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challenge the status quo because we are never it.’ (Cindy Gallop, 2011)


The portrayal
of women in advertising has long been studied by scholars with an interest in
the use of gender stereotypes, the objectification of the female body and the
disproportionate representation of women shown in advertisements McArthur &
Resko (1975). As demonstrated by cultivation theory, individuals tend to
incorporate stereotypes presented in the media into their own concepts of
reality— thus suggesting that people likely modify their personal behavior
based on stereotypes to which they have been repeatedly exposed Do?ring &
Po?schier (2006) However, there has been a significant shift in advertising
representations of women. The paper will be reviewing this shift in advertising
towards women’s empowerment significance of this movement whilst also reviewing
gender in advertising and rise of femvertising. This will be done by analyzing femvertising campaigns
such as Always #Likeagirl and Sports England #IjigglethereforeIam to highlight
that advertising is experiencing a positive shift from women being presented as
passive objects of the male gaze, to young women now being depicted as active,
independent and sexually powerful. 

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Gender Gap in Advertising


In 2015, it
was estimated that women influenced 70% of global household purchases and
controlled $20 trillion of spending worldwide (Procter & Gamble, 2016)
Regardless of the spending power women posses, they are depicted only 1/3 to ¼ as
often as their male counterparts in advertisements— a statistic that has held
nearly steady since 1975. McArthur & Resko (1975) Eisend (2010)

holding the spending power, women are continually represented as an accessory
to a male figure, as a passive observer, as a mother/caretaker or in the home. Adverts
are targeting women whilst simultaneously exploiting and insulting them.  (Lazar, 2006)

Eisend (2010)
found that women were 1.5 to 4 times more likely to be stereotyped than men,
depending on the product category. Knoll et al. (2011) found support that
gender stereotypes are still prevalent in advertising with the portrayal of
professional opportunities for women limited while traditional masculine ideals
were upheld. However, progression is being made with more recent findings
showcasing a positive progression of portraying women in positions of power,
with 59% increase of WOC and 73% increase of women of plus size in mainstream
adverts. AdWeek (2016)

Knoll et al.
(2011) found that gender stereotyping in advertisements may influence the
beliefs of consumers who view them. The findings argued how gender is
represented in adverts impacts how the consumer views gender and sex roles in
their own lives— and that consumers alter their own behaviors and actions to
what the media deems ‘desirable.’ A study by Krupnick et al highlighted that
girls between 8-9 years had negative connotations to women in power and 89%
thought negatively about the way they looked. The majority wanting to be
‘Skinny’ and ‘pretty.’ (Krupnick) 2014

conducted a study on its own advertisements and the use of gender stereotypes
within them. The advertisements featured intelligent and/or professional women
only 2% of the time and funny women only in a dismal 1% of total advertisements
(Blay, 2016).

Such a link
between the portrayal of women in the media and the behavior of members of
society, particularly the impact of young girls has brought about the necessary
movement both in advertising and in society. Where as consumers were once
accustomed to gender roles in advertising, better representation is now

In 2014,
lifestyle website SheKnows surveyed more than 600 women about advertising. 91% of
women believed that how women are portrayed in ads has a direct impact on
girls’ self-esteem, and 94 % said that depicting women as sex symbols is
harmful. A further 52% said they have bought a product because
they liked how the ad for it portrayed women, and 71% of those surveyed said
they believe brands should be held responsible for using their ads to promote
positive messages to women and girls. (Telegraph, 2015)


Rise of Femvertising


Femvertising was officially coined during a 2014
AdWeek panel. Defined as “advertising that employs pro-female talent, messages,
and imagery to empower women and girls” advertisers realized
that you cannot simultaneously objectify women and target them to show women as multidimensional,
with a heavy focus on the generation that is embracing third wave feminism. SheKnows

 The idea of femininity has long been
restricted by what men deem to be attractive. In western society today, there
is a feminine standard of physical and emotional features that is reflected
fairly consistently in media representations and is seen as the pinnacle of
attractiveness. This whittles away a women’s worth to a man’s standard. Femvertising aims
to eliminate this, to show women as strong and independent and most
importantly, independent from a man’s view of what a woman should be. (Jenkins,

The male gaze
concept, developed by Laura Mulvey (1989) describes the process by which the
camera puts the audience members in the role of the hegemonic, heterosexual
male (Mulvey, 1989). Mulvey argues the male gaze is practiced on three
different levels: the male gaze as practiced by the characters within a film;
the male gaze as practiced by the camera (i.e. the director’s gaze); and the
male gaze as practiced by the members of the audience (Mulvey, 1989).

