It’s hard to believe that in a world with limitless access to information, we are still trying to educate ourselves and society on gender stereotyping and discrimination. The 5000 or so images we see daily (you can google that shit) contains enough gestures to confirm that gender stereotyping is replete in advertising. It keeps on repeating itself, because the very agencies who are “creatively” generating these ads are oblivious to the huge impact their subtle stereotypical reinforcements have on society. We know it’s money that makes the world go round, and with advertisers and watch dogs of societal order in charge, it’s difficult to stand up against something that is almost invisible, yet everywhere at the same time.
Stereotyping in media is a recipe as old as the invention of print. Today adverts are intentionally coded and rely on us to de-code and understand it, for it be successful. 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? Probably in a car commercial 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?
Unfortunately the fash industry is the worst when it comes to stereotyping. From women being portrayed as submissive and overpowered by men, to ditzy blondes and women depicted as wild, untamed animals, the message is clear; we are far from a healing sister! We obviously know that 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 modern history; the emphasis on what the perfect woman should look like. It has raised many issues in feminist discourse and mass media is standing in central position. What’s fascinating, is that women continue to support the brands that make them feel insecure. Scary stuff.
American Apparel closed up shop earlier this year after selling the brand’s intellectual property and manufacturing equipment to a Canadian apparel company for $88 million (that’s like over a billion South African Rand). They were notorious for their sexual suggestions in their advertising, but it related to the traits of their consumers – young, attractive, sexual people. The brand waved the flag of American cool and everyone bought in on it.
This Dolce & Gabbana and Tom Ford print ads are a great example of how advertisers purposefully use stereotypes to re-enforce society’s ideals of what the status quo should be. 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, the fashion industry is very guilty of this. Unfortunately, sex keeps selling despite that feminist module you took last semester.
The most important thing when trying to find a solution to the problem, is to become mindful of the ways we are influenced by the media. We are exposed to so many images on a daily basis that many just go unnoticed to the eye, but not unnoticed to the mind and that is the goal – To flood us with so much information that we don’t notice what we are seeing anymore. The first thing they teach you in journalism school is to keep your eyes and your ears open. You’re encouraged to do the same. Stay true to yourself, no matter what mass media tries to force on you. Educate as many people around you about inequality so they too can see it from a valid perspective. 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”.
Cover by Dior*