of identities andlife styles”.6 This supports the idea of the growing number ofaccepted genders within society, and further enforces how boundaries are beingpushed for society to become less gender discriminative. We can also see thistrend within the workplace, as there is less stigma around women performing jobroles previously typical to men and men undertaking roles previously targetingat women.

This supports why the Aptamil advert negatively portrays genderroles.Also present within the Aptamiladvert is the idea that its visually portrayed beliefs conform to the sociallyaccepted norms. In the past conformity has lead to a suppression of identitythrough the social belief that people should conform to the predeterminedgender stereotypes. Commercialised media has played a large role in this, as astudy featured on tes.com has discovered “Secondaryaged respondents said that they were most commonly confronted by genderstereotypes on social media. Others said they came across them on TV, in film,and in magazines and newspapers.” 7 As all of these platformsheavily feature advertisements, this further enforces the idea that companiesmanipulate commercial media, to introduce a level of social brainwashing at anage when the audience is already looking at role models to help find their ownidentity. Through this, companies are able to effectively manipulate socialviewpoints through the typical representations of girls as ballerinas, and boysas firemen or engineers.

However, social media allows free expression foranyone and many people use this to find role models they can relate to. Forexample, male makeup artists and female bodybuilders. Throughout daytime television,adverts are predominantly targeted at stay at home mothers, with the intention tosell products relevant to their maternal roles. Products such as Aptamil Milkare broadcasted, as this is when they’ll be able to reach the largest amount oftheir demographic. This however can be seen as an indicator of the extent inwhich gender stereotypes have influenced the number of stay at home mothers.This is further exemplified through the heavy featuring of female housewiveswithin the adverts shown, such as cleaning products, furniture and householdappliances and childcare products. Despite being the receivers of thesedeceptive adverts, they are also unavoidably part of the problem through basicconsumerism.

This, in effect, means that they are passively supporting theviews and portrayals shown, through the steady level of viewer figures. At the Cannes lions film festival in 2016, Unilever,along with other larger and influential companies such as Microsoft, Twitter,and Johnson & Johnson formed the ‘Unstereotype Alliance’, with the aim ofeliminating stereotyped adverts until they “neversee an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women in society” 8.This is a clear example of how larger companies are trying to band together tocurb the amount of gender discriminative adverts. It is especially interestingto see Johnson & Johnson supporting this movement, as they target the samedemographic, with similar products as Aptamil. This connotes the hope thatsmaller companies will realise that they’re potentially broadcasting out ofdate views within their advertising, and incite them to alter their marketingstrategies to support the rise in gender identity.Another issue that arises with theidea of gender representation, is that of the influence of role models. Thisresults in a long-term issue being created as, with families, the problematic ideologiescould be passed down through generations, as a child would aspire to be likehis parents, and so forth.

If a parent had a job that was based on a genderspecified stereotype, such as a parent being a builder, the child would likely wantto follow in the parent’s footsteps.  Gender representation in commercialisedmedia is a concept that can invoke strong responses from the public. Throughthis, socially accepted norms are challenged and subsequently, viewpointschanged. What it means to be of a certain gender is a strong talking point thatoutlines the extent of gender representation within the media, and how itsinfluence can mislead, and often pressure people into conforming to how thewider public portrays their particular gender. The idea of abnormality is alsobecoming less of a concern, due to the consistent rise in number of sociallyaccepted identities.

The Aptamil advert can be seen as a strong example ofutilising stereotypes to portray a preconceived, and essentially biasedstereotype that, in turn, manipulates the minds of the general public to stronglyenforce the socially accepted ideas of what it means to be of a certain gender.Can adverts such as these be seen as repressing one’s ability to have their ownunique identity, or do they provide inspiration to further break boundaries andestablish more open and less restrictive social norms?

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