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Exploiting Femininity: An Analysis of Gendered Advertising

2 February, 2024|Shankar Chawla


Corporations have made it a goal to exploit femininity in advertising to champion consumerism. As a perpetuation of outdated gender-based marketing methods most prevalent in the mid to late 20th century, the psychosocial tendencies of women in society have laid a clear framework for unethical marketing practices intended to capitalize on the effects of disparaging and hurtful advertising. Empirics detailing specific times of increased consumerism or sensitive periods for women are often leveraged by consulting and advertising firms to intentionally target vulnerabilities. This is prevalent not only in women’s hygiene and beauty products but also in unisex items that are specifically construed to appear as woman-specific needs to uphold gender-imposed standards. The tactics to induce such feelings of need have to be studied to attain advocacy for the issue of injustice in consumerism. 


Common scenarios set in women-targeted advertisements include imagery and dialogue designed to cultivate feelings of objectification and inferiority.  An empirical analysis of these kinds of commercials reported that women are portrayed to appear less intelligent, weaker, more passive, or unhealthily hyper-fixated on their appearance. Contrary to whether these statements are representative of the commercial’s targets, incredible amounts of reinforcement learning often force them into fruition. As a result of this perceived pretext, some unisex items like cleaning tools and bath products are generally featured in media as being used by women which pushes women with families into molds of this vulnerable domestic wife. This often instills the false notion that women and only women are responsible for purchasing these household items thus driving the need for constant purchases. New attempts to reform the advertising industry have depicted women as strong independent individuals, but these efforts are not without flaw. One article from Duke University describes this new archetype of women in media as the “superwoman.” The problem with this depiction is that not only are these superwomen supposed to excel in their careers, but to fit the criteria, they must be good wives, mothers, and sociable individuals. These portrayals thereby fabricate yet another picture for women to compare themselves to and perpetuate the same unhealthy spending. 



 A commonly observed phenomenon in marketing is that when women are portrayed negatively, less purchasing is observed. However, despite potentially unattainable standards, women typically spend more as commercials portray them to be strong and independent. This fact can be exploited by profitable incentives to establish high price tags no matter the quality of goods so long as they are being sold by a superwoman. This means that gender-based price discrimination will only continue to perpetuate the longer any stereotype is enforced. If we wish to eliminate this extra toll women pay for their perceived roles, we must advocate for ethical practices in media. Meaningful research only pushes empirics while large market actors and corporations must make headway in combating gender-based issues. Reforms in marketing made by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), for example, filter the worst representations, but they cannot encapsulate the full scope of these issues. Thus, social justice must be championed by those with the ability to find new and equitable means for advertising, and promoting the healthiest representation of women and all individuals in society.



Works Cited


Dimulescu, Venera. “Contemporary Representations of the Female Body: Consumerism and the Normative Discourse of Beauty.” Symposion, vol. 2, no. 4, 2015, pp. 505–514, https://doi.org/10.5840/symposion20152433. Accessed 22 Nov. 2019.


Duke University. “From Housewife to Superwoman: The Evolution of Advertising to Women – Consuming Women, Liberating Women: Women and Advertising in the Mid 20th Century.” Duke University, 2019, sites.duke.edu/womenandadvertising/exhibits/women-in-advertising/from-housewife-to-superwoman-the-evolution-of-advertising-to-women/.


Jasenosky, Sam. “Advertisers Target Women’s Insecurities.” The Minnesota Daily, 15 Oct. 2013, mndaily.com/259010/uncategorized/advertisers-target-women-s-insecurities/.


Sharma, Sangeeta, and Arpan Bumb. Role Portrayal of Women in Advertising: An Empirical Study Role Portrayal of Women in Advertising: An Empirical Study. 2021.


United States Joint Economic Committee. “The Pink Tax - Reports - United States Joint Economic Committee.” Senate.gov, 31 Dec. 2016, www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/democrats/2016/12/the-pink-tax.

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