How Men and Women are Depicted in Advertisements

This semester my mind has been opened to the realities of the way women are portrayed in advertisements due to a communications class I have the honor of taking. Multiple advertising techniques are constantly being used but the most prevalent of them were categorized four ways thanks to Irving Goffman, a Canadian sociologist. He called these classifications feminine touch, ritualization of subordination, licensed withdrawal, and infantilization.

In the first, feminine touch, women are always seen touching themselves or products their selling gently, with finger tips open. It gives the viewer the impression that women are delicate. Men, on the other hand, will constantly be shown grasping the object their selling, making it seem as if they have control over their lives. It is a more hard and controlling vision.

fem touch

A woman gently touches her face. Notice how we can see all fingertips

fem touch 2

A woman caresses her chest

Old-Spice-Man

No one depicts manly like the Old-Spice Man with his firm grasp on his product

23

This man is powerfully holding a beer (and some puppies)

 

The second category is referred to as ritualization of subordination. Here, women are shown in subordinate roles to men, usually lying down, surrounded by males or even in just off-balance positions that make them seem as if they are at the mercy of their surroundings. A very popular example of this is the leg cant, when a woman bends her leg in a bashful manner to physically make herself look smaller.

A woman is completely overtaken by men

A woman is completely overtaken by men

A woman shown in the lying down position

A woman shown in the lying down position

A leg cant is shown to make the woman appear smaller

A leg cant is shown to make the woman appear smaller

A males strong, direct gaze gives a powerful sensation

A males strong, direct gaze gives a powerful sensation

Another popular example is referred to as licensed withdrawal. In these ads, you see women “drifting”, that is their heads are turned away, they never make eye contact, and they are always un-alert. This is opposed to the way men are shown as wary, ready to challenge a potential threat.

This woman does not give any indication of power at all

This woman does not give any indication of power at all

A woman looking dejected upon some stairs

A woman looking dejected upon some stairs

A woman is withdrawn as opposed to her male counterpart who is ready for action

A woman is withdrawn as opposed to her male counterpart who is ready for action

The last classification is referred to infantilization or family. This is in reference to how women are shown as if they are young girls, in dresses that dolls would be in or with their fingers in their mouths. When depicted in a family setting, girls are dressed similar to their mothers giving the viewer an idea that they just have to “unfold” into women, whereas boys are dressed different from their fathers, making the connection that boys have to push their way into being men.

Father and son dressed differently

Father and son dressed differently

Mother and daughter dressed the same

Mother and daughter dressed the same

A grown woman is shown sucking her thumb as if she were a child

A grown woman is shown sucking her thumb as if she were a child

A woman depicted in doll clothing

A woman depicted in doll clothing

These sort of advertisements are extremely negative for society. Advertisements don’t just sell products, Jean Killbourne, a specialist on how women are portrayed in media, says. They sell values, images, concepts of love and sexuality, of success, and concepts of normalcy. These sort of ads make women feel as if they should be thin, sexy, and powerless. It is important that as a society we recognize this and work to eliminate the objectification in current marketing.

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