I. Introduction – Sexism and Racism Uncovered: The Media’s Effects on Society
II. Sexism and messages of women in society
1. Soap operas and ads
2. Gender studies
3. Inappropriate images of women
4. Disney and Hannah Montana
III. Racism depicted in ads
1. Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben
2. Ebonics and uneducated Blacks
3. Statistical study on racism in magazines
IV. Conclusion – What’s the big deal?
1. Take action- what can be done
Sexism and Racism Uncovered: The Media’s Effects on Society
Advertising has been influencing American culture with their ads on TV, in magazines, billboards, newspapers and other types of media. Advertising executives may argue that they are responding to market demands and just trying to sell a product. Do we realize just how advertising has exploited some groups in our society? It could be possible that we are so used to its messages that we are numb and no longer even seem to notice it. Or maybe some believe that sexism or racism in advertising is no big deal and react passively as a result. The truth is, these ads have a very negative effect and are detrimental to our society.
Once upon a time, TV had ads for cigarettes and tobacco products. On April 2, 1970 President Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act into law. This banned cigarette advertising on TV. Could that happen again but as a ban on sexist and racist ads? And just how prevalent are these harmful ads?
It seems that there is no escaping the effects of sexism in the media nowadays. During the day we have the infamous Day time soap operas. The advertising for these shows should cater primarily to stay at home moms and younger women. The ads that run at this time you’d think would be competing for the show “Desperate Housewives”. Why would women need or want to see commercials with scantily clad women in them? And the diet commercials, beauty ads with supermodels, and so on, seem to perpetuate a feeling of “you’re not good enough”. Male themed ads similar in content do not air on ESPN or during sports events broadcast on TV.
A gender studies in ads was conducted by Dr Scott Lukas beginning in 2002. It started out as a modest campaign in Power Point but steadily grew and now developed into a website. The goal behind the inspiration of Dr Lukas in to inform and educate the population as to the exploitation of women by the media. The Professor put up some posters at a few universities to raise awareness and noted that many of them were defaced. This in fact reinforces the fact that we still face an uphill battle regarding equality among the genders and related issues. He posts a warning on his website stating “Many of the images on this site are disturbing. Unfortunately they are a reflection of the misogyny, violence and dehumanization present in our consumer culture, our media and advertising specifically”. (Lukas 2002)
Women posing in skimpy bikinis and other inappropriate attire are nothing new in advertising, but it seems that nowadays ads are getting racier and edgier in order to trump the next. In a Maxim February 2006 edition an image is printed by Etiquette. The slogan says “What happens when you lose on America’s Next Top Model” and it is a picture featuring a naked woman laying out on the sushi bar with food covering her and an Asian man with chopsticks helping himself to the buffet. (Lukas 2002) On the surface it appears like these and other images of women being treated as objects and in a less human way is no big deal. We have been slowly but surely conditioned to believe this. The advertisers have an intended meaning behind the images and that usually relates to a sales message or strategy. Many of these ads are written for a male audience who are reinforced to believe that men are superior and dominate over women in society. Women are to serve men, especially in a sexual way, as is depicted in many ads. Many advertisers suggest superiority simply by the position of the subjects in an ad. Often times the man will appear in the foreground and the woman in the background. He will appear larger than life and she the opposite. The man stands above the woman who reflects the balance of power still a factor in everyday life and in our society.
