Case Study About the Social Construction of Gender

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 This essay will explain and analyze the contribution of two fashion advertisements to the social construction of binary gender norms, (the traits associated with different genders created by society). They are one Calvin Klein advert and one Dolce and Gabbana advert, found in an article entitled ‘15 Recent Ads that Glorify Sexual Violence Against Women’ (Green, 2019), and they will be analyzed due to their depiction of the male gender as strong and powerful, and the female gender as passive and subordinate. These advertisements are also related to broader structures of intersectional gender inequality, due to the social and harmful effects, they could have on their viewers.

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Firstly, it is necessary to describe the Dolce and Gabbana and Calvin Klein advertisements, which depict and glamorize scenes of gang rape, to analyze how they contribute to the social construction of binary gender norms. The Dolce and Gabbana advert present multiple male figures and a singular female figure, and there is a clear distinction in the balance of power, as the male models are physically strong, and are dominantly standing over the female model, who in contrast is being forced to lie down by one of the men. Furthermore, both the male and female models are sexualized, as most of the male models are topless, or are wearing open shirts, to effectively present their physical power, while the female model is simply wearing a swimsuit and high heels, presenting her as the perfect feminine figure. It is also important to note that the men in the advert are being sexualized, but as the aggressors, while the woman is also being sexualized, but contrastingly, as the passive victim. In addition, though all the models are relatively emotionless, the woman is the only one who has her mouth seductively half-open and has on a blank, thoughtless gaze, while the man holding her down is staring straight at her, demonstrating the contrast with the powerful, active male figure, and the motionless, passive female figure. Similarly, the Calvin Klein advertisement has multiple male figures and a singular female figure, and depicts them as emotionless, while also explicitly sexualizing them. The men are mostly shirtless, and the woman is only wearing a top that has risen to her chest. Additionally, the woman is being held down, like in the Dolce and Gabbana advert, but contrastingly, it is two men who are holding her down, highlighting the complete powerlessness of the woman and the extreme control of the men. Furthermore, the woman is seen to have a completely blank expression, while the two men holding her down are staring directly at her, again demonstrating the depiction of male figures as active, and female figures as completely passive and subordinate. Therefore, the description of these two advertisements demonstrates the overt sexualization and victimization of women present in them, as well as the controlling power of the men.

Correspondingly, these two adverts, which are meant to be advertising jeans for both brands, are contributing to the social construction of binary gender norms. The male figures are presented as men that have achieved the peak of their masculinity-they are physically strong, powerful, and are successfully taking control over a woman and her body-while the female figures are simply there to highlight the power of the men, and they are significantly passive-a trait which is often attributed to women by society’s construction of the female gender. The adverts are also presenting the most masculine and feminine figures possible, contributing to the construction of harmful stereotypes of men as dominant and sexually aggressive, and women as submissive and powerless, which could lead to harmful ideas about how men and women should act, and possible social isolation for the men and women who do not fit these roles. This also links to Butler’s theory of gender being an act which everyone performs or is subjected to perform (Butler, 1988), as it is clear that the men and women in the adverts are performing the stereotypes associated with their gender. Consequently, the Dolce and Gabbana and Calvin Klein adverts are both contributing to the social construction of the binary of gender, with their presentation of the male gender as dominant and the female gender as passive.

Finally, it must be explained how these two Dolce and Gabbana and Calvin Klein advertisements are related to broader structures of intersectional gender inequality. These adverts are an example of the way hyper-masculinity, (the exaggeration of male physical behavior), is depicted and used in advertisements, which could normalize male violence and domination over women. Likewise, as is mentioned in an article about hyper-masculinity, adverts ‘perpetuate stereotypes and present behavioral norms for men and women’ (Vokey, Tefft and Tysiaczny, 2013), which would further present damaging ideas to viewers of men having to be dominant and forceful. It is also harmful that these two fashion brands are using their platforms to depict a rape fantasy, which has been shown to normalize and possibly increase violence against women, as Stankiewicz and Rosselli mention, ‘that the simultaneous presentation of women as sex objects and victims in various forms of media increases acceptance of violence against women. (Stankiewicz and Rosselli 2008, p.580). Therefore, the effects of these sexually violent adverts would be significantly harmful to women, which further establishes how the adverts are related to broader structures of gender inequality.

In conclusion, it is clear that the Dolce and Gabbana and Calvin Klein adverts, which glamorize gang rape, contribute to the social construction of binary gender norms. They perpetuate harmful stereotypes and ideas about the male and female genders, presenting one as entirely dominant and one as entirely passive. They are also related to broader structures of intersectional gender inequality, which could then lead to undesired social effects, such as the normalization of the presentation of women as sex objects, and the problem of violence against women. 

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