It’s that time of year again, after a long anticipated wait for the release of this year’s John Lewis and Waitrose Christmas advert, ‘Excitable Edgar’, has finally hit our screens. This funny and heartwarming story for tales an adorable dragon Edgar, who just wants to celebrate Christmas. However, Edgar’s over excitement leads him to be excluded from the village (Barr, 2019). Fear not! His best friend who is compassionate, empathetic and caring, oh! And of course a girl, happening to be wearing a dress, nonetheless it is blue, manages to save him and make Christmas perfect after all. This is just one example of gender stereotyping, albeit not the worst in our favorite Christmas adverts. Gender stereotyping is “A generalized view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are ought to be possessed, or performed by women and men” (OHCR, 2019, p.1). Gender stereotyping has brought about gender inequality and is involved in contributing to a number of issues such as pay disparity, sexual violence, suicide in men etc (ASA, 2017).
Ultimately, this essay is going to argue that gender stereotyping has a wide range of negative implications and is detrimental to society as it results in gender inequality and gender bias. It will do this by outlining what gender stereotyping is, its prevalence in Christmas adverts and will discuss a few of the many implications it has in the world that are proposed to be the result of gender stereotyping in advertising. Before beginning, this essay will predominately refer to the terminology ‘women’ and ‘men’, this does not reflect the belief that gender is binary however most research conducted in this area is limited to these two genders.
Gender Stereotypes and Their Effects
Gender stereotypes reflect pervasive expectations regarding men and women’s traits, behaviours and roles (Rudman, Glick & Phelan, 2008). They are harmful if they constrain the capacity to develop personal abilities, pursue professional and educational opportunities and make choices about life (ASA, 2017; EIGE, 2019). They do not exist in seclusion, male and female stereotypes reinforce each other. If men are strong and aggressive then women are weak and passive (ASA, 2017). This is linked to social role theory, which creates a benchmark for how men and women are generally thought to behave (Eagly, 1987). Over the years, it is predominately women who have been subjected to the consequences of gender stereotyping, such as the underrepresentation of women as leaders, they account for less than five percent of chief executive positions (CEO’s) in the US, UK and Europe (Edgecliffe-Johnson, 2018). Men are also impacted, the stereotype of men being physically strong and stoic has led to certain expectations and behaviours that are linked to depression and suicide (Wyllie et al., 2012). These oversimplified stereotypes fail to acknowledge individual characteristics or those who do not conform to expectations of their biological sex. This has led to widespread discrimination and violence against e.g. transgender people, (an umbrella term that described people whose gender identity does not match their biological sex assigned at birth) particularly trans women or of color (Roberts, Ho, Rhodes & Gelam, 2017; Bradford, 2018). Gender stereotypes manifest themselves in a number of ways, parents, schools, employers, communities, etc., however one way in particular and of interest here is the media, namely advertising.
Gender Stereotyping in Christmas Adverts
Escaping gender stereotyping in Christmas adverts is far to challenging to even comprehend, especially for women. As everything to do with the festive season, whether it is cooking, shopping, caring is associated with women (Glosswitch, 2018). If you like casual sexism, they you are in for a treat with the ASDA 2012 Christmas advert ‘behind every Christmas is a mum’. This festive adverts portrays a mother flooded with preparations like shopping, cooking, wrapping, making beds while the husband fades into the background (Sweeny, 2013). The advertising standards authority (ASA) received 620 complaints from both mum and dads complaining that this advert was sexist and that it reinforced outdated stereotypes that a women’s job is to do domestic work and men are too incompetent to help with Christmas (Nagesh, 2018).