Even the Disney channel has gotten in on the act. Recent controversy over the show Hannah Montana and the direction it has gone is commanding a public outcry. She was depicted as a role model for young girls for many years. Her image is plastered on everything from lunch boxes to t-shirts. Recent performances by Cyrus have left parents scratching their heads and turning her off. On Disney’s Teen Choice Awards she wore inappropriate clothing and danced on a pole and in her new video called “Can’t be Tamed” she performs what could be considered a lap dance with a 40 year old man. These incidents have devastating effects on young and impressionable girls you get mixed messages. Knoploh, Sarah (2010)
An independent media watchdog and production company called Paper Tiger is a unique group attempting to shed more light on issues concerning society and sexism and racism. Their mission statement is to “strive to increase awareness of how media can be used to affect social change. A public that can strategically and creatively use the media is necessary for a more equitable and healthy democracy. “ They do this through their website, blog and producing short documentaries about real issues in the media. In July they have a series starting called Double Trouble. It seeks to expose the pervasiveness of sexism and racism spanning three decades. (Double Trouble 2010)
A few years ago a flap was raised over the old fashioned Aunt Jemima Syrup commercials. It was alleged that the figure of the Syrup a handkerchief around her head, big dress and apron as too similar to that of a slave and the NAACP found it offensive, the same was said of Uncle Ben’s rice. Another example of a slight against the Black community came from The Spaghetti sauce. The ad in question features a middle class family eating around the table and the father remarks about how the sauce is perfect and says “Nah, it don’t need nothin’.” The jab referring to Ebonics or lack of proper English grammar is unmistakable. (Zargaj-Reynolds 2007)
Another example is the popular beer commercials featuring Black men that are drinking and bantering back and forth saying “whatz up?” Again this is a depiction that Black males are uneducated, unmotivated and would sit around all day, drink and act stupidly.
A study was conducted to gauge if black people were adequately represented in magazines. The study included a total number of magazines studied was 42 which featured 1,251 total ads. Out of the 42 magazines, only 14 had images of black people in them, which were 92 ads in all. The overall percentage was 7% of the magazines had an ad with a Black person represented. One-third of the ads had none. Blacks were under represented in the magazine ads. No other races were studied, but more than likely the data conclusion could be drawn. (Quijano 2006)
Some may say, “What is wrong with ads today?” They do not understand or care to realize the impact that sexism and racism has on society and our culture. If they do understand they may not know what can be done to affect societal change in any significant way. Ads are more than entertainment, they are a reflection of our society and many of the messages they are sending, especially to our young people are morally wrong. Others may conclude “advertisers are just out to sell their product.” This is suggesting that the means used to make a profit are justifiable. This is irresponsible and feeds into the indoctrination of materialism and the importance of “things” emphasized in our culture. Things could be perceived as more important than certain groups of humans and their dignity. Pop culture has a major impact and influence on many elements of our social norms and beliefs. The old adage that women who dress or behave in a promiscuous way somehow “deserve” any harm that comes their way is indicative of this. These ads do nothing to blow that concept out of the water but instead seem to reinforce it.
So what can be done to improve the messages that advertisers put forth in the ads they produce. A number of things can be done to create changes in our society. First of all, one can always contact the company directly. Usually you can find a website online by a simple search. Direct you email with comments to the offending company’s Public relations department or the email given on the contact us page. Also, you can be careful with whom you do business. Boycott those companies that put out less than ideal commercials or ads. You can also spread the word among your friends and family. Negative news travels much faster than positive. We also have an ally in the FCC. The federal communications commission has a website where you can lodge complaints against the media industry. It is an easy and streamlined process. Their website is www.fcc.gov. Their direct complaint page is http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm and their phone number is 1-888-tell-fcc. At the local level a person can contact the better business level or write an op-ed for your local paper.
Together we can all work to change our society’s misconceptions and ensure equality across gender and race. For the sake of our children and upcoming generations now is the time to enact change, change the pop culture, even if it’s not the popular stance and make things better for those less represented and often times exploited. Take a stance against companies raking in profiting by dehumanizing sectors of our population. By standing up and making your voice heard you are saying it is no longer permissible to use others to further your agenda or fatten your wallet. Together we can enact positive change and send the right message to upcoming generations.
Double Trouble: Racism and Sexism in the Media Paper Tiger Television http://papertiger.org/
Knoploh, Sarah (2010) The Miley Cyrus Effect: Young Girls Acting Like (Trashy) Adults Culture and Media Institute retrieved on May 20, 2010 from
Lukas, Scott (2002) The Gender Ads Project Retrieved on May 20, 2010 from http://www.ltcconline.net/lukas/gender/genderland/genderland42.jpg
Quijano, Raquel (2006) Racism in Advertising Research Report Retrieved on May 20, 1010 from http://quijanor.com/marketing/pdf/Racismreport.pdf
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, History of Tobacco Regulation the Ban on Advertising
Zargaj-Reynolds, Paula Racism It’s in there (2007) Advertising Is Good for You Retrieved on May 20, 2010 from http://pzrservices.typepad.com/advertisingisgoodforyou/racism_in_advertising/