Some people believe the messages sent out through media are the true representation of the real world they live in. Unfortunately, these messages create gender stereotypes, which have characterized both males and females about how to look and act. Otherwise, they will not be accepted in the society. In the essay of Aaron H Devor, “Becoming Members of Society: Learning the Social Meanings of Gender”, he explores the concept of masculinity and femininity that creates our sense of identity, and how these gender codes show a relationship to power, dominance and submission.
Jean Kilbourne in “Two Ways a Woman can Hurt: Advertising and Violence” and Joan Morgan in “From Fly-Girls to Bitches and Hos” argue that how a woman’s image of submission is abused and exploited through the media, leaving women disempowered and marginalized. The attached advertisement “Ultimate Attraction” provides evidence about what Kilbourne and Morgan mean by exploitation of women in our society. There is an influence that media holds that is inconspicuous by many people.
However, media should not have the power to set the standards for the society since they misuse their authority to create a false image of social power that influence people, culture and how we view man’s and woman’s role in our society. Media plays an important role promoting the gender roles in our society. Advertisements, in particular, sell visual representations of an ideal man and woman. In other words, media contributes in constructing the image of a man as dominant whereas the woman is a subordinate member of our society.
Devor comments, “conception of gender roles captures the hierarchal and competitive masculine thrust for power, which can but need not, lead to aggression and feminine quest for harmony and communal well being which can but need not ,result in passivity and dependence. [pg 531]” Our society considers that men are superior to women. They attain the true social power, which provides them a freedom to exercise their dominance over woman. For instance, on first look at the attached ad, it clearly portrays that the man possesses all the power over the woman.
The ad displays a strong muscular man taking charge of the woman body and exploiting women emotion for his pleasure. Hence, this advertisement shows the dominance of the man over the women and objectifies the woman and her sexual relationship with the man. However, we see a lack of true social power, which is usually associated with authority, influence, and control over the other. According to the BMW ad, “the ultimate attraction” is a fancy car, and women are an attraction but just not the ultimate attraction.
In this case, the true social power is possessed by BMW or a corporate entity that influences and controls the emotion of their consumers and further degrades and demeans the role of a woman in our society. These powerful corporations like BMW and others inject the ideas of negative power to men, which provide them with the ultimate freedom to exploit woman and treat them like animals. Kilbourne points out, “male violence is subtly encouraged by ads that encourages men to be forceful and dominant and to value sexual intimacy more than emotional intimacy. [pg577] sexuality is then a physical expression of the emotional bond between two individuals. When we relate this emotion to an “ultimate attraction”, we find that there is a physical bond between two people but the essence of love, care and spiritual connection is missing. If we look at the attached ad, the man, covering the face of a woman by a BMW magazine is a display of emotional violence. He is completely ignoring the feelings and emotions of the woman and using her for his satisfaction.
That is the reason men have lost respect for women and treat them like sexual objects to be looked at and played with, naughty but legal. Consequently, women feel the need to go to any extent to attract the love and support they desire and allow the media to degrade their image. In a male dominated society, sex sells best. The media tries to capture the attention of consumers by any means. However, is it necessary to degrade the women at such a level? These advertisements indicate the only power woman can carry is through sexuality.
Devor suggests, “Femininity styles of dress likewise display subordinate status through greater restrictions of the free movement of the body greater exposure of the bare skin, and an emphasis on sexual characteristics. [pg533]” Generally, women are characterized through their clothing but mainly by their body structure. For instance, consider any beauty pageant: the basic requirement to enter in the contest is the body structure of 34, 26, and 34. The girls have to expose their bodies at every level of the contest to succeed. The last thing that determines a winner is how she uses her brain.
The beauty of a woman does not lie in her body- the real beauty lies in her heart and soul. However, media ignores this idea and continues to denigrate women in every possible way. For instance, if we look at the attached ad, the man does not care about the woman at all. He is using the girl as an object to satisfy his cravings for the car. Therefore, “the person becomes an object and violence is inevitable. This step is already taken with women. The violence, the abuse is partly chilling but logical result of objectification. pg585]” and as a result the images of women displayed in these kind of advertisements are an unjust misrepresentations of gender roles. Subsequently, media becomes the root of misinterpretation of power and further controls people’s thoughts and actions, which then leads the dominant members to impose their false authority on the subordinate members of the society. As a result, men hold a dominant position in our society and due to the media exposure, their behavior towards woman is disrespectful and controlling. They use the innocence of the woman as a road to earn money and prove their dominance over them.
