• Femily Campaign

To Feminists: “Truth’’ Behind Media Constructions

Updated: May 30, 2018

By: Jasmine Lai

Emma Watson, an actress, model and feminist activist, once said, “If you stand for equality, then you are a feminist.” But –– nearly one in five women in the U.K., opined that being called a feminist is an insult rather than a compliment. Yet feminism is a significant social aspect in achieving gender equality, the core value of socialism – equality has not yet completely achieved. The prominence of advertising in media and its effectiveness in contributing to patriarchy socially is significant, and demonstrates that an investigation is needed to expose the “truth” behind media constructions.

The raising power of media has resulted in being a substantial aspect of a democratic society. Yet the significance of their persuasive authorities demonstrates the effectiveness of “influencing” their target audience. While it is readily seen that all media are constructions in the nature of mass media, the existence of ideological and values messages within media should not be neglected – as well as the gender codes existing in form of media-advertising,

which further presents the “concealed” patriarchy towards social expectations and standards of “beauty” on genders within the society.

Nothing is accidental in media constructions. Advertising in media does not only consist of commercial interests, while its commercial culture’s inability towards reactionary gender representations should also been put in consideration. The presence of “femininity” in social constructions further leads to association between gender and power, gradually resulting in social expectations on women, shaping these images into culture norms in everyday performance. The existence of gender codes within a medium further supports the hidden reactionary perceptions towards women in a society, presupposing the media as a miniature to the existence of patriarchy which indeed contradicts with nature of feminism.

In Gender Advertisements (1976), Erving Goffman, a Canadian-American sociologist, described how femininity is displayed in Western media.

“Women were generally captured in figures where soft, vulnerable, fragile, powerless, dreamy, child-like, and submissive characters are present.”

The codes of gender could be presented through numerous ways within a medium, despite the way of presentation maybe different:

“The Feminine Touch”

In advertisements, women are posing with their hands and fingers tracing the outlines of subjects with a ritualistic touch, further distinguish from a utilitarian hold. The light touch differs from masculinity; men’s touch within the media usually introduces a sense of manipulation to environment. The “Self-Touch” within the “Feminine Touch” furthermore portrays the softness and fragility of women, expressing women in a sexually inviting manner by means of sexually available and accessible.

The Ritualization of Subordination

The presentation of female bodies in advertising is usually associated with the cultural definition of femininity – passive and powerless. Women are frequently portrayed as lying down in advertisement, as opposed as men; this signals submission, powerless and sexually availability within a woman. In “Bashful Knee-Bend”, women are aimed to be portrayed in an off-centered and ungrounded position, presenting an off-balance and de-centered image. Coupled with the position of women in advertisement, women are generally presented as defenceless and accepting their subordination. Predominantly, feminine poses in advertising construct a relationship of subordination between men and women in strong and weak figures respectively.

Licensed Withdrawal

In advertisements, women are often presented themselves in a state of withdrawal and introversion. Notwithstanding that implies a sense of reactionary “femininity” that women generally are not paying attention to the world around them, the contribution to vulnerable, fragile and delicate figures of women are also significant. While this is also reinforced in contrast with men, whom are portrayed to be gripping something firmly, it further draws to the conclusion of protection and support needed from men. This contradicts with the predominate images of feminists: being independent and strong, while the media demonstrate gender advertisements in a bias way, objecting the nature of gender equality within feminism.


Womanhood is often associated with childhood in advertisements. Infantilization is achieved in different ways in advertisement. Examples could be women and girls are both presented in an advertisement, wearing the same clothes, behaving the same and similar in style. Or achieve through behaviours – biting fingers, where body positions are displayed in playful ways. By associating women with girls in clothing and behaviours tends to contribute to an innocent and delicate image of women, exposing an impression of unnecessariness of protection from men, thus leading to inequality of in statues through the presentation of images shaped in advertisement. This further suppression on women in media further presupposes the media as a miniature to the existence of patriarchy in the nature within the society.

It was the mass media which apply social expectations of women through gender advertising. While the reactionary gender perceptions towards women are discovered in mass media, the representation of a miniature of the patriarchy within a society is questionable to U.K. citizens. Yet the society is improving in gender quality with waves of feminist movements, the idea of social expectations and codes of gender within gender advertisement should not be neglected, nor become the norms of gender performance.

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© 2018 by Femily Campaign International, Designed by Jasmine Lai, Lilian Chiu and Dorothy Poon.  Headquartered in Toronto, Canada.