“How texts such as Ester Boserup’s Woman’s Role

“How is gender portrayed in commercialised
media?” is the question I will be scrutinising in this essay. Within the essay I
will discuss the preconceived ideas surrounding gender stereotyping within the
media, how differing from the established stereotypes can be seen as abnormal
and how role models can be seen to both reinforce negative gender stereotypes
or how they can challenge our preconceived ideas. My main focus for this
discussion will be an advert released by Aptamil in 2017, which appears to
depict a male child that is destined to become an engineer or rock climber,
roles that require a high level of physical strength and intelligence. On the
other hand, the female child is only seen to aspire to be a ballerina, a very fastidious
industry to be successful in. The slogan “Their future starts today” implies
that children are taught from a very young age to conform to gender architypes
and find it hard to see beyond the box the media has created for them. Through analysing
texts such as Ester Boserup’s Woman’s Role in Economic Development and Gendered
(re)visions: Constructions of Gender in Audiovisual Media I will closely
reflect on the extent of the media’s manipulation over gender identity and stereotyping
and evaluate the effects it can have on people exposed to day to day advertisements.


For centuries it has been widely
believed by many cultures that women typically remain at home caring for
children whilst men work and provide for the family through manual labour,
leadership or political roles. If perusing a career, females have often been
limited to jobs that are not particularly physically challenging and mainly
part-time so as to allow for household duties. Over time the architypes have
been challenged by various cultures, however some remain unchanged as this
quote by Ester Boserup highlights.  “In Iceland, for example, almost no one
(3.6%) believes that a woman has less right to available jobs than a man,
whereas in Egypt, almost everyone believes such as an ineffable truth (94.9%)” 1.
It is obvious that the commercialised media has played a large role in
supporting and therefore enforcing these preconceived ideas by targeting each
gender with specialised products. A good example of this lies within electrical
tool company, Black and Decker’s product advertisements. The hand-held steam
cleaner is targeted towards women and the advert shows a woman in a maternal
role, using the product to clean the house. Whereas, the power tool advert
shows a father in a workshop, constructing a go cart for his son. (Black and
Decker http://www.blackanddecker.co.uk/
) This links directly back to the preconceived idea of men performing manual
labour and women taking care of children and carrying out household chores,
even in leisure time. Thus, suggesting that women find enjoyment in carrying
out household tasks.  The Advertising Standards
Agency is to ban adverts display harmful gender stereotypes for being
misleading, however the evidence to ban adverts depicting women carrying out
household duties and men doing DIY is insufficient.2

The Aptamil advert supports the
widely established trend of using colour to identify gender. Pink for girls,
blue for boys. In Western cultures pink symbolises tenderness, romance and
femininity, whereas blue represents stability, confidence and intelligence.
These traits go hand in hand with the methods of branding used in commercial
media, particularly for babies and young children. However, as highlighted in
an article in The New York Times, the preference for each colour is not
intrinsic and is in fact learned. “Girls’
preference for pink is learned, not innate; cognitive research suggests that
all babies actually prefer blue. … It was around the age of two that girls
began to select the pink toy more often than the blue one; at two and a half,
the preference for pink became even more pronounced. Boys developed an aversion
to the pink toy along the same timeline”.3 This suggests that
exposure to the media in everyday life as a child is growing has a large
subliminal effect on a child’s choice of colour. The commercial media has taken advantage of the fact that children
find their identity through these colours to make products more personal in
order to increase sales as they are targeting an impressible, young audience. “By the 1960s, marketing teams of children’s
apparel and toys were largely responsible for the trend of gender-specific
colours. The more specialised a product was, the higher the premium it could
demand over its competition”.4 When using colours for
advertising, cheerful and bright colours are used for younger children, with pastel
palettes representing babies. Due to this, it can be argued that it is
increasingly difficult to decide on colours to use that don’t connote the idea
of femininity or masculinity.

When analysing media coverage of gender,
it is important to take in to account the question: What defines gender? The
lines are often blurred between the meanings of terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. While
‘sex’ is a term based on the genitals a person has, ‘gender’ refers to the
social and political aspects of this topic. Gender Spectrum website outlines the
“complex interrelationship between three
dimensions” that the term ‘gender’ is comprised of.5 It is how
other people socialise with us due to our body and how we feel in our own body,
how we psychologically identify as male, female or other and how we express
ourselves to society. The intention of the Aptamil advert is to show how it’s product
will give a child the best possible start in life to allow them to express
themselves, through their identity and life aspirations.


