It's hard to think that in a world like today, with limitless access to information, we are still trying to educate ourselves and society on gender stereotyping and discrimination. In August, South Africa celebrated Women’s Month. A whole month aimed at increasing awareness of gender inequality and women's rights. Yet, as you may have seen on our Facebook page, we posted an article published by the Guardian about the outrage after BIC pens published a bizarre post on South Africa's Women's day that went along the lines of "look like a girl, think like a man". That article reminded me that gender stereotyping is replete in advertising and that nothing is going to change if the very people who are writing the copy for these ads are blinded by the huge impact their subtle stereotypical re-inforcements have on society. We know its tough out there, but with advertisers and watch dogs of societal order in charge, it’s difficult to fight against something that in recent years has become so faint and vague, you need to be very aware of it, to see it and know how it cunningly deceives you. Gender stereotyping is a somewhat predominant feature in media and even though we think it’s becoming less because of awareness, it isn’t necessarily so.
Stereotyping in media is a recipe as old as the invention of print, and today; the advertising sphere is full of stereotypes. Ads are coded and rely heavily on us, the viewers, to de-code it and understand the message. Take a cleaning product advert for example. There is always a mom character ready to tackle the dirt and usually, a passive young daughter will accompany her to share the delight of cleaning. Where is the dad and the son? I know, in a car commercial on TV going on a road trip to bond, because you know, all fathers have sons and all sons have fathers. Why is the mom not taking her son on a road trip in a cool SUV? What if she is the father? You get my point. Advertisers are making us believe in a world that is so far from reality, its making us miserable.
From women being portrayed as submissive and overpowered by men (that Dolce and Gabbana gang-rape advert comes to mind) to ethnic models being portrayed as wild untamed animals, the message is clear; gender stereotyping has the ability to enhance a coded message on some fucked up psychological level that we are not even always aware of. We obviously know the representations of women in magazines do not accurately reflect the identities of real women, but it ties in with one of the biggest phenomena in recent history; the emphasis on what the perfect body and face should look like. It has raised many issues in feminist discourse and print media is one of the biggest culprits, yet women continue to buy the very same magazines that make them feel insecure. On the contrary, magazines also have the ability to make a reader feel part of a community and advertisers know this. Therefore they can do as they please, to not only sell their products with unreal suggestions of how life should be, but to also make us feel part of a group, make us feel part of something. And isn’t that just dandy? Brainwashed again, so we keep consuming.
There was a very popular Kenwood Chef ad in the 50s with a slogan that read, “The Chef does everything but cook – that’s what wives are for”! That is a typical example of how advertisers purposefully use these stereotypes to re-enforce society’s ideals. In order to get the attention of a specific target market advertisers must portray women as submissive and men as powerful and superior, or their products simply won't sell. Stereotyping has the ability to re-enforce certain inferior positions in society and as mentioned earlier, print media is most guilty of this. Having typical adverts that depict what our lives should be like or how we should look is always found in the pages of a magazine. Our monthly glossies, as entertaining as they are, are filled with beauty and fashion pages with samples in abundance and usually a free gift. This sends a message of opulence and luxury to us, the buyers. So in some ways, we don’t necessarily need it, we want it.
The most important thing in this battle, and it is a battle, is to become mindful of the ways we are influenced by the media. We are exposed to so many images on a daily basis than many just go unnoticed, but that is the point. To flood us with so much that we don't notice what we are surrounded by. The first thing I learned in journalism school was to keep my eyes and my ears open. I encourage you to do the same, but ad an open heart to that combo and you will see things as they are. Stay true to yourself, no matter what the media forces you to believe. Educate as many people around you so they too can see it for what it worth - it will blow your mind when you find out how few people even care, but don't let that get you down. As Maddy Reid says "We cannot withhold facts for fear of offending because the importance of the information outweighs people's right to not be challenged in their beliefs".