In this essay, I will explore the topics of exploitation of women in mass media; the negative effects in societal norms due to this issue, counterarguments and refutations, and finally remedies to supersede this issue.
First, I will explore the issue of objectification. Women are prone to objectification with the constant vulgar advertisements and sex industries. In a social perspective, objectification means to treat a human as if he or she was a thing, or an object, without any regards of their emotions or dignity. Objectification can also include treating someone as a belonging to another person (usually belonging to a man), used as a tool for self-fulfillment or needs, and also permissible to use, abuse, damage, and destroy. Furthermore, sexual objectification is a culturally masculine perspective aimed towards women being solely objects for sexual pleasure and disregarding the intelligence capabilities of a woman. Sexual objectification derives from feminist theories and is said to be the cause of gender inequality. The cause of this perspective has unfortunately affected women to be submissive as sexual objects and exploited in numerous types of mass media. For example, rap music often uses degrading terminology in regards of women. Subconsciously, this creates a barrier between men and women. Men feel that it is permissible in today’s society to use and damage a woman’s dignity by treating them as sexual objects. In correspondence to these man made ideas, women often submit themselves as sexual objects through participating in vulgar music videos, modeling in advertisements, and pornography. Pornography itself is the portrayal of sexual objectification of women and mainly targeted towards male audiences. It is the intentional act of using women for sexual advantage and then tossed aside like an object. Pornography is a source of emotional disconnection between male and female relationships. Pornography is sexual fantasies that men hope to achieve in real life. Recently, female inequality has become so easily permissible in society with the constant mass media influences.
Why do companies choose to advertise female sexual objectification in commercials and billboards? “Sex sells,” and truthfully, it really does. Often we see seductive photographs in promoting a certain product or brand. Companies tend to use sex in their advertisements because they are aware that it is simply attractive, and from a business standpoint, any attention is good attention. Companies want to stand out to their customers, attract large audiences, which results in large revenues. There is an underlying psychology behind such marketing strategies. For example, the deodorant company called AXE uses sexual advertisements to promote their product, which is a masculine target market. The company calls it the “AXE Effect.” The message means that if you use this particular product, women will always surround you because you will be the best smelling man around. This message is implied of course, but it really has psychologically trained men to not only buy this AXE deodorant spray product and be more hygienic, but also to view women as sexual beings. The women in the advertisements are usually thin, blonde, speechless girls who appear as emotionless zombies who are instantly attracted to the male smell. This is a subtle example of female objectification.
Another example of unjust female treatment in mass media is the Breast Cancer Association. The Breast Cancer Association is a non-profit organization that aims to fundraising money for breast cancer patients. The slogan, “I Love Boobies” was made to catch the attention of audiences in order to raise more money. Surely they are successful in this motive. However, the justification for their slogan is that they want to “remove the shame associated with breasts and breast health.” Their belief is that people should protect and treat their breast with respect and care. Coincidentally, their word choice suggests otherwise.
Another example of sexual objectification in advertisements is Victoria’s Secret, a leading international lingerie brand. The Victoria’s Secret advertisements usually depict beautiful blonde size 0-2 models in lingerie. Blonde women are usually glorified in society as the most beautiful women in the world. How to the ethnic women feel about this? Excluded. Ethnic women feel the need to change their appearances to resemble the skinny blondes in the ads. That is why so many ethnic women are damaging their hair with toxic bleach. Many artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj color their hair platinum blonde, which does influence a social perspective for large audiences, thus resulting in similar behavior among ordinary people.
The cultural phenomenon of objectification is not entirely new to today’s society. In fact, it has progressed over time. Many actresses are considered “sex symbols” or objectified. The word “Sex Symbol” was first used in the 1950’s. For example, the first “It girl” many are familiar with was the pop culture star Marylin Monroe, who starred in films of the 1950’s-1960’s era. She is a perfect example of a dehumanized sex symbol because of the media’s emphasis about Marylin Monroe being the “most beautiful woman of her time.” The media tends to utilize movie stars, actors, actresses, and models to mold the latest norms.
