Advertising and Gender Role Portrayals
In his groundbreaking book Gender Advertisements, Erving Goffman (1976) used hundreds of pictures from print advertising to show how men and women are positioned or displayed to evoke sexual tension, power relations, or seduction. Advertisements, Goffman suggested, do not show actual portrayals of men and women but present clear-cut snapshots of the way we think they behave. Advertisements try to capture ideals of each sex: men are shown as more confident and authoritative, whereas women are more childlike and deferential (Belknap & Leonard, 1991). Since Goffman’s book was published, advertisements have become more blatantly sexual, and analyzing the gender role and sexual content of advertisements has become a favorite pastime of those who study the media.
Although studies indicate that advertising is becoming less sexist today, gender differences still exist (Wolin, 2003). Studies of television commercials, for example, still show differences between the way men and women are portrayed. Men are pictured in three times the number of occupational categories as women, and women are more likely than men to be in commercials that feature the home. Male spokespersons are also commonly used for female products; however, female spokespersons are rarely used to advertise male products (Peirce, 2001).
As you flip through popular magazines today, it’s obvious that advertising companies are trying to put more women into ads in positions of authority and dominance. Men are also being shown in traditionally female roles, such as cuddling babies or cooking. However, the naked body is still a primary means of selling products, and even if gender roles are becoming more egalitarian, portrayals of sexuality are still blatant.