Real dominance is what we call control or influence over other people. In our society, this concept is associated with that of leadership. Furthermore, whoever possesses this trait is a qualified dominant member of the society. According to Devor, “In patriarchally organized societies, masculine values become the ideological structure of the society as a whole. Masculinity thus become “innately” valuable and femininity serves a contrapuntal function to delineate and magnify the hierarchical dominance of masculinity. pg534]” A man who appears muscular, tough, strong, aggressive, and independent reflects the true image of a male dominating figure. Our media takes great care when advertising the male stereotype and confirms stereotypical identities as structured by our society. That is what we can see in the attached ad, where a muscular man is taking charge of a woman body, and admiring his passion for a car. However, the ad is also negative towards men. The man shows his attraction for BMW but also shows his helplessness. Although he is dominant and has power over the woman, yet there is not enough power to fulfill his desire for a high status car.
In other words, men in our culture have more fear then woman. They hide their emotions and disappointments and tend to appear dominant. The things they want or fear lead them to exert his pressure over women and overcome the display of their fear. As Morgan points out about rappers, “many brothers see themselves as powerless when it comes to facing the evils of the larger society, accepting responsibility for their lives, or the lives of their children. ”[pg604] This is one of the bitter truths that our society has to face: men are always afraid of commitment.
For instance, in American culture, a man is always running away from the bond of marriage and taking a responsibility of his partner. He maintains his relationship until times get hard or he finds another person who is more attractive. This gives the perfect example of their fear that we can see in the rates of failed marriages. The fear of commitment prevents them to keep a healthy relationship among them. Men do not want to confirm the statement that behind every successful man there is a woman behind him. They have an egoistic nature and that is why they cannot tolerate a woman taking charge of their responsibilities.
They fear that if they show their weakness they might lose their reputation and dignity as the dominant member of the society. Therefore, every member male or female has his or her own responsibilities to the society. Due to the social pressure on every individual, they cannot disregard their obligations and responsibilities towards the society. Every gender has a role that they are supposed to follow and media has a great effect in creating these roles that each gender should possess. Each one has to follow the preset norms of their respective gender in a way.
However, if anyone dares to break away from the so call gender norm, then our society would show her or him being single out and made fun of him or her for not accepting responsibilities of their gender attributes. Therefore, to avoid these circumstances and maintain the existing hierarchy, our society promotes through media the stereotypical male and female roles that are introduced to our younger generation at an early stage of their lives. Devor believes, “the process of learning to think about gender in an adult fashion is one prerequisite to becoming a full member of society. [pg 529] In comic books, a muscular, strong, and brave man is always at the rescue of a helpless woman in trouble. This media portrays that man who possesses all the characteristics of masculinity and knows how to use against the weak becomes a super power. Yet, one of the super heroes says with great power comes great responsibility. However, when men in our society taste this power, they forget their responsibilities as a human being. If we look at the attached ad, we see a woman hands wrapped around the neck of a man, which displays her innocent love, care, and submission.
On the other hand, when looking at the dominance of the man over the woman, he is completely ignoring her emotions and feelings by covering her face. That behavior is just shallow and irresponsible for a human being, like the other false images of true social power. In addressing the way hip-hop like advertising works on gender representation in popular culture Morgan mentions, “We desperately need a space to lovingly address the uncomfortable issues of our failing self-esteem, the ways we sexualize and objectify ourselves, our confusion about sex and love and the unhealthy, unloving, unsisterly ways we treat each other. pg606]” Any women who like to keep a healthy relationship, she expects to receive love and respect that she deserves. However, media projects women image as a prostitute and a man treating her like one, creates a negative impact on our society especially for our young generation. Boys assume that every girl is just like a woman in the advertisements. Therefore, they can use them for their pleasure and exude them to play along with another. Consequently, when a girl analyzes that if this is the only way she can attract attention of a man, she throw herself to men in an undignified and disrespectful way.
That is what Morgan wants for every woman and especially the black women (women from her culture) to pull her out from this mindset and make her believe in herself. Morgan thinks that what we need in our society is self-awareness. Every woman should realize her potential and she should not consider herself any degree below the man. If media is trying to portray a beautiful woman as revealing, skinny and flawless, this is just an attempt of creating self-esteem issues and weakening the sense of pride among young females.
Girls should realize that these are just the false images and stop believing that to be happy and successful they need to look likes those women in the advertisement. The day when our young females realize this reality, they do not need beauty and perfection to be happy instead they will be able to create space as a potential member and can challenge the preset norms of our society. Perfect society is build when every member of that society considered equal. Everyone should be able to take in the account for the consequences of their actions.
However, this idea of a perfect society is just a fantasy because we can never have a perfect society. That is only because nobody wants to take the responsibility of their behaviors and think of the impact on others or the environment before taking an action. For instance, media has snatched the power from the people to think responsibly and control the society by creating a hierarchy. We can clearly acknowledge the impact of media images and stereotypical gender images have on people.
The media has continuously exploited women image and promoted the message that women are meant to be seen and played and never to be taken seriously. Thus, media in a way has provided men with ultimate power and authority that they use to impose their dominance over women. Media does not take the responsibility of the hierarchy they have created because they are only interested in their profits. Therefore, we have to wake up and differentiate between reality and fantasy, since only then we can create a perfect responsible society based on equality, respect, and peace.