University essay from Högskolan i Halmstad/Sektionen för humaniora (HUM)
The purpose of this essay was to investigate and highlight the strengths and shortcomings of Critical Discourse Analysis and Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis when used as an analytical tool. By comparing the representation of women and men in print advertisements, and how there may be a difference in language being used to describe both genders, including the use of sexist language, a critique of CDA and FCDA could be established. In order to establish this all areas of the advertisements had to be taken into account, including layout and images used. The ads were read and interpreted through CDA and FCDA in order to investigate and identify the strengths, and any shortcomings, of the theories. The investigation shows that, although CDA and FCDA scholars could argue that women tended to be described in a more sexist manner overall, a counterargument could also be made on most accounts. The argument which supported sexism was especially observable through how women’s bodies were more often fragmented in images and positioned in more sexual positions, but also how the advertisements not only reinforced stereotypes as well as using distinctly negative language in their descriptions. However, gender stereotyping against men in the ads was also prevalent, which allowed an argument against CDA and FCDA’s theories about existing power struggles. Although the investigation did manage to substantiate the critique regarding how CDA and FCDA view the differences in gender representations, therefore fulfilling its aim, perhaps a more accurate result would have been possible to achieve if more print advertisements had been used in the investigation. However, this was not possible due to the qualitative nature of the investigation.
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As I finished reading a rather intellectually stimulating article in a popular men's magazine, I flipped the page to reveal quite an interesting advertisement. My gaze fell upon the following print ad, which contained the photograph of a decrepit old man dressed in a black suit, wearing a diamond encrusted gold dollar sign ring, embraced by a wedding-gown clad, large breasted, peroxide bleached blond, young bimbo. Next to the shocking newly-weds was a new, cherry red Dodge Viper convertible, parked on a black patterned brick driveway, in front of a gorgeous mansion wall adorned with lavish vegetation and concrete Grecian pottery overflowing with ferns. The inept, liver spotted, incontinent, prune-like old geezer stood in vulgar contrast to the voluptuous, energetic, seductive, fertile youthfulness beside him. At first one might become shocked at such a display. The printed quote at the bottom of the page, "NEED WE SAY MORE?" brought the Car Company's powerful message into clarity. The Dodge Motor Company, by degrading women, claiming that their car will serve as something of a fountain of youth, and asserting that material items are more important than depth of character, is hoping to convince you that their car is something you want.
By having run such a sexually biased advertisement, it is likely that the Dodge Company has immediately alienated half of their viewing audience. The woman has been portrayed as shallow and materialistic, unable to provide for herself, having no other options than to marry this crusty old man to attain the wealth that she desires. Her vanity and lack of self worth are so great that she has traded her self respect for social status. The first thought that entered my mind as I viewed this.
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. ome viewers, they managed to instantly offend at least half of the buying audience. It was offensive and degrading women, portraying them as mere objects of a materialistic male figure. The woman's value appeared to be no greater than that of the automobile. Unfortunately the claims of the car's ability to bring back the appeal of youth may have some truth to it. Just as the clothes made the man in a social setting, when on the road your value is judged by your automobile. The vanity of the general population of our nation and the human specie's lust for wealth is so great that upon seeing a dodge viper on the road, one could not help but look upon the driver with envy and desire. While this advertisement did an excellent job of portraying the Dodge Viper, in a humorous and eye catching way, as an object to be coveted, it's design flaws outweigh its qualities.
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Grace Gould, Claire Ramey, Lucy Butcher
This 2009 “integrated recruitment campaign” from the Oregon-based athletic wear giant Nike – via the Californian advertising agency 72andSunny – “taps into the competitive spirit of young runners” and calls them to gendered action: “Join the Men vs. Women Challenge at Nikeplus.com” (72andsunny.com 2011; Hoovers.com 2011). Runners entered the competition, which launched in early March 2009 and ended in late April of the same year (won by the men), through the Nike plus (Nike+ )website, where they could purchase customizable athletic shoes and clothing as well as software for tracking distances run (RunningfromZombies 2009; Nike Runing 2011). Acquisition of this software, compatible with iPods or a specially designed Nike+ SportBand, granted access to “the world’s largest running club,” a Facebook- like social network that continues to provide personalized training schedules and progress reports as well as opportunities for interacting with fellow runners. Indeed, though the “Men vs. Women Challenge” has ended, the Nike+ network is still available, and maintainsan active user base, emphasizing the running community as a whole (Nike Running ).
