Gender Stereotypes in Advertising: How Is Male and Female Imagery Exploited?

A public lecture "The Role of Advertising in Creating the Image of Men and Women: a Mirror or a Conveyor?" by a Belarusian expert Iryna Alkhouka took place on October 30. The lecture was organised by the Office for a Democratic Belarus as part of the Belarus-EU Programme supported by SIDA.

The event united researchers, marketers, sociologists, students and others interested in one of the most widely discussed topics: how control is executed today over gender offensive advertising.
Guests looked into Belarusian and international experience in approaching gender issues which deal with how social roles of men and women in the society are portrayed nowadays in commercial advertising.
Participants of the meeting analysed case studies of men and women wrongfully portrayed in advertising campaigns, one of the examples recalling promotional products used in Ukraine during the 2012 UEFA European Championship. Cases of gender-based discrimination in Russian and Belarusian advertising were discussed as well.

This Russian insurance company ad was used to illustrate the wrongful portrayal of gender.
Images of women are often exploited in Belarusian advertising as well, it was noted during the lecture.
An example used to illustrate this point was that of a Minsk billboard picturing a sexually objectified woman.

The lecture also identified the following features of gender offensive and sexist advertising:
-    mentions of certain aspects of ‘typically’ male or female behavior without any connection to the context in which the goods or services are advertised or are expected to be consumed,
-    sexual objectification of people,
-    commodification of people aimed at diminishing them, usage of sexist language.

The lecture also presented modern approaches to regulating advertising in various countries.
One of the conclusions made by the participants was that gender roles and advertising stereotypes at times determined one another, and approaches to identifying gender offensive advertising would often find similar issues in many different countries. Exploiting female images in advertising is widely used for promoting goods and services of many globally recognized manufacturers.

As an example of offensive advertising, the lecture recalled a poster by a well-known brand, Gucci, that was banned in the United Kingdom for “abasement of women’s dignity”.

Iryna Alkhouka, a Belarusian expert, says that in many countries advertising industry is regulated through corporate social responsibility and numerous agreements adopted by professional unions of manufacturers. For instance, Cosmetics Europe Charter on Responsible Advertising and Marketing Responsibilities, which unites 18 international corporations and 27 national associations of EU countries, states that ads for cosmetic products and marketing communications must contain no sexually degrading materials and no written or oral statements which might be viewed as degrading for men or women. The document also recommends that advertisers abstain from focusing on an objectified human body when this is irrelevant to the advertised product.

Ukrainian Marketing Association has already adopted standards of gender-based non-discrimination.

Advertising industry regulations can also be implemented when there is public pressure from the consumers, or they can be enforced legally.

Participants of the meeting looked into the cliché tools which are widely used in advertising today and which contribute to gender stereotyping:

•    feminine touch, used when depicting women,
•    gender-based ritualization of subordination: in the presence of a male image female models normally take less space or strike unnatural poses, often being placed non-vertically (function ranking),
•    licensed withdrawal: portrayal of disempowered women withdrawn from real-life social contexts, often placed in unnatural poses or looking dreamy.
All gender offensive advertising exploits images and stereotypes social roles.

Whole categories of products are typically marketed by their function as "female-only" or "male-only". For example, promotion by "household responsibilities", which are fact neither female-only nor male-only.
An example given in the lecture was that of a 1970s Swedish ad initiated by Swedish government to encourage male responsibility of the family.

According to the expert Iryna Alkhouka, images in advertising are hugely influential. Evaluation of gender aspects of "stereotyping" shows great information pressure coming through advertising. Consumers are easily influenced by the advertised "standards of beauty" and the social roles that are not representative of real life and indicative of distorting the truth for purely commercial purposes.

Promotional images in this article in no way reflect the quality of goods and services provided by any companies or brands. Advertisements were analyzed purely from a gender-based perspective. The analysis has no relation to the quality of services provided by advertising agencies.

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