Now I will explore the issue of gender roles. Gender roles also play a big role in advertisements. Gender roles are the stereotypical roles usually within the household context. For example, the man is the moneymaker, the hard worker, the intelligence of the house, while the woman is basically the slave, baby-maker, and emotional figure of the house. Furthermore, these stereotypes affect the behavior of the female gender. Again, there is a barrier between men and women. Decision-making, profession, and education are referred to the man. Meanwhile, housework and childcare is usually the woman’s duty.
Women have always been adored and glorified for their physical attributes, but with the help of large audiences for various media and advertisements, the effect is even worse. Studies say young women are especially affected by objectification in media. There are countless cases of young girls suffering from anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder caused by psychological obsession with obtaining a “thin” figure. Even worse, Bulimia Nervosa is the eating disorder that consists of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, followed by forcefully vomiting to result in drastic weight loss. Unfortunately, these cases usually end in physical shock, and sometimes death. The underlying reason for these disorders is mainly mass media influences. When young girls see unrealistic models glamorized and having size 0 waists, adolescents begin a psychological unhappiness with themselves. To justify their dissatisfaction, adolescents try to change their appearances, becoming obsessed with weight, calorie counting, and more. These cases are not widely noted, in fact, the media never mentions them. Therefore, it is the media to blame for the dehumanization of women.
Depression is also another psychological disorder caused by media influences. Young women are especially at risk of this disorder. Depression is when a person feels unmotivated, sad, anxious, hopeless, guilty, restless, and even suicidal.
There are many causes of depression, but surely the media has influences that can enhance this disorder. For example, a commercial that depicts a skinny girl being chosen over a heavier girl may affect a young teen to think she is not worthy of affection and love. Moreover, she will psychologically be steered to think she must fix herself, rather than identifying a problem in society as a whole.
More often now than before, women are alternating their appearances by conducting plastic surgeries for breast enlargement, eyebrow or lip tattoos, and liposuction (slimming) to enhance physical features.
What is the reason behind these painful and expensive procedures? Outside forces affect female mentality including reality shows like Extreme Makeover, a plastic surgery reality show aired in 2002. These kinds of television shows suggest the acceptance of a new norm to enhance the physical attractiveness of ordinary people especially in superficial environments like Hollywood and Beverly Hills in America. Some critics noted that Extreme Makeover reinforces unattainable and unrealistic goals for audiences. It is implied through these reality shows that real beauty can only be achieved through plastic surgery and cosmetics. For example, the idea that people should pay a surgeon to conduct liposuction instead of exercising and maintaining a balanced diet in order to lose weight. It is ignored that most people cannot afford to have cosmetic surgery done. Television shows like this can potentially encourage disorders like anorexia, bulimia and depression.
Now I will discuss the counterarguments about women’s role in mass media. Civil Rights activists like feminists are becoming more and more popular and fighting against objectification of women in mass media. A feminist is someone who believes in equality between male and female genders including political, social, economical, and cultural rights. Since the 1970’s and 1980’s, feminists have formed their attitudes towards sexual exploitation in the pornography industry. Feminists believe the sex industry consists of male dominance and female exploitation. They have even formed anti-pornography feminism. However, some feminists disagree. Some women believe that sexual advertisements are a freedom of choice for a woman to embrace her physical attributes and sexuality. Feminism is the empowerment of women that gives women a voice. Furthermore some women take pride in having the power to attract men, and enjoy being seductive and willing to put themselves in front of a camera.
Another counterargument is that women are not forced to be in pornography or sex work. They have chosen to participate in the sex-industry. In fact, the sex industry is among the highest paying occupations for females in the world. Although these jobs are reinforcing the objectification norm, these women are sometimes single women who need to provide for their children, paying student loans, desperate for any job that can pay their bills like anyone else. Today, there is gender discrimination in salaries. For every dollar a man makes, a woman only earns 91 cents, working the same exact job. There are obviously feminine discrimination in every economic level.
