Politicizing Gender Constructions

The purpose of this essay is to show how society and the social media affects gender constructions and patriarchal practices by doing a critical approach, using three visuals examples from our “day-to-day” life and changing their context using strategies like: repositioning, spotlighting, empty space and overlay.

In the words of Saussure “a sign is something that stands for something to someone in some capacity” whether they’re words, images, gestures or sounds. He also states “the sign is the whole that results from the association of the signifier with the signified”. Symbols and signs are often used as metaphors and are based on society standards. They were conventionally conceived so that everyone could understand them. That being said, let’s take a look at my first image:


This symbol is used to represent the “Baby Changing Room” in shopping centres, where usually this room is located inside women’s toilette. I was very surprised, or rather shocked when I realized this situation. First of all, it’s completely ridiculous that the “Baby changing room” is inside the women’s toilette. What happens if it’s Dad’s time to change baby’s diaper? Where should he go? This only imposes the idea that this is the kind of job that women should do, and not men. And second, since symbols are metaphors of actions, places or rules, the fact that the symbol used to represent the baby room is almost always a woman with a baby, only reinforces the idea stated above and represents patriarchy. How can we truly state and believe that nowadays society views the roles performed by the mother and the father almost as the same, if it still didn’t change in these details? The problem is that we don’t really realize this kind of “discrimination” and sexism unless we pay attention or are confronted with that, but truth is, we’re exposed to a lot of situations like these without even realizing how it can affect each other’s lives.

Making use of the strategies of Spotlighting and Repositioning, I created this two signs:

The aim with the first one is to question people on how would you feel if you saw this in a shopping center? Would you be shocked that it is a man with a baby? Or would you even ignore that and just focus on the baby and the activity? In my opinion it would be a 50/50. Some man would probably be offended that it’s a “masculine” figure represented because they might think that this is the mother’s role, while others wouldn’t even notice it and just ignore. As for the second recreated sign, I tried to combine both parents in the picture, to encourage that this is a “job” that both should share, as both have an important role in raising a child.

My second and third examples focus on the gender constructions in advertisement, although in different contexts.

Let’s take a look at this advertisement of a portuguese beer:

(video of tv spot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_TSjHqv4Lg)

“Fresh until the last drop.”

The whole concept of this campaign is to promote beer, using a pretty and seductive woman to make it more attractive. If we pay close attention to the advertisements or tv commercials of products that are usually for men’s consumption, almost all make use of a sexy woman. So women have been always linked to commercials when the product that they’ve been trying to sell is not even for her own consumption. In these cases, women end up being a product themselves, an object that is only used to attract men and as a persuasive tool.

Women were made an object of use, which confirms, with help from the social media, their role as a selling object for men’s consumption. (Arcadi, 2001, 150-151).

What if the same beer would have been promoted without the feminin figure? Would it have the same impact? Would men feel less attracted to it? With the empty space strategy, I recreated the whole poster:

Of course men would still buy the beer, but the ad doesn’t have the same impact. The women’s figure gives some sort of sensuality to the product and men feel attracted to it and desire it. Also, it works as a tool to make men think the woman’s body is a product for consumption as well.

Finally, my third and last visual image, as stated above, focuses on the gender construction in advertisement. However I won’t focus on the use of the woman’s body as a persuasive tool, but on how a certain type of commercials are only directed to women. The world wide known brand of clothes’ detergents “Tide” came up with a series of tv commercials for their campaign “My Tide” where “average people” would describe what type of product they use to wash their clothes and tell their stories.

Watch videos here:

The problem is that in almost all the commercials is implied that only women do the laundry, and contrasting with the beer commercial, they used people that would represent the average society, and not seductive models.This made me realize that all tv commercials of detergents or cleaning products are clearly directed to women as if only they would do the laundry and understand how it should be done. I see this as an example of patriarchal power in our society, because, just like in my first visual image, we still assume that the woman in the family has to do the domestic chores, while man can just chill and drink beer after a day of work. In this concrete commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1qW7Po-1KI) a man is portrayed as a “dad mom” because he’s the one in the family who does the “mom’s chores”. The commercial is directed in a way to make us find odd the fact that it is a man and not a woman, hence hat people call him “dad mom”.

Again, using the repositioning strategy, I placed a woman from one of the other commercials in the man’s place:

If this was the original commercial would we still find it odd and surprising? Probably not, and that’s because the media have been using women with this purpose for ages.

The three images presented in this essay are only some of the never ending examples of gender constructions in our society. I guess we can say that “we still have a longway to run” when it comes to equality of the genders, but will we ever get there?

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