Research Papers

Research Paper on Gender Roles and Advertising

In the contemporary society absorbed with modern trends of globalization and cosmopolitism, even biological definitions have a tendency to shift within their meanings to those reflecting cultural and social structures of the humanity. While the gender roles become less and less significant, the question of their origin continues to cause disputes and discussions. In order to properly reflect the physical and psychological relationships between males and females, I will discuss two opposite opinions viewing a gender as either a biological or a cultural phenomenon. In the paper, I will turn to disclosing gender roles created by the society and influenced by media and advertising in particular. My research paper will demonstrate that gender is a cultural phenomenon by examining an ad for Calvin Klein’s underwear.

In order to show how gender is cultural, I will turn first to the main debate on how gender is formed, the debate between culture and biology. For example, Deborah Blum argues in “The Gender Blur” that gender is primarily biological. Biology (genetics) is responsive, enhanced or reinforced by the environment. She is giving us the example of her two-and-a half year old son that only loved the carnivore dinosaurs. She is asking herself if “love of carnage begins in culture or genetics.”(574) One way to look at the issue is to look at aggression. Women are not aggressive. Statistically, there is a ratio of 10-15 robberies committed by men to one committed by a woman. Males are more aggressive, not just among humans but almost everywhere in nature. The aggressiveness helps them win more sexual encounters, more offspring, and dominance. The females have nothing to gain in terms of simple, reproductive genetics. These examples show that genetics influences behavior.

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One other issue that Deborah Blum addresses is how environment influences genetics. Malnutrition and stressful childhood take a toll on the physical characteristics. Children who are brought up by a single parent experience the dominance of the gender of that parent in character on the long run. For example, boys who spent their childhood only with mother appear to be more sensitive and less resisting to the negative social environment. Blum thinks that “while some factors are predetermined, there’s evidence that the prototypical male/female body design can be readily altered.”(575) Another issue is the role of the hormones. It is known that testosterone has some body-building functions but it also influences some behaviors. Competitiveness, sex-drive, and a rough attitude are driven up by testosterone. We could see the rise of testosterone levels in response to competition and threat. Also, men in high-stress professions have higher testosterone levels than men in ministry. Because men have higher levels of testosterone, their hormones are visibly affected. Ultimately, the brain is affected. A hair triggered temper (road rage, ex.) or a moody disposition could be explained by the role of hormones. I could refer to my “tweenager” son who started displaying moody dispositions once the hormonal changes have begun. All these arguments and examples lead us to conclude that we are all alike until a small “genetic”, “biological”, and “environment” influence or change happens.

On the other side of the debate is Aaron Devor who thinks that gender is cultural. He explains in “Gender Role Behavior and Attitudes” that gender roles played by women and men resulted because of the “expectations”, discrimination between the gender and because of power imbalances and inequalities that exist in society. It is a patriarchal society. The roles of women and everyone else are designed to serve the needs of men. The two roles that we play most often (femininity/masculinity) place us in one of the two identity clusters and we use our chosen identity for our goals, means, and power we want. Masculinity is usually characterized by dominance and aggression, and femininity is characterized by passivity and submission. That’s why not all males can get along together with a female who has a better salary, quicker career promotion or stronger character. The man does not feel himself leading in such types of relationships and being unable not to recognize some sort of submission to a female has to resign.

Humans portray cross gender characteristics but in different proportions and if they act unlike their genders roles, they are considered inappropriate and “they may be rewarded with ridicule or scorn for blurring the gender dividing line.” (568). Society indicates the gender based on outward portrayal of characteristics. Originally, femininity revolves around heterosexuality and “would result in warm and continued relationships with men, a sense of maternity, interest in caring for children, and the capacity to work productively and continuously in female occupations” (569). These are the characteristics which are inherent to a female who possesses no obvious physiological and psychological deviations. As explained by the author, a woman emphasizes on her gender belonging with the modes of dressing, movement, speech showing dependency, sensitivity to the needs of others, and availability for sexual activities.

Masculinity results from an excess of testosterone and there are four main attitudes: success and high status in their social group, toughness, confidence, aggression and avoiding anything associated with femininity. Body postures, speech patterns, and styles of dress claim superior status and are also seen as characteristic behavior patterns. Devor believes that “female and male behaviors are the result of socially directed hormonal instructions which specifies that females will want to have children and will therefore find themselves relatively helpless and dependent on males for support and protection” (572) and that we are all raised to practice gender roles.

What is gender? Blum presents an idea that gender is biological and supports that by looking at a few issues. One of them is how environment influences genetics (malnutrition, ex.). Another issue is the role of hormones: they have some body-building functions. In order to prove biology’s role in gender, Blum looked at aggression not only in humans but among all species on earth. On the other side of the debate, Devor thinks that gender is cultural and supports that by talking about the two roles that we play in a patriarchal society: femininity and masculinity. He believes that we are all raised to practice gender roles. After getting acquainted with the two opposite points of view of Devor and Blum, I tend to believe that gender is however cultural. I will demonstrate this position by analyzing an underwear ad for Calvin Klein.

The advertisement consists of a topless woman alongside of a man. They are both pictured in white Calvin Klein underwear; however the man is shown in CK jeans. The woman is holding the man around the stomach. Both of them are looking straight at the camera. It looks like the ad shooting takes place indoors and has a black-and-white colour mode.

Now that I have described the ad, I would like to switch to its analysis and present my opinion about the effects it produces as a cultural force that tries to shape the gender identity. The main emphasis of the advertised product is certainly comfort, which allows for using this type of underwear in different settings. The underwear is lightweight, and incorporates a clear diversification from other products in the same product categories on the market. The visual composition and poses of the two figures speak to the superiority of male over female. As Devor was mentioning, people who hold their arms away from the body appear physically masculine. The serious face expression suggests minimal influence of others. The woman is holding the man around his stomach, symbolizing the need for affection. The woman’s position reflects her vulnerability and the need to seek protection from the male. Her back towards us suggests on her dedication. Here Devor would argue that gender is a product of culture. He writes, “femininity, as role, is best suited to satisfying a masculine vision of heterosexual attractiveness.” (569). The advertiser shows the product to the audience in the most attractive way possible – it targets tender females seeking for attention and security and strong males feeling personal significance and power. The ad emphasizes on these essential human determinants introducing stereotypes as the drivers of purchase. Sending such nonverbal messages creates drastic evidence from the perspective of a gender advertisement.

The main inference about the application of various sciences in the social and consumer context is derived from the way people release emotions. The attractiveness of such an ad can be measured in different terms, although referring to the cultural aspect in the given case is more reasonable for that culture is observed as the primary source for the creation of stereotypes, and advertising is just a demonstrable tool in the exposure of them decorated with current trends and a certain idea about the product appropriation. Culture was certainly based on the acknowledgment of biological initiatives, which were observed throughout the history of humanity. As a consequence, we are guided by biological definitions but recognizing them as manifestations of culture.

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