Ideologies of gender and body image are consistently presented to the public in an idealised manner. The media propagates these philosophies to support consumerism and maintain social order. We live in an image-based society, where sexual identity of an individual is skewed by messages represented in advertising, films, music, television, magazines etc. (Dines, 2011; Kinnick, 2007, pp9-15). Conflict theory, known as Marxism, was developed in the 19th century by anarchist Karl Marx, and explores how media attempts to control the behaviour of other classes in society to modify status quo. A conflict perspective is where the media reflects the needs and interests of a ruling class. The media somewhat achieves this by creating fear and anxiety on unimportant issues (dealing with social values) to distract us from big issues (McLelland, 2012).
A significant value that is consistently shaped and reshaped by the media is gender socialisation. The media creates ideological images of gender, which humans adapt to and learn the ‘appropriate’ ways of being masculine or feminine in society. Ultimately, the media sends messages that seem idealistic but in reality it is an assumed expectation of how an individual should look and behave. Hyper-sexualised advertisements first appeared in the 1990s, and have since perpetrated the continuous stream of sexualised content we are exposed to today. Popular culture places pressure on males about masculinity by often portraying them as dominating and powerful, and imposes a false realism of how women should act, look and be treated. In 2007, a Dolce & Gabbana print advertisement caused a lot of controversy as it connotes gender stereotypes and sexual objectification. The positioning of models is what disturbed consumers the most – a man is physically restraining a woman while other men watch – alluding to a “gang rape” scene. D&G’s edgy attempt at marketing caused the ad to be banned, first in Spain and then Italy. Some consumers may not think much of this ad, as the media consistently desensitises society by producing sexualised content; sometimes subtly, though it is apparent in this example. ‘People who have not been raped do not understand the depths of the horror… Imagery such as this is inappropriate because it may call to mind someone’s past and put them into a bad place mentally. It’s awful. Certainly doesn’t make me want to buy anything…’ (Rebekah, 2007)
This example reaffirms the constructed ideology of gender stereotypes that the media transmits. It illustrates the importance of male dominance and masculinity when with a woman. Men should be tall, tanned and buff whilst women should be petite and sexy. We now live in a sexist culture where women are subordinated and commodified (Dines, 2011). Nevertheless, masculinity is also damaging to sexual identity. It isolates men emotionally by removing endorsed feelings of vulnerability and pain, and from participating in nurturing and caring relationships. As a result of gender stereotypes, men and women judge and compare themselves to others, by their aesthetic, sexual and economic performance (Itzen, 1992, p63).
Dines, G 2011. ‘How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality’, ABC Big Ideas (12 July), accessed 5 May 2014, <http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2011/07/12/3266838.htm>
Felix, S, 2012, 18 Ads That Changed How We Think About Women, Business Insider Australia, viewed 3 May 2014, <http://www.businessinsider.com.au/18-ads-that-changed-the-way-we-think-about-women-2012-10?op=1#1990s-the-era-of-the-hyper-sexualized-woman-in-advertising-begins-11>
Hall, S, 2007, Dolce & Gabbana Ad: Cartoonish Edginess or Gang Rape?, AdRANTS, viewed 3 May 2014, <http://www.adrants.com/2007/02/dolce-gabbana-ad-cartoonish-edginess-or-g.php#comments>
Itzen, C 1992, ‘Pornography and the social construction of sexual inequality’, Pornography: Women violence and civil liberties, Oxford, OUP, pp57 – 75
Kinnick, K 2007. ‘Pushing the Envelope: The Role of the Mass Media in the Mainstreaming of Pornography’, in Hall, A & Bishop, M (eds.), Pop-Porn: Pornography in American Culture, Conneticut, Praeger, pp7 – 26
McLelland, M 2012, SOC104, Theoretical Approaches, lecture notes, accessed 2 August 2012, eLearning@UOW
Rebekah, 2007, Dolce & Gabbana Ad: Cartoonish Edginess or Gang Rape?, webpage comment, AdRANTS, viewed 3 May 2014, <http://www.adrants.com/2007/02/dolce-gabbana-ad-cartoonish-edginess-or-g.php#comments>