We would all like to flatter ourselves with the idea that advertisements don’t affect us. We want to be free thinkers, unmoved by marketer’s efforts to influence the way we think. But when we look at the shoes we’re wearing, the stores we go to, and the gadgets we own it becomes clear that advertisements dictate the decisions we make more than we are willing to admit.
There’s no shame in it. If advertisements didn’t influence us, they wouldn’t fulfill their purpose. The fact is that ads exist to shape the way we think. Marketers want you to think that you need what they’re selling to you. When you finally buy it, they can trust that they have succeeded.
The problem is that marketers have been selling more than their products. For the past several decades, they have also sold us on sexism and inequality.
While women have made tremendous progress towards equality, advertisements fall behind on redefining the way we see women. Instead, they continue to push outdated stereotypes by portraying women in limited roles.
A study from the 1970s found that in general audience magazines, only nine percent of women were portrayed in working roles compared to 45 percent of men. While these statistics have gotten a little better through the years, women are still typically placed in ads as overworked wives and mothers or sex symbols.
Recently, there has been a movement to diversify the way that women are portrayed in advertisements. These reforms reflect how the perception of women’s roles is transitioning and mark the beginning of dismantling limiting stereotypes that have kept women down.
When Blake Irving stepped up as GoDaddy’s new chief executive in 2015, he was welcomed with backlash for calling himself a feminist. His critics argued that anyone working for a company like GoDaddy, which was notorious for its sexist ads, could not be a feminist. Irving responded by detailing the company’s plan of action to change their image.
GoDaddy gained fame through the release of its controversial advertisements which showcased women in sexualized roles and adhered to traditional stereotypes of femininity. Under Irving, the company has promised to stop running such ads. The company hopes that by portraying women appropriately, it can influence the culture of how women are treated in the workplace. During the years that the offensive ads were being released, the company struggled to attract small-businesses run by women. Further, talented female engineers and executives showed little interest in working for a company whose image made them feel alienated.
GoDaddy set out to become an inclusive workplace by guaranteeing equal pay and implementing new methods to recruit a more diverse workforce. With a new appreciation for women’s efforts, it was only fitting that their ads portrayed women in a dignified manner.
Similarly, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK released a report last month that called for a ban on sexist ads. The new policy forbids the release of ads that objectify women or present unhealthily thin people as the norm. The ASA will also scrutinize ads that discourage young ladies from pursuing roles of leadership and power.
With the UK taking initiative on banning sexism in advertisements, many have begun looking to the U.S. Government to do something similar. However, a representative from the media bureau of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. made it clear that in the name of the First Amendment, it is unlikely that such law will exist in the U.S.
Sexism in advertisements support the idea that women are one-dimensional. When we limit how women are portrayed, we feed into a culture in which they are inferior. We allow the media to put women in a box and then question why women earn less than men in most major U.S. occupations or why world leaders are typically men.
If we want to redefine the way that women exist in society, we need to allow for diversity in the way that they are portrayed. A big part of that is the way they appear in ads.