Women are
consequently receivers of the gaze and are consequently displayed as sexualized
objects both for the characters within the film and for the audience members.
This act not only determines how men look at women in advertisements, but how
women look at ourselves and how women look at other women. This act of
scopophilia, the pleasure derived from watching, results in us having a
distorted view of how we should look and how we should judge other women, which
is from a viewpoint of how appealing we would be to the opposite sex. This
leads to de-humazing the women, not seeing her an intellectual but rather a
sexual object. (CassyEats, 2010)

This concept
can be argued for bringing about femvertising. It is argued to be the manifestation
of the third wave feminist’s consciousness taking back their own purchasing
power and rejection of our own objectification in the media with the refusal to
judge ourselves and other females with a viewpoint of if we are worthy of male
attention. Femvertising can be seen as objectification to
empowerment as women are now demanding more from the brands and want to be seen
as more then just objects to a male gaze. (Bahadur, 20014)

Further, social
Media has been the most crucial tool to the rise of femvertising and
women’s empowerment. After sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood
producer Harvey Weinstein, within 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world engaged in the
#MeToo conversation on Facebook, with over 12m posts, comments, and reactions.
(Guardian, 2017)

Within the
advertising industry, protein world printed an advertisement of a women in a
bikini with the slogan ‘Are you beach body ready?” 5.2 million people within
the UK alone complained on Twitter with the hashtag #boycottproteinworld
trending worldwide. (PR Week, 2015) Social Media has given women and men a
voice to hold advertisers accountable for their actions and gives women a voice
to demand a platform that was not there before.


(2002), whether knowingly or not, predicted the shift from postfeminist
advertising to femvertising by calling for women to realize that
advertising has the potential to be a form of female empowerment. Crouse-Dick
suggested that by doing so women would realize that products do not determine
who a woman should be or how they should look. Likewise, femvertising is a
confirmation of the social role theory hypothesis by Diekman and Eagly (2002),
showing that gender stereotypes and depictions of women change with society as
it evolves.

The US Association of National Advertising (ANA) represented
by 50 of the top ad spending brands, committed to eliminating bias against
women in advertising. The ANA wants a 20 % increase in the “accurate portrayal
of all girls and women” in media by 2020 – the centenary year of when women got
the vote in the US. Men’s magazines have also changed. GQ, for
example, has started adding in women to its ‘Man of the Year’ awards and Look
magazine, which is a weekly young women’s magazine, placed its first curvy
model on the cover in 2016. (IrishTimes, 2016) This highlights the desire to
see a more diverse range of women celebrated in today’s culture and the need
for femvertising.




Sport England – #IjigglethereforeIam


One of the most prolific femvertising advertisements
is Sports England, ‘I jiggle therefore I am.’

Sport England’s research reveals that, from an early age,
appearance is a concern for women when it comes to exercise; 36% of the
least-active schoolgirls agree that they feel like their body is on show in PE
lessons and that makes them like PE less. Furthermore, one woman in every four
says they “hate the way I look when I exercise or play sport”, and
women are more likely than men to say they aren’t confident about their body
when doing sport. The
starting point for the campaign was research: through talking to women came the
realisation that they weren’t doing sport out of fear
of being judged, even
though 75% wanted to. (Campaign, 2016)

The aspect of female judgment is widespread in modern
culture. Feminist Camille Paglia argues women dress for women’s approval rather
then for men’s. Paglia states women appreciate compliments from women more so
then compliments from men. (Paglia, 2008)


Lazar (2006) supports this stating the fear of judgment
from women is a greater fear then the fear of judgment from men. Femvertising is becoming so popular because women no
longer want to be pitted against each other, instead want to be seen as supporting
other women. We are becoming a society in which women want to lift each other
up and rebel against the notion of being a man’s accessory. (Goldberg, 2016) This
advert’s slogan ‘Real women jiggle’ aims to eliminate that fear of self consciousness’
and instead create an army of women that have that in common and to support each


Diedrichs and
Lee (2010) found that if women in the media were depicted as more similar to
the women of the general population, media exposure may not lead to body-
dissatisfaction and low levels of self-esteem. These researchers also found
that women who were exposed to average-sized models in advertisements
experience higher levels of self- esteem than those who were exposed to thin-ideal
models in advertisements.