In the Morrison’s advert we see the main character portrayed as an all- knowing boy, while the women do the food shopping and prepare the supper, perfectly reinforcing the view that a women’s place is in the home. However, the father does make an appearance at the supermarket to select the wine, as a woman could not be capable of making such a knowledgeable and decisive decision (Zawisza, 2016). The John Lewis Christmas advert, while appearing to tick the diversity box, portrays a warm adorable mother and children watching from the window inside their father heroically assemble their new trampoline (Zawisza, 2016). Boots ‘tis the season to be gorgeous’ represents how women are allowed to both pamper themselves while also doing the chores. In one scene, generously a woman is allowed to peel the Brussels sprouts while having a bath (Gloswitch, 2018). The Sainsbury’s ‘greatest gift’ is one of my personal favorites. It renders a touching story of an overworked father, whose only wish for Christmas is to find time to spend with his family (Zawisza, 2016). However, through a knowledgeable and inventive moment he solves the problem in a technological way by cloning himself. What could be better, everyone is happy, not only the wife and children at home but also his boss, of course a male, is also thrilled.
I mean what happens in same sex relationships? Does this mean that lesbian couples execute the most amazing Christmas ever witnessed due to their dual-gonadal capabilities; do gay men just sit at the table waiting for Christmas to magically appear? (Davies, 2012). Do non-binary individuals just not have Christmas? The answer I think is no. These are just a few examples of how our favorite Christmas adverts innocently and comically portray outdated gender stereotypes; I mean really what could be the harm with that?
The Implications of Gender Stereotyping in Adverts in General
Well a lot actually! Research demonstrates that exposure to traditional portrayals of women in advertising, results in a number of negative effects on female audiences. These include a reduced sense of ambition, which is linked to a decreased achievement. Women who viewed traditional adverts i.e. women at home and men at work, deemphasized achievement and were in favor of homemaking compared to men and to women who had seen reverse role commercials (Geis, Brown, Jennings & Porter, 1984). They reduce attitudes towards women’s participation in politics, viewing women as homemaker’s resulted in less favorable attitudes towards political participation (Schwarz, Wagner, Bannert & Mathes, 1987). Reflecting that only 24.3% of all national parliamentarians are women as of February 2019 (UN women, 2019). And they reduce the prospect of becoming a leader, women exposed to gender stereotypical adverts preferred a follower role compared to a leadership role in an upcoming leadership task (Davies, Spencer & Steele, 2005). However, it is not that women don’t want to become leaders, as women exposed to media images of women in counter stereotypical roles reported less negative self-perceptions and greater leadership aspirations than women exposed to images of women in stereotypical roles (Simon & Hoyt, 2013). It is that their stereotype reduces their potential to become leaders. This stems from role congruity theory, which states that men are assertive, decisive, and strong etc., making them destined to be leaders where as women are warm, sympathetic and caring i.e. they do not fit the prototype of a leader, resulting in prejudice. However a report found that women scored at a statistically significantly higher level than men on majority of leadership competencies (Zenger & Folkman, 2019).
Research demonstrates that women are often viewed as being incompetent leaders. However this is not the result of a gender-based inability but the result of what has been termed the ‘glass cliff’ (Ryan & Haslman, 2005). This is the tendency to favor women for leadership positions in times of crisis, when the outcome is more likely to result in failure, just look at Theresa May. The US companies weakly performing fortune 500 companies are more likely to promote women CEO’s (Cook & Glass, 2014). Thus, the glass cliff is everywhere, women are not being selected because they are expected to improve company performance but on the basis that the company is failing.
Therefore, exposure to stereotypes both distorts women’s evaluations of themselves but also the views of those around them i.e. those appointing the women based on the viewed they hold of women being incompetent.
Male Stereotype More Aspirational than Female – Gender Bias
These effects can also be seen in an academic setting, revealing the authors gender of an essay, resulted in men being evaluated higher than women (even though the essay was identical) (Goldberg (1968). Thank goodness we have anonymous marking then. Men are more likely to be viewed as high achievers and famous based on their stereotypes, participants were more likely to acknowledge ordinary and frequent surnames as familiar and famous when they belonged to men than women (Banaji & Greenwald, 1995). However these studies were conducted over twenty years ago and society surely has progressed by recognizing such biased judgment?
