Impacts of advertisements that are unfriendly to women and men

Corine Van Hellemont and Hilde Van den Bulck

University of Antwerp

The main objective of advertising is to persuade consumers to buy goods and services. Yet products are not only consumed for their inherent use-value. As objects they also help to create or express consumers’ identity, including gender (Barthes 1957; Garst & Bodenhausen 1997; Weems 2000). Its omnipresence makes advertising – next to family, school, peers – an important socialising factor that forges gender roles (Pollay & Gallagher 1990; Gauntlett 2009). While sex is a biological fact, gender is a social construction, a set of characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine, determining outcomes of (in)equality (Kalbfleisch & Cody 1995).

Gender and advertising has received considerable scholarly attention. Early content analyses identified a narrow range of female roles including those as housekeeper and child-rearer, as decorative element, dependent, emotional, lacking intelligence and authority, or as sex object (e.g. Dominick & Rauch 1972; Belkaoui & Belkaoui 1976; Lysonski 1983; Whipple & Courtney 1985; Bretl & Cantor 1988). Others examined portrayals of men and women together, spotting women as younger than and subservient to men (e.g. Klassen et al. 1993; Zotos & Lysonski 1994), or focused on male roles as independent, professional and authority figures (e.g. Kolbe & Albanese 1996; Skelly & Lundstrom 1981), or on women as superwomen, combining a full-time job with housekeeping and child-rearing (Kates & Shaw-Garlock 1999). Still others focused on minors and ideal beauty standards, depictions of extreme body thinness, eroticism, sex and sex appeal (Bissell & Rask 2010; Gill 2003; Martin & Gentry 1997; Merskin 2004).