Manufacturing Inequality

When you hear the name of a great woman athlete, Maria Sharapova for instance, what do you first think of? Her accomplishments or her skin-revealing swimsuit cover of Sports Illustrated? What about when you hear the name Andy Roddick, a similarly great tennis player? Most likely, you would first think of his athletic triumphs or accomplishments. These perceptions are confirmed when one does a quick Google search of these two athletes. Upon searching ‘Maria Sharapova’, images of her barely covered form pop-up more than those in which she is, in fact, playing tennis. When there is a picture of her posing with her clothes on, it is often sexual, and images of her while playing tennis often have a clear view of her breasts. On the other hand, if you search Andy Roddick, most pictures are of him participating in a game, rarely is there a picture of him with his shirt off. The comparison of these images suggests that women’s worthiness is measured by their sexuality, while men’s worthiness is based on their professional accomplishments. The problem is bigger than just making women feel bad, however, the sexuallization of women in the media leads to the view that women aren’t equal to men in many areas, such as the workforce, politics, and athletics. These kinds of advertisements should be eliminated because they create the view that women are objects, not subjects or equal human beings.
Advertisements create an image of what women in our culture should be, homemakers and mothers, not fellow workers and leaders, that they are only there as objects for men’s pleasure and aren’t equals. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, women have taken a large part in advertisements, from modeling with kitchen appliances to shoes and handbags. Women have always been associated with the home and hearth. Early images of joyous women with their new appliances suggest the idea that their place should always be in the home, not working as equals with men. More recently women have become sexual objects. Their bodies are being labeled in images for all kinds of products from beer to perfume; sometimes the product even takes the shape of a woman. Dr. Jean Kilbourne, an expert on media and gender issues, has lectured around the world on the topic of women in the media and has made several documentaries on that same topic, one of which is titled Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women. Dr. Kilbourne says that advertisements provide a “statement for what it means to be a woman in our culture”. Dr. Kilbourne also says that advertisement is the “foundation of the mass media” and that advertisements don’t just sell products, they sell “value’s, [they sell] images, [they sell] concepts of love and sexuality, of romance, of success, and perhaps most important, of normalcy. To a great extent advertisement tells us who we are and who we should be”. From all of this the image of what women should be is created, the mass media tells us that “what’s most important about women is how we look”. The images of perfect woman in the media “[do] affect woman’s self-esteem and [they] also influence how men feel about the real women they’re with” (Killing).
However, some people believe the advertisements that illustrate women as sexual do not influence the way they are perceived by the rest of the world. Some say, “…the sartorial selections of some of the women shouldn't be an issue. If an anchor or pundit can read a teleprompter or speak extemporaneously without stumbling over foreign names, then they're fulfilling their job description. The hysteria about the fact that some of the anchors are..…showing their arms or cleavage would be laughable (Adamson).” This belief shows that some people aren’t objected to the way that women are shown as objects for men’s pleasure, which is truly disgusting. Others say that women choose to enter lower paying jobs so that they can spend more time with their families and more time in their domestic jobs (Nielsen). Still other people believe that women cannot fill political positions as efficiently as men because they have only been allowed to participate in politics so recently in the world’s history. But what about Queen Elizabeth I of England or Catherine the Great of Russia? When the two women first came to power they were frowned upon and expected to fail miserably, because power had always been in the hands of a man. Against everyone’s expectations they proved to be two of the greatest rulers in the history of the world. So advertisements greatly change people’s views, even though everyone thinks they are “personally exempt from the influence of advertising”, the average American sees over 3,000 advertisements a day (Killing). If someone sees that many advertisements a day, it is inevitable that they are affected in some way, whether it be that their beliefs are altered or that there idea of what is beautiful is changed.
One thing that the mass media has accomplished is to not give women the same rights and opportunities as men in the workforce. “Women make up more than 77% of Wal-Mart’s hourly workforce, [but] they are less than one-third of its store management (Seguino).” Women do not get as many high-paying jobs as men nor do they receive as many promotions. Giving jobs to males who have less experience or education than women is wrong because women may have worked just as hard, and sometimes harder, than their male colleagues to get the education and skills that they possess. Saying that women do not get the same opportunities as men because of advertisements seems like a far stretch, but women have been illustrated in ads as naïve, blank, and even with their mouths covered, keeping them from speaking out in any way. These images make it seem that women are uneducated and are unable to perform the same jobs as well as men. They are portrayed as stupid and so that is the first thing employers think when a woman comes in for an interview. So no wonder they aren’t given the same jobs and salaries!
The media has also helped influence women in politics. Women have not been given the same representation in politics and there are not as many female politicians as there are men. But why not? Women can bring a new view to politics that men may not have even dreamed of! Women are often thought of as lesser human beings and that they can’t handle as much responsibility in such a stressful job as that of a politician. Often in the media women are portrayed as objects and not subjects. This can be seen in ads where a woman’s body has been labeled with beer brands and sometimes alcoholic bottles are in the shape of their body. This portrays the idea that women are objects to play with and not that they are subjects who can think and breathe and experience pain just like any man can. From this thought, they aren’t given as many political positions as men because they are thought to not be as educated as men.
But not only are office workers and politicians effected by the media, women in the field of athletics are not given as much coverage as men. This can be related to the fact that they are not thought of as equals, often because they are literally put lower than men in ads. Women athletes are also always shot in sexual positions and clothing when photographed for news articles and magazines whereas male athletes are, mostly, shown as actually participating in their sport. Women fill about 40% of the field of sports but only get about 5% of the representation in the media (Playing Unfair). Women work just as hard or harder to achieve their athletic goals as men do and because of the illustrations of them as sex objects and not as equally talented athletes, they are not taken seriously and do not get as much coverage.
The sexualization of women in the media has lead them to receive less opportunities and lower-paying jobs in the fields of politics, the workforce, and professional sports. Women have long been used in advertisements as sex objects and the advertising agencies sexualization of women has brought up a rise in feminism and efforts to bring equal treatment to women. So just like our female ancestors before us, who fought for equal votes, we have to stand up and fight for equal ads.





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