Sexism in advertising has been around as long as the industry has. We all know the classic 90’s featuring idealized gender stereotypes where men wear suits heading off to work and women stay home fulfilling their role as housewives and mothers doing all types of household chores such as washing clothes and cooking.
Well finally our society has progressed to allow both men and women the opportunity to entertain a wide range of roles in day-to-day life and sexist advertising belongs in the past. Right?
Not quite, brands may now use messages that implore women to be ‘braver’, ‘bolder’ and ‘stronger’ rather than just focusing on physical appearance, but the critical subtext implies that women still need to improve or do more to succeed because they are not good enough. Hence ‘Sneaky Sexism’ a subtle method of influence is pervasive throughout the industry despite the progress made in removing more obvious stereotyping.
Before a girl turn’s 18, they probably have seen millions of commercials that show negative gender stereotypes. These adverts affect girls self-image. It affects how they perceive their place in the world, the career they think they can go into and their interpersonal relationships. And when you look at how little progress we’ve made, it’s very disappointing.
Cost to the business
The reason why many businesses fall back to the same advert campaign with a minor upgrade is that it’s cheaper and also those campaigns have already proved to give some short term benefits. So why would a brand plunge in tons of money in creating new adverts? Secondly, It’s easy and predictable to show judgmental ads that convince people that they’re inadequate and that they’re not enough, and they need these things to become what they’re supposed to be. Psychologically this influence is effective and that’s why brands and companies do it.
Denial fuels sexism
companies must educate themselves so they can spot subtle sexism when it appears. People need to have their hearts and minds open to what the issue really is and if you’re not a woman or if you’re not the one being represented, it’s hard to see that. We have to lean into the people we’re trying to represent and make sure that they feel heard and seen. Regularly reviewing problematic campaigns can help develop the sensitivity required to recognize sexism and call it out. Noticing inequality is the first step in tackling it.
Representation is not enough
Progress in women attaining senior leadership positions within the advertising and marketing industry has been observed recently, however, representation alone won’t solve sexism in advertising. Companies and brands must realize that beyond just checking boxes they need feedback from the people that matter – in this case, women. Organizations need to listen to them and take on board what they share and think about a particular campaign or advert. Having more women leaders within the advertising industry is an important first step but real change only comes when companies value the unique contributions women have to offer.