Women, as a whole, have a huge amount of spending power. In fact, it’s estimated that in typical families, 90% of the time women will be the ones in control of the purse strings. Financial control is almost entirely centered on women– yet modern adverts have yet to evolve to recognize this. It’s worth questioning why this is, and whether the future will be any different.
The sexist history of advertising
There’s no doubt that advertising has improved from what it once was. Take a look at this fantastic example of just how sexist adverts used to be:
Yes, women were once marketed to as if their only concern was their usefulness to the menfolk in their lives. A lifestyle was sold as much as a product. Some may say that times have clearly changed, and that should be sufficient, but is it?
Modern advertising standards
Nowadays, advertisers will try to directly target women. This sounds positive; a recognition of the female spending power in the populace. Yet somehow, advertisers keep missing the mark. How many of these cliché adverts sound familiar to you?
- A woman is on her period, but she is blissfully happy. She’s rollerskating! She’s playing with her dog at the beach! She’s eating chocolate and spending time with friends! She’s living an amazing lifestyle that everyone should want! (All this despite the fact one in five women will find their lives severely infringed by period pain during menstruation.)
- A woman wants to eat a food, but won’t do so unless announcing it’s a “guilty treat” or extolling the low calories. Food is usually discussed as if it’s something sinful, rather than just fuel for the human body.
- When a woman is shown in financial adverts, she doesn’t just discuss how difficult she personally has found searching for personal loans for people with bad credit; she focuses on how finances impact her family and her children. Single, childless, or child-free women are never portrayed as being interested or concerned by personal finance.
These stereotypes are pervasive. They seem harmless, but they are really just updates on the old-fashioned ideas that women should be happy, slender, and focused on their benefit to others rather than themselves.
Why is this happening
In truth, there is no definitive way of knowing, but we do know that advertising is a male-dominated industry and women in advertising frequently struggle with sexual harassment. This lack of female voices in the creative section of advertising is undoubtedly contributing to the problem.
The future of adverts
Thanks to social media campaigns, sexist and gender-stereotyping adverts have become less and less acceptable. This is undoubtedly a good thing, and hopefully a step towards a better recognition of female purchasing power. Advertisers have to learn that women don’t need to be sold a “lifestyle”, because not every woman desires the same lifestyle – we just want the facts, and recognition of the fact that we’re our own people rather than characters who are defined by our use to others.
There are some promising signs, legislatively, that times may really be changed. The UK has recently passed legislation that banned gender stereotyping in ads; perhaps this could be the future for the rest of the world?