The to reveal the dynamic gender relation change

  The concept of “male gaze” was first established by Laura Mulvey (1975,
p, 808), and it refers to “woman as image, man as bearer of the look”. The
objectified trait renders female as passive erotic commodities for satisfying the
male’s pleasure. The ‘male gaze’ expresses a gender power imbalance, as well as
high standards for female, because if a woman does not perform in “a right way”
(e.g. dress up, make-up), it indicates she lacks the sexual attractiveness, but
if a woman is coxcombry, she is likely to be charged as unintelligent and

      The advertising arguably provides the biggest
platform to show this unequal gender relations in public. Therefore, I will select
the Natan (Appendix A), Dove (Appendix B & C) and Wonderbra (Appendix D)
advertisings as specific examples for discussing and analysing the essay title contextually.
The essay’s structure and sub-categories would be divided into three main
sectors. Firstly, it will explore the female images and traditional “male gaze”
in early advertising (with Natan example – Appendix A). Secondly, it will
examine the female “advert myth” via the marginalised female groups in the
advertising (with Dove example – Appendix B & C). Finally, it will inspect
the more recent mainstream advertising trends to reveal the dynamic gender
relation change with the previous versions (with Wonderbra example – Appendix

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The “male gaze” indicates a deeply embedded hegemony
masculinity ideology. It could be “phallocentrism” in Mulvey’s term (1975, p.
803), which believes female is “castrated” and “signifier for the male other”
under the patriarchal culture. It emphasizes on the male and female biological
sex differences, and female could only involve the symbolic making process by
reproduction (e.g., pregnancy, childbirth). More recently hegemony masculinity
focuses on gaining cultural ascendancy. As Connell and Messerschmidt (2005)
points that it is not about physical violence but the most potent social
endorsement to dominate the femininity and other subordinated masculinity. The
hegemony masculinity transforms from an explicit to an implicit form which is
arguably more powerful because it normalises and invisibilises the existence of
discriminatory practice and inequality.

With the development of the information and
communication technologies in last two decades, the advertising becomes a
prominent medium in communication (Gill, 2008). It is estimated that people go
through around 3000 advertisings for everyday (Lasn, 1999). The “sex selling”
raised with the advertising simultaneously, and is represented as “sexualisation
of culture” (McNair, 2002), the “pornographication of everyday life” (McRobbie,
2004), the rise of “raunch” (Levy, 2005) et al. The female sexual desire is
ubiquitous in advertising rather than being repressed.

The Natan Jewellery advertising (Appendix A) will be
used as example to examine how female is objectified in advertising. It is
constituted by two stages, the left image shows a female with her legs crossed
in front of a male holding a closed jewellery box, while in the right image,
the male opens the box and there is a diamond ring inside, and the female opens
her legs as well. It shows a highly female fetishism and materialism because it
seems female will devote herself in order to get male’s rewards. This
advertising inverts the traditional symbolised “eternal love” meaning of the
diamond, whereas blasphemes it with sexual trading. To be more specific, the
high looking-down camera angle focuses on the female’ s legs rather than the diamond
ring itself, and it invites a sense of male voyeurism. The legs refer to a
female because it signifies some femininities, such as slim, depilatory and smooth.
However, it is presented in a “cropping” and “dismembered bit” which deny female
humanity (Dyer, 1982; Coward, 1984). On the contrary, the hands look crude, and
the touch is functional and instrumental (e.g., for opening the jewellery box)
which alludes a purposeful and authoritative male image (Goffman, 1979). The
threatening element for male is removed subtly in the second image, because the
high heels are concealed beyond the lens coverage. Otherwise, the high heels
could be argued as a representation of “feminist orthodoxy” (Gill, 2008, p. 37).
Moreover, the invisible but inherent heterosexual relationship also reinforces
the hegemony masculine order.

