To what extent to today’s television advertisements conform to or challenge traditional gender roles?

The way in which men and women are portrayed (in this case through advertising) is called gender representation. When examining the different ways in which men and women are represented, the concept of gender roles comes into view. The traditional role of a woman is ‘housewife’ or ‘mother’ and the role of a man is the ‘bread winner’ or ‘working male’. When referring to these traditional gender roles, stereotyping is another aspect that often appears.

Stereotyping is very powerful and advertisers often use it in their commercials. This is because it is a very strong and effective tool. This is because it leads to quick thinking and can often help a product to stick in your mind. These stereotypes can be so discreet that we often do not unconsciously realise they are there. Advertisers are very clever in hiding stereotypes and also in making them acceptably obvious. Many ads use clear stereotypes but we are so clouded by the product that again we are oblivious to them.


I believe advertisers have a responsibility to present a balanced use of stereotypes as they can be mind controlling and even slightly hypnotic.

The technique of subliminal advertising (which is now illegal) had the same effect but on a much higher level. This type of advertising was where a shot of a product would flash at you through the screen and you would be almost brained washed by that shot and persuaded to buy the product. Advertisers are forever finding loopholes within commercial laws where they can legally create this effect but not by subliminal advertising.

Stereotyping in general is not necessarily what is important in television ads. What needs to be focused on in particular is stereotyping of traditional gender roles. In today’s society the roles of a traditional man and woman cannot be applied. There is such a thing a ‘career woman and a ‘househusband’.

Advertising perpetuates stereotyping about men and women undermining the struggle for gender equality. This kind of equality is something most of society strives for and it can be achieved through such things are the media. As we have already established all media are constructed. What is difficult to understand is if we are endeavouring to attain gender equality, why we don’t use the power of the media to our advantage and portray gender equality through ads.

After examining many adverts on television, there were three that stood out for there use of traditional gender roles.

The first is an advert for Argos. It involves a man who is a wealthy celebrity and a woman who is his assistant. Immediately from just the characters used in this ad we can see traditional gender roles. The man as the ‘earner’ and the woman merely as his ‘errands girl’. The male celebrity goes on to order his assistant to buy presents for all his celebrity friends. The woman is ‘the shopper’ while the man provides the money for the presents. The ad ends with the celebrity buying himself a bright, fast, expensive sports car, which the woman had thought, was brought for her. Silly mistake. This entire ad contains traditional gender roles but it has to be looked at a little deeper to realise.

The second ad is for a Vauxhall Corsa. In this advert a group of cars are playing hide and seek. One of the cars is counting, while the others hide. The counter is a man as is the voice over. There is also a young boy featured in the ad. But no women feature anywhere. The ads target audience is obviously men. Researchers have discovered that adverts aimed at boys or men are often fast paced, contain bright colours and have quick shot changes whereas ads aimed at girls or woman tend to be slow paced, with pastel/neutral colours and often have smooth, flowing shot changes. This ad certainly conforms to this theory in terms of ads set at men. This advert again uses an obvious traditional gender role of the male.

The third advertisement is for Iceland. It is a short, simple ad but a lot can be taken from it. It concerns a woman dragging a shopping trolley. The woman is struggling and it seems as though the advertisers are making us anticipate a man’s arrival. But the man does no show and she is left alone. We view her as the weaker sex.

It seems as though all supermarket ads contain mums shopping with kids in toe but sometimes men look after the kids while mum is shopping or goes shopping for her if she is working late for example. This Iceland ad is no exception. I believe this advert to be worst of all in terms of the use of traditional gender roles as it shows them in such an obvious and insulting manner.

From these advertisements we can see a range of ways in which advertisers portray the traditional roles of men and women and therefore it is fair to conclude that television ads do conform to traditional gender roles. What is worrying is not the effect this is having on adults but the effect it’s having on children.

At a young age a child’s mind is still developing. The child itself is still learning the ways of the world and the difference between right and wrong.

Almost 95% of children watch television on a regular basis. Most TV programmes contain immense amount of stereotypes so is it necessary for adverts to contain them also? Advertisements are there to sell a particular product but also they act as a break between or during programmes. As viewers we need this period to be a break from stereotypes also.

Children often imitate people they see as a role model, a person who is a big part of their life. As strange as it sounds television can be just as big a part of a child’s life as their family is. This is not necessarily a bad thing as many of the programmes kids watch on TV are educational and have the ability to have a child’s full attention. When I programme ends or has a break half way through, the child is still completely focused on what is on the TV screen so it is so important for adverts to be a learning experience too not crammed full of gender stereotypes. If gender equality is going to be achieved we need to develop this concept from a young age, while the mind of a child is still learning. Advertisers have a duty to do this for two reasons. Firstly because it is a positive way to take advantage of the power they behold and secondly because its something that should have been done along time ago.

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