(Click to enlarge).
Why did Nike invoke gendered competition to lure its initial audience? The 2009 campaign speaks to resilient Euro-American constructions of gender as consisting of two discrete and heteronormative categories, at once opposed and unified, and of all gender relations as an inherent biological and psychological battle for dominance (see Pinker 1997). Thorne (1993), in her study of American children’s interactions on school playgrounds, observes that “friendly” competitive frameworks are often employed to indirectly address certain underlying tensions. “Kids use the frame of play (‘we’re only playing’; ‘it’s all fun’) as a guise for often serious, gender-related messages about sexuality and aggression,” she explains (5). This “friendly” competition speaks to cultural realities enacted in daily life, where abstract ideals of masculinity and femininity are continuously enacted through coded behaviors.
Similarly, in Nike’s ad campaign, the challenge is constantly couched in terms of play. Nike’s television ad, for example, features men and women gleefully attempting to slow each other down through childish pranks – stealing glasses, tripping each other, etc. As the more serious and competitive implications of the print ads illustrate, however, (note the intense facial expressions, the dedicated hand gestures, etc.) underlying this friendly framework is a narrative of very real battle for dominance. The “Men vs. Women Challenge” calls for young runners to prove not just their own merit, but that of their entire gender. Suddenly, the popularly circulated and aspired to notion of masculinity – couched in notions of athletic superiority and competitive aggression – is in question. What are men they if let the women beat them at their own game? Suddenly, women’s assertions of gender equality are in question – they have to prove that they are better than the men, first at running, and then in the public sphere, all the while maintaining sexed female traits. A race between men and women becomes an indirect dialogue concerning physical and social power as well as the negotiation of gendered behaviors. Combined, these ads reflect the high stakes of gender politics.
Metamessages of Ad Copy
The explicit message of the ad series is largely conveyed through text. The text is large, white, and prominently placed against dark backgrounds. Though there is not a clear sequence for the blurbs, the ad featuring the man and woman together seems a summing up of the content of the other three, since its rhetoric isn’t inherently inciting. It posits a simple binary between “men” and “women,” which Nike, like most companies and agencies, thinks to be most effective in attracting a wide pool of consumers. The word “challenge” is set off by itself spatially in an attempt to emphasize the competitive instinct that Nike wishes to instill in viewers – a drive that will bring them to the Nike Plus website to purchase special shoes needed to compete with. The initial firing up of viewers, however, is left mostly to the other three ads.
The ads featuring the single woman and the single man are interdependent: it takes two for a proper competition. However, without one ad near the other, it’s easy to jump to sexist conclusions suggested by the text. The men’s slogan, “One more thing for men to rule,” is juxtaposed with the women’s slogan, “Ladies first. Men second.” By design, both should be equally arousing and empowering, if we miss or choose to overlook the connotations of “ladies first.” This phrase references both the age of chivalry in which the ideal manly disposition determined the courteous treatment of women, and its modern adaptation that can either be used derisively or to maintain unequal gender expectations. Voicing the usually implied “men second” after the phrase is not enough to offset the fact that men fashioned it for their own prestige. “Ladies first” carries with it an unmistakable patronizing tone. Conversely, “One more thing for men to rule” points directly to men’s frequent dominance beyond the comparatively trivial Nike challenge at hand.
The shoe-featuring ad supports the notion that women need assistance to be “first.” Its slogan, “Custom fit for girls. Trouble for guys,” implies that only with special equipment can women hope to successfully challenge men. This Nike-enabled equality doesn’t foster equanimity between the sexes, however – it means “trouble for guys,” suggesting that otherwise men feel natural in their dominant cultural/social positions. The end of the subtext also presents a double message: “Give the guys something to chase” both restates that women aren’t worth competing against unless they have equipment to up their performance and insinuates that a woman can become more desirable socially/sexually to men by acquiring this particular shoe. Either way, the ad seeks to bolster women’s confidence by subtly undermining it first, thus establishing the need to buy Nike shoes.