The traditional off-line
domestic housewife and mother female images are now replaced by implicit or
explicit sexual beings through advertising and consumption. This can be argued
that “sexism is mutating from its older more obvious forms to become more
subtle and masked” (cited in Gill, 2015, p. 81; Kivikuru, 1997; Hrzenjak et al.
2002). However, it is not a suggestion that it is a new era for female liberation,
or female escaping from the “male gaze”, because “compared with the ‘splitting’ of yesteryear, in
which women were divided into safe, reassuring, motherly figures located in the
home, and young, free, sexy symbols in the advertising has given way to a style
of representation in which every woman must embody all those qualities” (Gill,
2015, p. 81).


Nixon (1997) notes that the advertising is a linear
communication process because the audiences uniformly and uncritically receive
its messages. It shows the monolithic gender identities, namely only one masculinity
and one femininity, and these identities are invariably. It accords with the early
Hypodermic Needle Theory which believes the advertising will trigger the same expectant
responses which regards the audiences as passive receivers.

These phenomena are understandable if being linked
with Baudrillard’s (1994) hyper-real theory. It argues the effect of technology
and postmodernism will blur the boundary of the reality and simulacra (a copy
without an original). The advertising is arguably “the most persuasive selling
message to the greatest number of people” (IPA, n.d.), and “gender ideology is
the biggest resource for advertiser” (cited in Gill, 2015, p. 73; Jhally,
1987). The media representation is not neutral, meanwhile the advertising’s
brainwashing and hyper-reality are likely to mislead the audiences trying to
bring the negative “metaphorical simulation” into real life. In other words,
the audiences believe what represents in the advertising will be the same in
the reality. It could be argued that the hyper-reality collapses the previous
meanings, and re-naturalises and re-internalises the similar but nuanced social
and cultural construction. Therefore, it is necessary to see through the
cultural myth within the advertising.

The female constructed in the “male gaze” advertising
is usually the similar type. They are lower or smaller than the male counterparts, using docile gestures,
such as lying down, bending, humble smiles, to indicate the “ritualized their
subordination” (Goffman, 1979). Their also own the young, slim, heterosexual,
erogenous figure characteristics, which increases the sexual appeal for “male
gaze”. Wolf (1990) points that the contemporary “beauty myth” requires high
investment and self-discipline, no matter the pervasive time-consuming,
expensive, diligent labour, or using the clever tricks, such as taking plastic
surgery to achieve “the depilated, liposuctioned, botoxed, silicon-enhanced
body” (Gill, 2008, p. 44). The painful process must be invisible, therefore the
audiences only see the satisfying and enviable results (Wolf, 1990). The
cultural myth is then created through these unnatural female body images
because they are presented in advertising as natural.


The female who does
not meet these criterions might not be interpellated, and becomes the marginalised
groups in the advertising, even in the real life. It could link to Hall’s (1980)
encoding and decoding theory which sheds lights on the audiences’ negotiation
readings and their activeness. Gill (2015) argues several female demography are
exclusive in mainstream advertising, otherwise, they are presented in
advertising in a highly stereotyped way. For example, the older female refers
to “gossip, interfering mother/mother-in-law”, the black female links with
“animalistic sexuality, exotic ‘otherness’ or ‘soul'”, the Asian female are
presented as “sexual submissiveness and sexual services”, the fat female are
usually applied with the rhetoric of humours in case to bring out her perfect-shaping
counterpart (Gill, 2015, p. 79).

However, these
marginalised groups’ status could be inverted and used as a promotional stunt. It is because
the affluent societies cause the “sign saturation” in advertising, and the
following bombarded media messages are likely to make the individual suffers
from the “sign fatigue” (Goldman, 1992). The “sign fatigue” could cause a
cynicism which is presented as skeptical and indifferent attitudes. Therefore,
the use of shockvertising is necessary to grab the attention back.

According to Dahl et
al. (2003, p. 268), the shockvertising is defined as deliberately astonishes
and offends its audiences via the norm violation. It could be divided as
“encompassing transgressions of law or custom (e.g., indecent sexual
references, obscenity), breaches of a moral or social code (e.g., profanity,
vulgarity), or things that outrage the moral or physical senses (e.g.,
gratuitous violence, disgusting images)”. The research results suggest that the
shocking has amazing outcomes in attention grabbing. Its shock appeal is better
than other types of appeals, such as fear and information, and it is likely to
generate positive effects beyond its initial attention. The shock appeal effectively
encourages individual to remember the advertising information so that achieve
its final aim – conduct the related behaviours.


