Gender roles are arguably one of the most ingrained and until recently unaddressed myths within Western culture. Gender roles are the myth of “what it is to be a man or woman”, any person who doesn’t conform to these societal expectations is (very simply put) outcast. It is for these reasons gender roles can be detrimental to self-consciousness and self-security.
Western consumerism seems to have built an ideal image of what is to be female and what it is to be male through an oversaturation of images in media over the past century or so. The roots of our contemporary image of the sexes however could be traced back to a very early time in human history.
The two images above, both being exhibitioned on the same shop window for a current clothing campaign, blatantly surmise what the media dictates what it is to be man or woman. The contrast between the two is almost humorous when one applies a feminist semiotical perspective.
We can see the man is cool calm and collected. He is looking downward surveying his surroundings from a position of power (also supported by his outward and downward moving posture, as if he is stepping down from a podium or mountain). This is contrasted to the image of the woman; she is touching her hands together in an unsure submissive gesture. Her posture is unbalanced and the twist in her body is reminiscent of a sexual or seductive strut. Her eyes and lips are pursed enforcing her seductive posture.
Hegemony is an important term within the topic of gender roles. Simplistically put it is the mistaken belief that something which is a social construction is intrinsic within our nature; the confusion between nature and nurture. The ‘dominant male provider’ myth coincides today with the ‘submissive female’ myth and is perpetuated throughout every aspect of Western society, not just in advertising or design.
This photo was taken on High Street, in Auckland. It immediately caught my eye as it seemed strange to me that there was a diorama of an axe and logs of wood in a shop retailing suits. This is a typical example of the constructed idea of what it is to be a man. According to this myth a man is not ‘manly’ unless they are a provider, strong, dignified and independent. The wood and axe is a metaphor, a signifier of these values; the outdoor type man portrays these values. And apparently if I too buy a suit from this shop I will gain these values and be considered ‘manly’ enough and society will accept me.
The submissive nature of this image is something we are too accustomed to seeing within our society. The composition of the picture draws attention to the crotch blonde woman sitting with her legs apart. This photo is a prime example of the objectification of women; it is an image of beauty constructed by society to which often young girls and women unconsciously aspire.
Taken outside a Gucci store on Queen street, this photo portrays women as an object, they are becoming the bag; the design projects the idea of sex onto the Gucci bag, because ‘Sex Sells’. Women think that if they buy this bag (commodify themselves) they too will be seen as society’s idea of sexy. Men believe if they purchase products sold in a similar matter, they will attract women who look and act like this.
There seems to be a troubling trend in viral videos or ‘memes’ over the past few years. These three people: Charles Ramsey, Antoine Dodson and Ms. Sweet Brown, have all had air time through various media for similar reasons; either interviews about public disturbances, an accident like a fire or even for rescuing a missing person.
These are all serious issues and some even deserve recognition for saving lives, but the publics reaction has been quite disturbing. All three have been made into unintentional viral celebrities where various catch phrases have been extracted from their interviews and enshrined in internet culture. These catch phrases are portrayed side by side with extravagant facials or gestures.
Racism and classism is a difficult issue within humour, it seems the line is often blurred as to what is acceptable. In this case personally I believe it is unjustifiably ridiculing lower class African-American people. Morally one should analyse what it is exactly they are laughing at and reflect upon whether it is ethical. If these three people had have been white, would they have become so viral?
The sexualization of the male figure receives considerably less review than that of the sexualization of the female figure (for quite obvious reasons like the substantial amount of imagery we see in the media and the power association of this imagery), however when combined with issues of racial prejudice the power issue is shifted.
The myth being utilized within this photo that I have taken of a Magazine cover is not that of a gender issue; this basketball player is most likely not being examined so explicitly because he is a male, he would be seen as being objectified due to his African-American ethnicity.
This again relates to the eroticization of the exotic and draws upon the stereotype (myth), that black men have large penises. In this picture the focus is being shifted from the player’s achievement as a basketball player, to the objectification of his body. Other’s may argue that this is ESPN’s “body issue” and that this is not objectification but rather examination and therefore validated, however if we were to replace the person on the cover for a ‘white’ or Asian, basketball player posing naked it would most likely be considered perverse or wrong. This seems to point to how entrenched the eroticized African-American has become within the media.
One specific paradigm of myths is those that relate to the perceptions we may hold about different ethnicities. A surface level interpretation, these myths may seem harmless, however if we are to dissect these generalizations they are often extremely detrimental toward those of whom they are aimed.
The picture above is a photo I took in a café recently. I was quite astounded to see a chilli sauce bottle named “Hot! Samoan Boys Chilli Sauce” and immediately began to unpack the myth that could have led to the naming of this sauce. Personally I believe this may be the eroticization of the exotic; the sexualization of the other, yet obviously in a drastically euphemized form. I am not specifically sure as to where this idea of an overtly eroticized exotic originated from, however I would guess it has roots in colonial times when the British were seeking conquest of any and all land they set foot upon. One such method in attaining power was to ‘breed out’ any ‘inferior’ indigenes.
So, why is this myth being used to sell a particular brand of chilli sauce? Again I am simply guessing as I have no background information on this sauce or who makes it; yet I assume it is attempting to cater toward a early to middle aged women, who may see this myth as an erotic fantasy.
Another myth we are accustomed to seeing within the advertising world is ‘fresh food’. Fast food chains are continually waging an ongoing battle against negative media coverage of their products; this is an example of two conflicting ideologies. Fast food chains are portrayed (most likely justifiably) as being unhealthy and often unsustainable, so they tend to address this attention by utilizing a myth of fresh or authentic food. They euphemize their product.
I took this photo of a domino’s pizza box as the design caught my attention, apparently the dominos sauce is made from vine ripened tomatoes. This may not necessarily be a lie, however I am skeptical as to whether they are grown in an organic beautiful orchard as the picture connotes. Sure most tomatoes do ripen on the vine, and the paste that they use to make their sauce probably contains a considerable amount of tomato extract so they can therefore claim that their sauce is made from vine ripened tomatoes. I would go so far as to personally guarantee that tomatoes in the form depicted on the box have never been seen within a dominos fast food franchise.
The average everyday consumer sees this image and then feels validated in their choice of purchasing from such fast food chains. On a side note it is interesting to discuss what are considered the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choices about diet this in itself seems to be moralizing upon another myth regarding what is “real food” (real food in this myth referring to unprocessed organic or sustainable).