Riddle me this…
1. A son and an engineer go fishing. The boy was the engineer’s son but the engineer wasn’t the boy’s dad. How was this possible?
The engineer was the boy’s mum.
2. A boy and his father are in a car crash. The father dies and the boy is rushed to the hospital. They surgeon sees the boy and says, “I cannot operate on him, he is my son.” Who is the surgeon?
The boy’s mother.
Moral of the story: the society creates preconceived ideas of gender roles that confuse us when a stereotype is broken. The media, particularly advertisements – be they on TV, print or online – exploit such perceptions and ultimately encourage them. To target more audiences and viewers, with the hope of becoming universal, the media has played the gender stereotype card so many times it’s virtually impossible to keep count.
Surprisingly, even in this day and age, the media still perpetuate traditional gender stereotypes. They do so by portraying subordinate groups in a negative and unrealistic way so as to implant a certain image in people’s minds, standardising unfair, bigoted behaviour. Gender stereotypes in the media span from TV to online information (consumed voluntarily or not by every household), and they affect millions and millions of people worldwide.
When it comes to advertisements, gender stereotyping even affects the visual choices and techniques employed. More often than not, women are depicted as objects of beauty and domesticity, appearing in seductive, full-shot ads, while men who advertise automotive products or business services are usually shown mostly in close-ups.
Stereotypical women in the media are either housewives, obsessed with home appliances, or some sexy seductresses, in a lip-lock with a man, to advertise the long-lasting effect of the lipstick she’s wearing. Women also feature in ads targeted towards men, where they’re used as a tool to boost the man’s ego over a new watch, or even rush to flirt with him, seduced by his new cologne.
Then there is the unmistakable modern female stereotype portraying the health-obsessed woman. This variation appears in organic food, fitness or beauty-preserving adverts – where she applies anti-wrinkle cream, smiling in such a way that balances gracefulness with a subtle hint of seductiveness. It obviously goes without saying that the sexy seductress, health-obsessed Miss Graceful or the frantic housewife are all represented idealistically and unrealistically in terms of looks and body image. What’s more, these women are generally Caucasians, mostly blondes, slender and delicate.
We also have male gender stereotypes, pigeon-holed into one of two categories. “The real man” is muscular, handsome, chiselled, successful, and a skilful seducer. He’s always with a beautiful, sultry woman tagging along.
The second sort, which is less popular, is the ordinary guy – the plain John, if you will – who appears in ads for household products. This stereotypical male is a bit chubby, homey-looking, smiley and domesticated. The more realistic, and perhaps more likeable kind. If only women could get away with this look!
Of course there’s much more to delve into when it comes to the different layers of gender stereotypes in the media. But the fact of the matter still remains: genders are still illustrated very distinctively – and whether we might be aware or accepting of it or not, stereotypical portrayals of both men and women are still extremely widespread.