Sadly, this is not the case as Begeny and Ryan (2018) found that gender bias, the tendency to prefer one gender to the other, is still a major issue in the veterinary profession, a profession where female participation has increased significantly (Reiners, 2019). However the interesting part is those who didn’t think gender bias was still an issue were more likely to give ‘Mark’ a higher salary and rate him as more competent than ‘Elizabeth’, even though the professional summaries were identical apart from the name. We can see how men and women are judged on pre-determined expectations, which lead to a number of negative consequences for women i.e. men being seen as more competent, and necessitating achievement due to having a penis (Schmader, 2002). This is not to say that this is the result of advertising alone but advertising is one way, which repeatedly exposes stereotypes
The fear of confirming these pre-determined expectations of negative stereotypes has also resulted in women avoiding domains that are inconsistent with their stereotype due to a fear of confirming the negative stereotype e.g. women being bad at maths. This has been attributed to what is known as stereotype threat WHICH IS. For example, men and women watched gender stereotypical TV commercials and then did a non-diagnostic math’s test. Women who watched the stereotypical advert scored lower than men although none of the commercials had anything to do with mathematical ability Davies, Spencerr, Quinn, & Gerhardstein (2002). Therefore these apparent gender differences are the result of external factors that hinder academic performance rather than an accurate biological difference (Schmader, 2002 reinforce the stereotype). This leads to a reduced interest in quantitative domains and non-traditional jobs e.g. engineering and therefore accounts for the underrepresentation of women in STEM.
If women are brave enough to enter they are at increased risk of backlash from their male counterparts. Female engineers felt that male colleagues cues feelings of incompetence and showed a lack of acceptance in daily work, this led to mental exhaustion and psychological burnout (Hall, Schmader & Croft, 2015). This prevents them from acquiring the experience and skills needed for the best paid jobs e.g. management and banking (restrain women academically and professionally). Men are also discouraged from entering into stereotypically female domains as they encounter backlash when they express gender deviant behaviour. Men’s heterosexuality is often called into question when they enter gender incongruent occupations (Rudman, Mescher & Moss-Racusin, 2013). Male elementary educations were more likely to be seen as uniquely gay and a greater safety threat to children compared to women. Such social penalties have been liked to homophobia and reduced likeability having big consequences for society (Moss-Racusin & Johnson, 2016). Therefore this fear of backlash can result in reduced success and limits enthusiasm for stereotypic inconsistent domains.
Men are not immune to the negative effects of advertising. The Samaritans report indicated that three times as many men commit suicide as women and one of these reasons is due to the stereotypical ideas of masculinity. The stereotypes of men being in control, strong and the breadwinner clash with real men’s experiences of modern life and lead to feelings of inadequacy and confusion (Wyllie et al, 2012). The campaign against living miserably aims to reduce male suicide, and it runs a campaign called hash-tag man-dictionary, which is designed to expose masculine stereotypes in advertising and encourage men to talk about mental health issues (Calm, 2014). Men showing emotion and being open to discussion is often discouraged and this is something that needs to change in our society and one way to do this is through advertising.
In conclusion, this essay has demonstrated what gender stereotyping is, described it’s portrayal in Christmas adverts, and has touched on some of the negative implications associated with gender stereotyping in advertising. ‘Apparent’ sex differences are exaggerated and over-emphasized and can be explained by external factors such as stereotype threat. Normalization of gender stereotypes leads to real-world psychological, physical, economic, social and political harm for individuals and groups. This essay does not suggest that it is advertising alone, which contributes to these effects but that advertising is one way that repeatedly exposes people to negative stereotypes. Resulting in gender inequality and bias that still in 2019 pervades our society. Advertising agencies have ignored one large segment of people and this is the LGBT consumer (Grau & Zotos, 2016). Therefore, as well as focusing on broadening depictions of gender in advertising they need to be more inclusive in order to reduce harm. Thankfully the ASA have implemented tougher guidelines in order to combat gender inequality. Tis the season to be jolly, or is it? Well of course it is its Christmas! However please take these festive scenes with a pinch of salt, as you have been exposed to the negative implications that normalizing these gender stereotypes can have.