Human Interest Pop Culture

The Danger of Sexist Sterotypes In Advertising

Gender stereotypes put too much pressure on us to behave a certain way.

Alex Farrell

Naked Politics Blogger 

We all know how it goes: the woman is cooking a meal for the family whilst the man is out working. Well, it looks like these sorts of adverts will now become less frequent as advertising giant Unilever have pledged to remove sexist stereotypes from their adverts with a campaign named Unstereotype. Although they have previously been one of the main culprits of adverts that set stereotypes for men and women, they seem to have changed their ways. Gone is the old portrayal of a muscular man surrounded by stereotypical models. Their new advert for Lynx promotes “find[ing] your magic” and owning “your thing” whilst featuring men in heels and a wheelchair. They also launched the Dove for Real Beauty campaign back in 2004 which features women of all ages, sizes and ethnicities and promotes them all as beautiful.

Many however, may think that this pledge is a step too far which will eventually lead to the censorship of anything remotely offensive/controversial. Besides, many women do spend a lot of time in the kitchen whilst the men are breadwinners going out to work. This is undeniable (although also arguably the case due to societal expectations), however this view appears to miss the point of the pledge. Of course, we all know that if you wear Lynx then you won’t have a herd of women running after you, and yes, we know that buying that bikini won’t make you look like the model wearing it. However, the sheer fact that they are being portrayed as something that we should all aspire to achieve is problematic. In fact, we are constantly inundated with ideas of what we’re supposed to look like, how we’re supposed to act and moreover what we’re supposed to be.

Protein World ran an ad campaign in 2015 starring a woman with a tiny waist, beautiful face, long hair and hourglass figure in a bikini with the simple slogan “Are you beach body ready?” in a London Underground station. This sparked widespread complaints for its portrayal of the beach body as only someone who is thin, muscular and typically beautiful. Although not outright saying it, this ad obviously exacerbates societal pressure onto women to look a certain way, and  insinuating that they would not be suitable for the beach if they do not conform to this image. This did eventually, lead to its removal. However, it is appalling that a brand can even put this advert out there to begin with. It clearly targets women who do not feel totally comfortable in their own body with the aim of making them buy the product to try and make themselves feel better. It literally preys on people’s insecurities for money.

It’s not solely the advertising itself that involves blatant and harmful objectification. The constant hints of stereotyping in adverts can be even worse. We can all look at a poster portraying a certain person as “ideal” and say that it is wrong. We find it more difficult, however, to identify those adverts with a subtler tone. The constant narrative of conforming with stereotypes only tends to reinforce the more brash adverts that we see. Whether a law firm advertises using a business with a man as the boss and a woman as the personal assistant, or a toy company uses a father playing with his kids whilst the mum cooks the tea, these small but constant typecasts that we don’t even consciously notice become entrenched in the minds of the young generation about their place in the world.

This is why initiatives like Unstereotype are essential for a free society in the future, with no expectation to be a certain way. It does not commit to the censorship of everything remotely stereotypical, but instead commits to improving the impact that advertising has on the expectations that society sets up. Of course, I am not suggesting that a woman should never be portrayed in the kitchen again as adverts that reflect everyday life are often seen to be relatable and work well. But everyday life also consists of men doing the cleaning, women at the head of big business and people of all ages, sizes, ethnicities and sexual orientations doing these things too.

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