Singh (2012) believes that a lot of ads today
trigger something referred to in psychology as ‘compensatory consumption’,
which he explains is a behavior in which individuals try to overcome this
threatened perception of self by acquiring the product being advertised to
them. For example, women by skinny jeans in order to appear skinner. “Before
2014, highlighting insecurities about the female body has, as a result, become
central to many ad campaigns in the cosmetics and personal care industry.”.

Sports England acknowledged Singh’s theory
and aimed to make the women’s body the desirable object in the most empowering
way possible. Instead of making women want to look thinner, or more desirable
to men, it aims to reinforce that women come with imperfections and that is
acceptable and to be celebrated.


Taylor (2016) argues that this advertisement is putting
women back in control of their bodies. The advert has a strong emphasis on
women’s body, but rather than telling women unconsciously how they should look,
it’s telling women that your body is yours and it is strong and should be free
of judgment.

Nevertheless, the advertisement has come under scrutiny. Although the campaign showcases a range of exercising bodies that are
not normally privileged on television screens, it still has a central focus on women’s
flesh, though it tries to sell that as somehow radical or revolutionary. The
argument entails that female bodies are still performing for a male
audience which ultimately leads to the objectification of the female body.
Research has shown that physical activity in the pursuit of desirability is
something women eagerly “work on” under the auspices of the male gaze. So sweat
is now sexy and the moving body is an opportunity for others to reflect back
desirability. “What is troubling about the hallmark of “have-it-all” femininity
is that such identities are not equally available to all or equally desired by
all women.” (Guardian, 2016)

counterargument here argues that this advert displays women’s body as powerful
tool and highlights the shift from sexual objectification to sexual empowerment
and is framed in a through a discourse of playfulness, freedom, and, above all,
choice. Women are not seeking men’s approval anymore, but are instead pleasing
themselves, working out not to impress men but for their own self and, in so
doing, they ‘just happen’ to win men’s admiration. This is ‘power femininity’:
a ‘subject-effect’ of ‘a global discourse of popular post-feminism which
incorporates feminist signifiers of emancipation and empowerment. (Gill, 2008)


Femininity is
also largely restricted by what men find attractive. In western society today,
there is a feminine standard of physical and emotional features that is
reflected fairly consistently in media representations and is seen as the
pinnacle of attractiveness—women’s worth becomes defined by how well they fit
into the arbitrary mold created by the patriarchy (Jenkins, 2013). The #IjigglethereforIam
campaign aims to challenge this, highlighting the parts of the body women may
be self conscious of, are to be embraced because that is what makes women
powerful. The idea of female envy is overcome in the campaign. It reflects an
army of women, encouraging and celebrating each other highlight that working
out is not a battle for male attention, it is to look good for one’s self.


Always #LikeAGirl


The Always
#LikeaGirl is perhaps the most famous advertising campaign. Young women and
men, boys and young girls were all asked to do things ‘like a girl’, for
example to run or fight like a girl.

Women, boys
and men all behaved in a silly and self-deprecating way, acting out the
insulting stereotype. But when the prepubescent girls were asked the same
questions they reacted completely differently. They ran and fought and hit as
hard as they could, with confidence, pride and incredible self-belief. They had
clearly not been influenced yet by the ‘rules’ that define womanhood and were
simply being themselves. For them, doing something ‘like a girl’ meant doing it
as best as they could. The ad pulls on pathos by asking, “When does
‘like a girl’ become an insult?” This is an appeal directly to the audience,
playing on their emotions and making them realize the hurtful impacts that
using “female” as synonymous to “weak” can have. (Beltz, 2014)