In the past, differing from gender
roles or going against established identities was seen as abnormal, however, the
idea of pushing boundaries has become more normal in recent years with the
number of established and socially accepted normal genders increasing. There
has also been a rise in the amount of people who believe they are gender fluid,
a concept that involves the person switching between genders based on how they
feel on a day to day basis. This creates an issue when it comes to clothing as
fashion brands tend to stick to the basic misconception that there is only male
and female. It is a risky business move for large companies to differ from the
tried and tested advertising formats, however some big companies are beginning
to push forward modern attitudes. For example, in 2015, US company, Target changed
its ethics to remove gender specific labelling and remove stereotypical colours
from its stores and went on to release a gender-neutral clothing line 2017. It
was observed in Gendered (re)visions: Constructions of Gender in Audiovisual
Media that “Today one can observe a
tendency towards representing and ‘normalizing’ a wide range of identities and
life styles”.6 This supports the idea of the growing number of
accepted genders within society, and further enforces how boundaries are being
pushed for society to become less gender discriminative. We can also see this
trend within the workplace, as there is less stigma around women performing job
roles previously typical to men and men undertaking roles previously targeting
at women. This supports why the Aptamil advert negatively portrays gender

Also present within the Aptamil
advert is the idea that its visually portrayed beliefs conform to the socially
accepted norms. In the past conformity has lead to a suppression of identity
through the social belief that people should conform to the predetermined
gender stereotypes. Commercialised media has played a large role in this, as a
study featured on tes.com has discovered “Secondary
aged respondents said that they were most commonly confronted by gender
stereotypes on social media. Others said they came across them on TV, in film,
and in magazines and newspapers.” 7 As all of these platforms
heavily feature advertisements, this further enforces the idea that companies
manipulate commercial media, to introduce a level of social brainwashing at an
age when the audience is already looking at role models to help find their own
identity. Through this, companies are able to effectively manipulate social
viewpoints through the typical representations of girls as ballerinas, and boys
as firemen or engineers. However, social media allows free expression for
anyone and many people use this to find role models they can relate to. For
example, male makeup artists and female bodybuilders.


Throughout daytime television,
adverts are predominantly targeted at stay at home mothers, with the intention to
sell products relevant to their maternal roles. Products such as Aptamil Milk
are broadcasted, as this is when they’ll be able to reach the largest amount of
their demographic. This however can be seen as an indicator of the extent in
which gender stereotypes have influenced the number of stay at home mothers.
This is further exemplified through the heavy featuring of female housewives
within the adverts shown, such as cleaning products, furniture and household
appliances and childcare products. Despite being the receivers of these
deceptive adverts, they are also unavoidably part of the problem through basic
consumerism. This, in effect, means that they are passively supporting the
views and portrayals shown, through the steady level of viewer figures.

 At the Cannes lions film festival in 2016, Unilever,
along with other larger and influential companies such as Microsoft, Twitter,
and Johnson & Johnson formed the ‘Unstereotype Alliance’, with the aim of
eliminating stereotyped adverts until they “never
see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women in society” 8.
This is a clear example of how larger companies are trying to band together to
curb the amount of gender discriminative adverts. It is especially interesting
to see Johnson & Johnson supporting this movement, as they target the same
demographic, with similar products as Aptamil. This connotes the hope that
smaller companies will realise that they’re potentially broadcasting out of
date views within their advertising, and incite them to alter their marketing
strategies to support the rise in gender identity.

Another issue that arises with the
idea of gender representation, is that of the influence of role models. This
results in a long-term issue being created as, with families, the problematic ideologies
could be passed down through generations, as a child would aspire to be like
his parents, and so forth. If a parent had a job that was based on a gender
specified stereotype, such as a parent being a builder, the child would likely want
to follow in the parent’s footsteps.


Gender representation in commercialised
media is a concept that can invoke strong responses from the public. Through
this, socially accepted norms are challenged and subsequently, viewpoints
changed. What it means to be of a certain gender is a strong talking point that
outlines the extent of gender representation within the media, and how its
influence can mislead, and often pressure people into conforming to how the
wider public portrays their particular gender. The idea of abnormality is also
becoming less of a concern, due to the consistent rise in number of socially
accepted identities. The Aptamil advert can be seen as a strong example of
utilising stereotypes to portray a preconceived, and essentially biased
stereotype that, in turn, manipulates the minds of the general public to strongly
enforce the socially accepted ideas of what it means to be of a certain gender.
Can adverts such as these be seen as repressing one’s ability to have their own
unique identity, or do they provide inspiration to further break boundaries and
establish more open and less restrictive social norms?