Merits and limitations of Feminism in advertisements


The problems with beauty product commercials and lingerie commercials have already been discussed. Further, Lindner (2004) found that women were more likely to be seen in stereotypical roles in magazines geared towards a female audience than in general interest magazines. Lindner’s research found that while as much as much 78% of magazine advertisements stereotyped women in some way, the magazine geared towards a female audience (Vogue) was more likely to show women in inferior roles.

If it is assumed that commercials are created so as to appeal to its target audience, it shows that women see themselves in inferior roles and identify better with such stereotyping. In other words, a major reason for female stereotyping in advertisements is because women prefer it that way. So if people think of advertisements as reflecting the social reality, then, this social reality can be considered to be anti-feminist. This severely limits the feminist theory that advertisements should reflect social reality because advertisements do reflect social reality but this reality is detrimental to the feminist agenda.

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If such female stereotyping is in fact a social reality, than it may be argued that there is nothing wrong with such representation of female body in popular culture. Unfortunately, the popular culture has a profound affect on the way people behave and perceive themselves. The perfect female bodies shown in commercials have a detrimental affect on the self body image. Lavine et al (1999) found that individuals exposed to sexist advertisements were more likely to negatively evaluate their body image. Such negative self image can never be good for society.

So even independent of the feminist agenda, it is better to avoid such sexist advertisements which objectify the female form. But as seen above, feminism may be indirectly responsible for encouraging stereotyping. This calls into questions the feminists arguments and severely limits the feminist agenda. Yet another impact of such sexist advertisements is that since they exclude women from society, except as sex objects, it can result in negative perception of women by men, especially, the criminal elements and can cause ‘perceptions of fear and offence’ among women, and restrict their movements (Rosewarne 2005, p.

67). Obviously, this is not an ideal situation from any point of view, but even less so from the feminist point of view because the feminist movement explicitly requires women to compete with men on an equal footing. Unfortunately, the sexual depictions of women in outdoor advertisements only further ‘amplify masculine ‘control’ of city spaces and reinforce women’s exclusion’ (ibid, p. 67). If women are forced to restrict their movements due to fear of sexual violence, it can never be good for society or women.

And if it is the representation of women in the popular culture which is responsible for such negative attitudes, then there is an urgent need to change such negative representations of women in popular culture. Unfortunately, the feminists are unable to provide a solution to this problem because of the inherent weaknesses of their arguments as discussed above. So for a proper solution to the problem of female objectification and stereotyping we need to look beyond the solutions offered by feminism and we need to do so urgently.

The radical feminists advocate excluding men from the female world and argue for female separatism (Strinati, 2004). This has resulted in a post-feminist movement in which ‘women are invited to purchase everything from bras to coffee as signs of their power and independence [from men]’ (Gill 2008, p. 36). The argument of these feminists is that since not all women can become scientists or politicians, even such small acts as buying a pair of shoes can signal female empowerment (Gill 2008, p. 37 – 40). This results in more and more advertisements being targeted exclusively towards women.

But as being discussed previously, commercials targeted at women are more likely to be stereotypical than those targeted at the general audience. Thus, even the radical feminist ideal is unable to provide a solution to the stereotyping of women in popular culture. The liberal feminist view of the representation of women in popular culture is that the popular culture should reflect the social realities. Nevertheless, as in the comparison of commercials over the last twenty-five years, that there has been a significant shift in the way women are portrayed in advertisements.

While in the eighties, women roles in advertisements were confined to that of wife and mother, in the twenty first century this has changed and more and more women are seen in professional roles and are much more knowledgeable today than they were at any time in the past. Despite this radical shift in the representation of women in advertisements, they continue to be stereotyped. This stereotyping has now shifted from the social roles of women to the objectification of the female body.

While the earlier stereotyping of gender roles was harmful from the feminist perspective, the current objectification of the female body is actually being encouraged by feminists since it is supposed to reflect the female sexual power over men. But the objectification comes with its own set of issues, the biggest being that it undermines women’s image of their bodies. The inherent limitations of feminism have been unable to address this issue and the contemporary depiction of women in popular culture continues to objectify the female body.

Since popular culture is already reflecting the social realities, it has apparently satisfied the feminist ideal. But the current depiction of women in popular culture, especially advertisements, is far from ideal and feminism is unable to provide answers to these problems. In conclusion, it claims that feminism movements have brought up some revolutional progresses toward women’s rights and the way mass media, particularly advertising industry, is trying to percieve and portray them.

It has shown that there have been some merits of feminism the adverts conducted in nowadays global society, but apparently the limitations of the feminist agenda still remain there as evidences have been provided and discussed in the paper.

References: Amy-Chinn, D 2006, This is Just for Me(n): How the regulation of post-feminist lingerie advertising perpetuates woman as object, Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 155 – 175. Cortese, AJP 2008, Provocateur: Images of women and minorities in advertising, 3rd ed, Rowman & Littlefield, Maryland.

Gill, R 2008, Empowerment/Sexism: Figuring Female Sexual Agency in Contemporary Advertising, Feminism & Psychology, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 35 – 60. Hesseltine, P 1982, The 1980 lady as depicted in TV commercial, in Kottak, CP (ed) 1982, Researching American culture: A guide for student anthropologists, University of Michigan Press, USA, pp. 236 – 245. Lavine, H Sweeney, D & Wagner, SH 1999, Depicting Women as Sex Objects in Television Advertising: Effects on Body Dissatisfaction, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 25, pp. 1049 – 1058.

Lindner, K 2004, Images of Women in General Interest and Fashion Magazine Advertisements from 1955 to 2002, Sex Roles, vol. 51, no. 7, pp 409 – 421. Rosewarne, L 2005, Outdoor advertising and public space: Gender, fear, and feminism, Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 28, pp. 67 – 78. Strinati, D 2004, An introduction to theories of Popular culture, Routledge, London. Yoder, J Christopher, J ; Holmes, J 2008, Are television commercials still achievement scripts for women? , Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 303 – 311.


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