How Men and Women Are Objectified Throughout Advertisements


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The objectification of women in advertising is worse than the objectification of men. Discuss this assertion in relation to the representation of both sexes advertising culture.

Advertising is everywhere, and can be argued to be one of the most powerful mechanisms in popular culture. “The manifest function of advertising is to persuade the consumer to purchase a particular brand of product or service” (Cortese, 1999 p.2) Advertisements use visual images of men and women to grab our attention and persuade us to by the product. They often use nonsexual products, such as food, and sexualise them to help sell the item. Within advertising the objectification of women has been at its core since the beginning. With the idea that ‘sex sells’ being a belief apparent within advertising for generation’s. Women are often displayed within advertisements as just a body, dehumanised and used to sell herself through the sales of the product advertised. This degrading depiction of women is now being portrayed in terms of male objectification more and more. The question is if the way in which women are represented within advertisements is worse than that of men. This subject will be discussed throughout the essay to try and decided if this statement is true. The way in which the question will be explored will begin with investigating the depiction of each gender separately and then a compares will be made. Examples of advertisements will be used throughout.

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In this modern culture a view of female sexuality has become apparent throughout advertisement, music, television programmes, films and magazines (Walter, 2010, p3). This hypersexual society adopts images of the female body in all forms of media texts making it a standard practice. The way in which female physiques are portrayed creates a standardised image of the female form. Brit Harper and Marika Tiggemann, (2008, p.649-657) state that there is “no doubt that Western women are subject to a great deal of pressure to conform to the thin ideal of feminine beauty” portrayed within the media. This objectification of the female form in the media is extremely apparent in advertisements making it seen at the standard practise. The roles women in whom women are depicted are much narrower than the roles showed by men in advertising, (Prinsen, Netzley, 2003, 545–551, and Davis 2003, 407–424). Fredrickson and Roberts (1997, p.173-206.) objectification theory suggests that man women are sexually objectified and treated as an object to be valued for its use. Women are portrayed as a dehumanized commodity for the audience’s pleasure.

Women in advertising are often portrayed as objects of desire as well as commodities, instead of human beings, display women as vulnerable and weak individuals, showing only parts of her body (Bishop, 2010). Sexual objectification occurs when a woman’s body, or body parts, are singled out and separated from her as a person, she is then viewed primarily as a physical object of male sexual desire (Bartky, 1990). Often in advertising women’s bodies are reduced to parts, with only segments present on the advertisement. This can be argued to reduce women to a collection of parts and disregarding her as a person. A popular way in which women are reduced to just a body in advertisements is through ‘headless women’. This can be argued to make the audience see the model as just a body, by erasing her face and individuality. Lynx ‘wash me’ (Lynx. 2007) advertisement is a prime example of this. The advert displays a woman wearing a bikini in the shower with her head cut off. This advertisement dehumanizes the women reducing her to just an object of desire. This can be argued to display women as a product to sell, instead of the product. Another example where a woman is ‘beheaded’ is in a BMW car advertisement (BMW, 2002). The advert displays a women lying on a bed with a man on top of her. The woman is in her underwear and so is the man. The woman is beheaded with a picture of a car placed on her face. The tagline for the advertisement is ‘the ultimate attraction’ suggesting that men are attracted to women’s bodies and cars. The woman is displayed as just a body in the advertisement. She is shown as weak with the man lying on top at her and her body is seen as an object of desire.

Women’s bodies are often turned into things and objects within advertising. These objects include tables, beer bottles, chair’s and even into a piece of meat. When advertisers decide to turn a woman into a literal object it makes the audience no longer perceive the person as a human, and instead see her as the object. An example of this is a bag advertisement by Francesco Biasia, (2012) that displayed women as a table. The table is made of legs with a bag displayed on top. The advert objectifies women and strips her to an object and turns her into a prop. Her body is used to hold up the bag and help sell the project through ‘fetishization’ (Sheehan, 2014, p.130) To quote Jean Kilbourne, “Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person.” This form of objectification, stripping a woman of who she is and turning her into a just an object to be sold is apparent in advertisements. The women is used to sell the product, the best way to do this is to strip the women of who she is and use her body to sell a product.

Laura Mulveys (1975) male gaze theory suggest that “women as images, and man as the bearer of the look’. The theory suggests that women are seen as passive in media texts and are there to be looked at by the male. She suggests that women are just a secondary to men, and are just an object to be admired. While the theory explored gendered messages within cinema it has been used to explore the objectification of gender within advertisements. There are many examples in advertising where a woman is used as an object of desire to help sell a product. There are also examples in advertising were this depiction is displayed on an advert capturing the representation of the women as a passive image in compression to the active male. An example of this is an advert by Express ‘Loyalty’ (2012). The advert displays an active male looking in to the camera with a passive woman draped over him. The woman is wearing a swimming costume displaying her body. She is looking away from the camera display herself as just a sexual object that is control by the man. The woman is depicted as a commodity for men’s desires.

Throughout the history of advertising women has been depicted as domestic housewives. This depiction of women has received a lot of criticism from feminists over the years. Bartos (1989) argues that this representation of women in advertising portrays a distorted social reality, as it doesn’t depict societal changes, were more women are working and less are ‘homemakers’. A Tom Ford advertisement (2007) depicts a stereotypical image of women as a housewife. The scene illustrates a man reading a newspaper, wearing a suit jacket, socks and pants, with a women ironing next to him wearing nothing. The way in which the woman is portrayed doing the ironing of the man’s suit trousers, portrays a stereotypical image of gender. The man is portrayed as strong and dominate in the advert by the inequality in nudity as well as the women doing the mans ironing. It can be argued that all advertisements for cleaning products feature women reproduce stereotypical images of gender.

