Many scholars and researchers of popular cultural analysis argue that advertising has contributed to Western society's beliefs and values of gender roles, sex and sexuality. Further, that advertisements represent across the decades reflect the ideals, activities and behaviors of Western culture that has adopted as its social norms, and so reflects the expectations of the genders within these societies (Hogg and Garrow, 2003). They contend that cultural constructions of gender impact on the lives of all people within a society, and that these cultural constructions cannot be differentiated from the lives and images of each gender. Importantly, that is essential for society to understand how advertising can contribute to attitudes about gender relations and the expected gender roles, as well as how these factors impact on individuals constructing their identities and sense of place. However, arguments exist within current discourse of cultural text analysis that advertising over the years has been over-analyzed, so that interpretations of stereotypes and limiting of gender roles are exaggerated (Lukas, 2006). This paper aims to present a visual and textual analysis of advertisements over the past six decades, contending that ads have predominantly stereotyped and objectified women and men.
Popular culture contributes to the ways in which society constructs the roles and identities of women and men on a day-to-day basis. In general, individuals within Western society tend to be unable to comprehend the significance of our cultural values as portrayed in advertising. Also, when a person is able to understand the underlying cultural meanings of an ad, they often do not have access to knowledge that would enable them to effectively respond to advertisements that objectify or stereotype gender relationships. Without active cultivation of an individual's cultural literacy, by way of critiquing and reflecting upon advertisements presentation of gender relationships, meaningful social change is constrained. Hence, to live in a truly democratic society that values equality, respect for differences and the freedom of rights for all, critical and reflective skills need to be learnt by all members of society.
An example of a lack of critical insight into the cultural values upheld in advertising is the argument that states 'Ads are fun' (Lukas, 2006). From this point of view, ads are not meant to be taken seriously as they are merely fun forms of entertainment. However, it is evident that many 'fun' ads have underlying messages that reflect and maintain unequal gender relations. In the 1940s it was not uncommon for women to be portrayed as being 'stupid' (see Figure 1, Appendix). During this era women were typically illustrated as belonging to the domestic realm, and as being intellectually inferior to men. To emphasize this characteristic of women, they were visually presented with faces that suggested stupidity. Text accompanying the ad reinforced the message that women say stupid things, or are unable to think for themselves, requiring a man to assist them. For example the text for Figure 1 reads as: You mean a woman can open it!
In contrast, men during the decade of 1940-1950 were presented as having authoritarian, dominant and controlling roles as reflected in ads. Especially, they were depicted as being intelligent and as in control (see Figures 2 and 3, Appendix). Women were viewed as subordinate to men, and as having to concern themselves with what the male of the household thought of their efforts to maintain their appearance. As well, women were predominantly concerned with pleasing their man by