The Dove’s “real
women, real beauty” campaign could be used as an example to examine the
effectiveness of the shockvertising. Given that this series of campaign convey
the similar theme – “beauty comes in many shapes and sizes and ages”,
therefore, I will mainly focus on one of its print advertising (Appendix B) to
narrow down the analysis scope. It is categorised as shockvertising because it utilises
the “ordinary” and “imperfect-shaped” female (norm violation) to creatively
challenges the traditional beliefs and re-define female beauty. The occurred opportunity
for this campaign is that Dove needs re-brand to ensure its market
competitiveness in the early 2000s. Its PR agency therefore conducted a survey
among more than 3,000 women in 10 countries to acknowledge contemporary
females’ interests. The result is startled because only 2% of the female
confidently believe that they are beautiful (Bahadur, 2014).

In Dove’s print
advertising (Appendix B), there are eight females with different ethnic
backgrounds, body shapes, haircuts, heights and ages standing on a white
background and smiling confidently. Though they are all scantily clad in white
underwears, it is difficult to link them with the sexual references. The reason
could rely on the plain and similar style of underwear (sexual signified) which
cause less distractions. In addition, the social constructed meanings seem not
endow the “average-looking” and “medium-figured” female the characteristics
of sexual arouse. More ironically, Dove’s promotional products including the
cream for sliming and firming the body.

It is obviously there
are three females wear slightly different from others, namely the Asian (2nd),
the old (4th) and the fat (6th) ladies. They wear the longer
tops. It could be explained that the Asian culture requires female not to dress
too exposed, the old lady might need to conceal her wrinkle, or the longer top
is more mature and conforms to her social identity, and the relatively fat lady
might not wish her overbrimmed belly be the central point of the whole image.
Their postures are also more curl and sideways as well, and it seems like they
do not want to take up too much proportion in the whole image. These highlight
their exclusive status even in a marginalised-typed advertising.

Dahl et al. (2003)
recommends that shock appeal should target to specific type of people for the
effective message communication. However, Dove’s campaign seems has ambition to
target all types of female. It may not be a strategy because the cultural
hybrid are “othering” to Western culture. It not only increases the exoticness
and mystery of the brand, but also “creates a ‘globalised consumer sisterhood’
through purchase of particular products. This marks a new chapter in a long
history of advertising’s relationship with colonization, in which the rest of
the world is offered up in (often sexualized) commodity from” (cited in Gill,
2015, p. 79; Williamson, 1986).

However, the Dove’s
“real women, real beauty” campaign might not bring substantive benefits in
changing the social norms for females. It could be explained with Habermas et
al. (1974, p. 49) public sphere knowledge that “a realm of our social life in
which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Assess is guaranteed
to all citizens”. Dove’s campaign only allows female participation in the
public sphere, and little sites for male acceptance. However, it cannot deny
that this campaign did achieve the awareness and attention because its first water
testing “Tick Box” billboard (Appendix C) won the online buzz, which led 1.5 million
visitors, moreover, the sales have doubled increased to 4 billion dollars since
it has been aired (Skene, 2014).

The above analysis of
Dove’s advertising indicates that the application of marginalised female groups
in advertising are less likely to emerge with the “male gaze”. It is because
the mainstream social and cultural construction less link them with sexual
appealing, therefore it is difficult to generate the heterosexual arouse among
male, let alone the resonance and admiration from other female. However, it is
not negative for a brand image because female’s other characteristics could be
utilised to boost the brand’s meanings. Though the marginalised groups cannot
be the protagonists in the mainstream advertising, their representation could provide
a fresh place to short-lived escape from the contemporary advertising environment
where full of the sexual semiotics.


By the end of the
1980s, advertisers realise the significant and potential commercial opportunity
among female. However, the advertisings represented them as “objectified and bombarded
with unattainable, idealized images of femininity” is interruptive (Gill, 2008,
p. 39). Therefore, the advertisers stated to rethink the new adverting
strategies, especially for young women.

