Images companies relied on to sell products during the early to mid 1900s reflected the rigid gender roles that magnified ads as sort of a mirror to reflect the status quo, resulting in decades of force-fed messages through ads that had a not-so-subtle effect on how society perceived men and women.
Women were expected to obtain and maintain physical beauty at all costs. Backed by ads selling certain bras and specific toiletries that created the stereotype that all women must be tidy and youthful. Ads called for men to be masculine with smoking cigarettes, driving expensive vehicles, while being a leader in the office created the illusion that all men are equal parts Casanova and, boisterous leader.
These gender roles of men as the providers of dependent women spilled into television with shows like The Flintstones and The Honeymooners and although the wives were portrayed as feisty ladies who would set their husbands straight after their failed antics, the shows still stuck women in pearls at home and men at work all day.
Before TV commercials and the internet, should a company want to advertise their product, the only way of doing so was in print ads. Prior to the digital age, ads in magazines and catalogs from over a century ago is where people found out what the best cigarette to smoke was or which household cleaner to use.
These brightly illustrated ads of the 1900s have been the subject of study in the decades since, for both their artistic direction and style and their reflection of the time. Unfortunately, the latter has become negatively dated as the decades have passed. Today, good marketing communications companies and professionals will safely point out the many ads of yesteryear as being overtly sexist and racist; learning from history and doing better because we know better.
These stereotypes are glaringly obvious looking at the old ads where women and girls were promised success if they were slim, wore makeup, and waited on their husbands hand and foot. On the flipside, men and boys were guaranteed success if only they could drink expensive liquor, join the military and were strong laborers. These portrayals of women and men remain even today. Thankfully the mid 2010’s has shown us phasing out of this old worn-out way of thinking.
How did advertising come to weaponize those stereotypes to make their fortunes, while also changing popular culture at large? How is this shifting in future iterations of advertising?
Women became objects for men to conquer and to use to help them succeed in life and “score” in romance. In the United States with the hippie culture, second-wave feminism, and anti-war movements of the 60s and ‘70s, among others, received backlash when women sought equality, men rejected haircuts, and both criticized the government.
As society began marching towards gender equality in the workplace and society at large, gender stereotypes still existed in the media that was consumed from Disney movies like Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast often portraying a damsel in distress, were hits among audiences who internalized what they saw.
Psychologically, these did and still cause more harm than good. Hyper femininity and hyper masculinity or the exaggerated performance of gender, can stem from gender stereotypes. Emotional withdrawal, a lack of creative freedom, discrimination, and abuse are also likely to follow.
In the 1990s, fashion and ad designers alike encouraged runway and print models to maintain a waif-like appearance, dubbed “heroin-chic.” Still, the message remained the same: everyone had a role, and you’d be judged if you didn’t stick to it. Fortunately, the new millennium onwards gave way to social media. This largely changed the field of advertising and the gender stereotypes companies leaned on to sell their products. When it came down to it, gender stereotypes in ads played into consumer insecurities. If a person felt bad about how they looked or what they did NOT have, they fall right into the hands of ad execs.
Social media became a tool to uplift others and increase self-confidence since people are able to take control of how they see themselves. Diversity, body confidence, and self-love rule. More and more, realistic, and authentic representations of people are in demand in advertising.
How can I fight gender stereotypes?
Gender stereotypes are everywhere. Most women have seen or experienced themselves sexism or discrimination based on their gender. Ways to challenge stereotypes that are helpful to all, despite their gender or gender identity so they can feel valued and equal as a human being are:
- Point it out
The media, the web and social media are loaded with negative gender stereotypes and are typically hard for people to see unless they are pointed out by a people who are woke that help others understand how sexism and gender stereotypes are hurtful.
- Be a living example
Be that role model for family, friends and the community. Be respectful to others regardless of their gender identity.
- Speak up
Say something if you are present while someone makes sexist jokes or comments, whether it is online or in person, challenge them.
- Give it a try
Try things that are not necessarily associated with your specific gender if it is safe to do.
What are examples of gender roles?
Gender roles within society are defined by how we are supposed to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct ourselves based upon our assigned sex. By outdated standards, women and girls are expected to dress typically in a feminine way, be polite, accommodating, non-confrontational and nurturing.
How do these gender stereotypes affect society?
A stereotype is a widely accepted judgment or bias about a person or group although it is not always correct and is usually overly simplified. Stereotypes about gender can cause unequal and unfair treatment because of a gender. This is sexism.
Four types of gender stereotypes:
- Personality traits
Women are often expected to be accommodating and emotional, while men are usually expected to be self-confident and aggressive.
- Domestic behaviors
Some expect that women will take care of the children, cook, and clean the home, while men take care of finances, work on the car, and do the home repairs.
Some assume quickly that nurses and teachers are women, and that principals and doctors are men.
- Physical appearance
Women are expected to be graceful and thin as men are expected to be strong and tall. Genders are even supposed to be grooming a certain way with women in dresses and make-up while men have short hair and wear pants.