Later in the ad, it is stated that when a girl reaches
puberty, her self-confidence plummets. It correlates this drop in
self-confidence to the negative commentary that girls receive, and the supposed
connection between being female, and being inferior as a person and athlete. (Beltx,
2014) Goldberg argues gender stereotypes so
ingrained into our society that they become part of our language. ‘Like a girl’
has been an insult for generations and is referred to someone who is weak, over
emotional or useless. This advert aimed to turn this phrase into a phrase that
refers to girls as ‘strong’ and ‘powerful.’ (Goldberg, 2014)

Prior to watching the film, just 19% of
16-24s had a positive association toward ‘like a girl’. After watching,
however, 76% said they no longer saw the phrase negatively. Furthermore, two
out of three men who watched it said they’d now think twice before using the
‘like a girl’ as an insult. (D&AD, 2016)


Always highlights the notion of ‘Girl power’
rather than feminism. All
three waves of feminist movements have grappled with the broader, often
negative or at least misguided, connotations of the word feminist, with many
women believing in gender equality, but distancing themselves from the feminist
label for fear of being perceived as hating men. (Hunt, 2017) “Girl power”
however, promotes a sense solidarity among women and the young generation, and
brings female audience members together in a way that feminist movements have
struggled to do.  (Vagianos, 2016).

Studies have
shown that it is puberty when young girls feel the pressure to act in ways that
do not correlate with their actual thoughts and feelings. Gender roles and
everyday sexism that are perpetuated within society cause a decline in

 “Society constantly dwells on the differences
between genders, sending out the message that leadership, power and strength
are for men, not for women. And that boys should be raised not to be a girl, as
if being female was ‘not good enough’.” (Campaign, 2016)

This is reinforced through the male gaze.
When women are reduced to visual pleasure, that’s when rigid expectations of
body types and mannerisms are created. Girls are subconsciously taught through
the male gaze that is prevalent in our media not to be seen for their strength
of character, wisdom, intellect and instead and instead are reduced to just being
“seen.” This creates a culture in which being a girl is seen as being weak and
inferior. (Berman, 2015)


Similarly, while a man is a “boss,” a woman
is seen as “bossy.” Men are “persuasive,” while women are “pushy.” (Bizwomen,
2014) The tagline of “Likeagirl” is to highlight that being a female is nothing
to be ashamed and to embrace your power and strength. Always and the femvertising movement are helping to successfully
eliminate these gender stereotypes and to encourage independence, in which
women are no longer susceptible to this violating and fragmenting male gaze.

Through the
socialization process, girls are conditioned to downplay their achievements and
work to be submissive of men (Hawkins et al 2015).  Further, Greenleaf and Martin suggest that
family members and peers communicate messages of how girls should perceive
themselves. However, peers and family members are educated ultimately through
the mass media. Always creator highlighted the problem that if the mass media perpetually
create perceptions of women, as a society it will always be ingrained this
false sense of perfection and submission which is passed along to the younger
generation. The campaign has become a phenomenon because it challenges this
perception that a #Likeagirl is an insult. Instead, it creates a generation of
feminists through the power of advertising and challenge how females are
portrayed from an adolescent onwards.



We have
reached a pivotal point in age in which women are demanding to be represented
fairy, accurately and authentically, both in advertising and in real life. As
Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed explained, “The time is right for
us as an industry to challenge and change how we portray gender in our
advertising. Our industry spends billions of dollars annually shaping
perceptions and we have a responsibility to use this power in a positive
manner” (Sweeney, 2016). Women will no longer stand to see damaging stereotypes
and degrading tropes to depict the lives of women.

With 2017
being deemed ‘The year of the women’ encompassing the #Metoo movement and the acknowledgement
of harassment and intimidation in the workplace, femvertising
is being seen as part of the movement in the appreciation of women not only as
consumers, but also as complex, multidimensional and critical members of
society. Although progress still needs to be made, it is clear that an
inevitable cultural shift has begun. The rise of femvertising
also see’s an end to damaging female stereotypes and the objectification of
women in the mass media. Femvertising may offer a solution for brands
wishing to authentically connect with female consumers whilst celebrating and
embracing women and their power in society.

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