It may be believed that the normalization and objectification in advertisements is limited to the female body, this is not factual. A traditional depiction of men in advertisements is of them in charge, self-contained and often alone (Nakayama, 1989). This stereotypically portrayal of men is starting to change. It has been stated by Jenifer Foote (1988) “after years of depicting women as sex objects and troubled bimbos, advertising is applying those stereotypes to men”. An industry that has been known for objectifying women is now objectifying men more and more. In postmodern advertising its now mans turned to become the sex objects (Cortese, 1999, p.60).

Men are often depicted in adverts wearing nothing but underwear display their muscular bodies. The ideal man in advertising is young, handsome, clean-cut and sexually alluring (Cortese, 1999, p58). Richard Elliott & Christine Elliott (2005) argued that, “as traditional masculine roles have eroded with women gaining greater equality in society, men have become more preoccupied with muscularity because it is still perceived as a cultural symbol of masculinity”. This idea is apparent in advertisements, with the majority of men in advertisements illustrated as muscular. The image of the buffed, topless men in the media is everywhere in the pre-watershed media (Daubney, 2015). The depiction of men is evident in many different types of advertisements, including perfume, underwear as well as high fashion. The way men are displayed as a muscular body in advertisements reduces the models to just their physiques. This standardises portrayal of men in advertisements has increased in recent years with it being display in multiple forms of the media. An example of men display in just there underwear is an advert for Calvin Klein aftershave called ‘man” (2007). The model is displayed topless, looking into the camera in a seductive way, which also gives the module an aura of power. This example of objectification display the man as just a muscular body, however, through the model looking into the camera, as well as the camera angles, it gives the man a sense of control over the objectification. Kraft Zesty Italian salad dressing (2013) displayed the same sense of objectification and control. His body is used to sell a product that has nothing to do with him being naked, however, due to his body language and eye contact it gives the men a sense of govern over the representation.

Men in advertising have also been displayed without a head turning them into just an object. An example of this is a scrabble advertisement with the tagline ‘the bare necessity this summer’ (2014). The image depicts a naked man with his head absent from the picture. The man is shown as muscular and is cover in oil, which draws more attention to his body. The tagline suggests that the man is part of the game through the word ‘bare’ referring to the mans form. His body is being used to sell the product turning him into an object of desire. Regina Bishop (2010) argues that the main representation of men in advertisements is strong, independent, and dignified, repeatedly shown being successful, standing with their shoulders pushed back, chest out, and legs spread out in a strong stance. There are many depictions of men in resembling this representation, however, there are also many that contradict this claim. The traditional representation of men in advertisements is as Bishop stated, however, the new representation of men is similar to that of women in advertisements.

It is clear than men are objectified within advertisements almost as often as women. There is however a difference between men and women, man’s appearance doesn’t define him nearly as much as a woman’s appearance defines her. In popular culture women are often defined by her appearance and portrayed as weak and passive. The masculine portrayal of men in advertisements is strong, the “masculine role is not defined though beauty and fashion, but through the power of choice (Barthel, 1994, p.128–138). The women and men are placed in an advertisement together most depicted women as submissive and dominated by the male. Daniel and Bridges (2010, p.32-38.) states that heterosexual men are exposed to the same sociocultural structure that women are subjected to throughout, without necessarily experiencing the evaluation from men that arise from being objectified in advertising. It can be argued that men do not dispute to the objectification within advertisements, especially not in the same way women do. Women have been campaigning for years to get this depiction of women out of the mainstream media. One campaign created is ‘Women not Objects’. The mission of the website is to “end objectification in advertisements” (Women not objects, 2016). There does not seem to be a website, or campaign, to stop the depiction of men as objects. This illustrates how men and women react to the objectification in the media differently, there is an idea that men just except it were as women try and change this depiction.

Although sexualized images of men and women have different social meanings, the social effect is similar. Men can experience muscle dysmorphia due to advertisements as well as Anorexia. “These men are obsessed with achieving an unrealistic achieving an unrealistic cultural standard of muscularity as masculinity” Cortese states (1999, p59). Due to the unrealistic images of the muscular, perfect man being portrayed everywhere within advertisements it should come as no surprise that this is effect the society. Women have been stated to become Anorexic due to the unrealistic, unattainable depiction of the perfect thin tall model in advertisements. “Anorexia nervosa in women and muscle dysmorphia in men are sad reminders of the debilitating dysfunctions of gender roles in postmodern society” (Cortese,1999, p59)

To summaries this essay, men and women are objectified throughout advertisements. Women are displayed as ‘things’, such as chairs and body parts; men are portrayed as just his muscular physic. Men and women are beheaded; dehumanized and used to sell the product through depicted themselves and a commodity. One may argue that the objectification of women in advertisements is worse due to there being more of these depictions in the media. Women are also displayed within advertisements in a more narrow way to that of men. When men are objectified they are still portrayed as strong and dominate making them seem in control of the depiction. However, when women are portrayed they are often depicted, as weak and passive making them seem more like an object. It is hard to conclude if one is ‘worse’ than the other as both depictions have negative consequences on society. Muscle dysmorphia and anorexia are two big results of this objectification within media texts. Men and women strive to look like the models within advertisements, which is a task nobody can reach, with Photoshop being apparent within the industry. With such detrimental effects of such objectification of men and women in the media it is shocking that this portrayal is still present within advertisements. The idea that ‘sex sells’ must be an accurate awareness with the depiction of men and women, as objects helping sell the product.

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