The portrayal of male and female runners in Nike’s campaign consolidates all the intricacies embedded in the language and strategies of the ad – notions of competitiveness, gender dichotomy, sexualization, domination, etc. – in visual form. Similarly to its textual counterpart, the portrayal of bodies seems to begin in the individual ads, and culminates in the ad featuring both male and female runners. As such, the “grammar” (Jhally 1995: 82) of the images differs according to intended audience, offering, in one frame, a determined and agile female athlete, in the next, a woman pursued. Just as the strategy and language of the campaign offer two levels of interpretation (play vs. battle, “egalitarian” vs. sexist), the portrayal of bodies lends itself to multiple meanings as well. These meanings, though slickly airbrushed over, are important to uncover because they reveal “the ways in which we think men and women behave,” (Jhally 1995: 81) and offer to the viewer some form of “illusory happiness” (Jhally 1995: 80), a desire conveniently commodified in sneaker form – all in the blink of an eye. It is important to investigate, then, what exactly Nike hopes to communicate visually before the reader turns the page.
In the ads featuring solo athletes, both man and woman appear to be dedicated, active agents. At first glance, their positioning is fairly equal – both stare intently at their goal, arms in motion, actively engaged in the race. Upon more detailed inspection, however, subtle differences can be observed – the man offers the photographer a sturdy thumbs-up, while the woman’s hand, though engaged, is placed daintily over her hip. While these differences certainly suggest a hierarchy of difference, it is a hierarchy obscured by the advertisements’ text. Overall, then, these two images seem to be intended to, for the most part, stand on equal footing. This is likely due to the ads’ intended audience, as each aims to motivate its respective gender to participate in the competition.
The ads featuring both male and female athlete, on the other hand, are far more problematic, and reveal the issues of battle, domination, and sexualization underlying the text and strategy. The runners’ bodies are positioned in an erotically-charged manner, hips almost touching. The man turns completely away from the camera, staring overtly at his competition. The viewer is left to determine the meaning of this gaze. Is he flirting with her? Egging her on? Pursuing her against her wishes? Several physical indicators seem to imply the existence of a an aggressive and sexual underpinning. The woman’s facial expression, for example, though similar to her individual photo, has changed. Her lips have drawn down, as if worried, whereas before her face was smooth and relaxed. Additionally, she does not return the man’s gaze, and does not seem to be enjoying his pursuit. These indicators are complicated further by the man’s overt dominance. He is featured at the center of the ad, both in front of and taller than the woman’s body. His right hand is constricted strongly, as if grasping an invisible object – a gesture invoking strength – while his left still offers a vigorous thumbs-up. The woman’s fingers, however, have curled inwards, giving her a far less agentive look.
Advertising campaigns like the one highlighted above trade in acculturated notions of gender and power. They reflect the ways in which these categories circulate in popular discourse, invoking and reinforcing them at the same time. Only by becoming aware of these concepts can we attempt to disamntle the structures that they support.
Hoovers.com. 2011. 9 April 2011. <http://www.hoovers.com/company/NIKE_Inc/rcthci-
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Cite this article as: Hovland, R. McMahan, C. Lee, G. et al. Sex Roles (2005) 53: 887. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-8305-3
This article reports on an examination of gender role portrayals in American and Korean magazine advertisements that is based on the work of Erving Goffman (1979). Through a study of advertising images, we explored implied gender roles within and between cultures. Results of an analysis of a random sample of American advertisements are compared to results for comparable Korean magazines and to previous researchers' applications of Goffman's approach to American advertisements. Results indicate that sexism in American magazine advertisements has decreased but not disappeared. Evidence of sexism in Korean magazine advertisements was found as well. We also compared gender depictions in advertisements directed to magazine audiences of relatively different ages. Observations are made about differences in gender role portrayals in American advertisements over time, between cultures, and for different aged magazine readers.
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