Gill (2009) notes there
are three mainstream sexual images in recent advertising, namely “six-packs” “hot
lesbians” and “midriffs”. The “six-packs” refers to represent the eroticized and
idealised robust, young male body in a heterosexual sense. It could be
attributed to the recently arose male type – “new man”. They pay attention to
the appearance, and reinvent the masculinity with “gentle, emotional and
communicative lines” (Gill, 2015, p. 98). They show both tough and soft
features, such as angular jaw, profound eyes and ample lips, and soft expression,
depilatory skin (Edwards, 1997). It equalises the visual culture in advertising
to some degree.

the “hot lesbians” is
related to the female homosexual relationships. This advertising type becomes
prevalence in the last decade because “‘queering’ and advert is an easy way of
adding desirable ‘edginess’ to product’s image, and instantly giving it a more
trendy, contemporary feel” (Gill, 2008, p. 50). The gay liberation movements
contribute for it, and the latter “pink economy” facilitated its
representation. However, it could be critiqued by Jameson’s (1984)
“cannibalization” theory – the advertisings will wear different disguised masks
from time to time so that to increase the sales volume.

The “midriffs” will
be discussed deeper in this essay because it is prominent to shed lights on the
sexual relationships change between female and “male gaze” in advertising. With
the independence of female finance during the 1980s and 1990s, they became
targeted for the new products (Gill, 2009). The new strategies are needed
because showing an erotic lying woman beside a car is not an effect way if
advertisers want to sell the cars to female. In a postmodern era, it is
possible for presenting female in a seemingly objectified manner but actually
for their own pleasure. Therefore, there is less connection with the
traditional “male gaze”, if any, it is because female “just happen to win men’s
admiration”, and sometimes other female’s envy (Gill, 2009, p. 148). To distinguish itself with
the previous female objectification version, it usually juxtaposed with verbal
texts to anchor the preferred reading and express female’s new sexual
agency. For example, the Wonderbra’s advertising (Appendix D) invited Eva
Herzigová as their ambassador, and utilised her scantily clad image to create
an objectified and erotic female body for highlighting its product, whereas the
texts rightside endow the subjectivity to female because it seems like female
now are always portrayed “up for” sex in a deliberate attitude. Femininity here
is “powerful, playful and narcissistic” because there is no need for other
sexual partner to set off her own empowerment and sexual attractiveness (Gill,
2009, p. 150).

The empowerment is a central discourse in
“midriffs” advertising. However, the results (what Goldman (1992) called
“commodity feminism”) might be pernicious because it less engages with the
gender relations and more confines within a personal and private sphere. It is
likely to go to the extremely end because the overly narcissism and fetishism
are arguably even more detrimental and might cause the materialism and
individualism. In addition, the highly patterned classification, namely young,
white, slim and sexual attractive female, still filters out the majority.
Though the “midriffs” advertising did express the female activeness and
subjectivity, as well as re-define its relationship with traditional “male
gaze”, but whether it suitable for mass market is still problematic.


In conclusion, this essay has examined that the
“sex sell” is a common phenomenon in contemporary advertising, and the female
is easily to be targeted and presented as victims and objects. The hegemony
masculinity theory and Natan Jewellery advertising example could be powerful
evidences to uncover the chapter for female transiting from the off-line
domestic house-wife/mother images to the sexual object in the advertising.
However, the represented female type is fairly limited in advertising, it is
necessary to realise the audiences’ activeness, and distinguish the
hyper-reality and reality to see through the cultural myth embedded in the
advertising. Dove’s campaign could be a supportive case, and it examines the
marginalised female groups in advertising. They might not helpful for
constructing the sexual attractiveness for “male gaze”, but they could be
occasionally utilised as a method to bring some freshness and escape temporarily
from the sexual “sign fatigue” world. The post-feminist Rosalind Gill (2009)
contributes three key concepts, namely “six-packs” “hot lesbians” and
“midriffs”, for summarising current advertising trends. The “midriffs” shed
lights on the female negotiate with the traditional “male gaze” in advertising,
and it endows female the empowerment and subjectivity. Overall, through the
analysis of the female images and “male gaze”, it is plausible that the gender
relations in advertising tend to be more equal.