To further refute this counterargument, poverty is one of the most influential reasons why women even participate in the sex industry at all. Sex workers are usually ethnic (African, Latino, Russian, Asian, etc.) and are discriminated in a professional workplace. Sexism, or gender discrimination, exists in the workplace, making it inevitable for women to earn more money working a sex job, rather than an education associated profession. Lack of civil protection is also another reason why women choose to be sex workers. There are countless situations of rape, battery, and assaults that go unnoticed and/or unresolved.
Now I will suggest remedies to resolve the issue of objectification of women in mass media. How can advertisers break gender roles? Although most of the time audiences see women exploited in advertisements, sometimes women are portrayed as intelligent, liberated, strong individuals.
A great example of this kind of women-empowering companies is Dove, another deodorant company but aimed towards female audiences instead. Dove emphasizes natural beauty in women of all shapes and sizes. Real women like to see other women, with whom they can identify, furthermore making the Dove Company very profitable through their feminist approach. Other cosmetic companies including Pantene, Covergirl, and Proctor & Gamble are woman empowering. Pantene, a hair care company’s slogan reads, “Shine Strong.” Covergirl is a Cosmetics company whose slogan reads, “Girls can.” Proctor & Gamble is a feminine product manufacturer commercials say “throw and fight like a girl” empowering a woman’s strength. Most importantly, Verizon, a mobile phone company, slogan said, “inspire her mind” suggesting brains over beauty in a woman.
Women are becoming leaders in today’s society; achieving record athletic accomplishments, being CEOs of popular companies, and achieving civil rights. Today’s women outnumber men in college, with 33% more likely to earn a college degree. The International Woman’s Achievers’ Awards (IWAA) celebrated and honors the accomplishments of women Globally. The purpose of this commemoration association is to empower young women to achieve their goals.
Popular companies should follow this marketing strategies that Dove, Pantene, Covergirl, and especially Verizon have adopted. Women take more pride in being intelligent than being the beautiful stereotypical uneducated and emotionless sex object. Perhaps there would less eating disorders and expensive cosmetic surgeries. This approach would make for a better environment and respect towards women.
In conclusion, Music, Television, Advertisements and Promotions, Cosmetics, Internet, and Billboards are powerful tools used by mass media in order to shape and influence large audience opinions. Thus resulting in negative effects for women. In today’s society, women are objectified as sex symbols through glorifying actresses and models that are wearing seductive clothes and having the slimmest of slim bodies. Pornography and sex work has become a leading industry in today’s society. This reality truly affects the everyday woman’s perception and insults the real beauty inside a woman. Meanwhile, the media hardly does anything to resolve these issues. In fact, there isn’t much conversation of the fatal truths about the negative side affects in young women including anorexia, bulimia, and depression. Rather than suggesting that women should worry about being beautiful and fitting into the hottest swimsuit of the season, women in mass media should be empowered for the strength they have to give childbirth and be educated individuals. More companies should adopt a more woman-friendly approach in their marketing strategies because it would be mutually beneficial for both parties.
“Gender Stereotypes in Mass Media. Case Study: Analysis of the Gender Stereotyping Phenomenon in TV Commercials.” N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. http://krytyka.org/gender-stereotypes-in-mass-media-case-study-analysis-of-the-gender-stereotyping-phenomenon-in-tv-commercials/
“International Women Achievers’ Awards (IWAA).” International Women Achievers’ Awards (IWAA). N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Story, Louise. “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Now Likely to See an Ad.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Jan. 2007. Web. 10 Oct. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/15/business/media/15everywhere.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Watts, Sarah. “Can We All Just Relax About Casual Sexism?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 July 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
“5 Companies That Are Empowering Women – Unilever NV (NYSE:UN), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ).” Benzinga. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.