Gender inequality in advertising

Advertising, gender and society: A psychological perspective (Routledge; £34.99) by Magdalena Zawisza-Riley, reviewed by Deborah Adeleke.

Zawisza-Riley explores the world of advertising from the 20th century through to the present. Thought-provoking questions regarding the harmful impact of advertisements on society are raised and methodically discussed within the book. Zawisza-Riley shows how stereotypes and prejudices are perpetuated by questionable advertisements that hinder progress. The devastating effects of gendered advertisements on self-esteem, especially in women, are explored; these advertisements maintain gender discrepancy, spread toxic views and set society back as a whole.

Many of the views presented in adverts, explains Zawisza-Riley, have been culturally inherited, and usually viewers or consumers are not aware of this. Zawisza-Riley proposes solutions to combat the negative effects of adverts, although she fears that changes in the advertising world (especially regarding the gender gap in wages) will not commence until 2220, as predicted by the World Economic Forum. Zawisza-Riley has taken it upon herself to evoke this much needed change. She proposes some ideas on how the world of gendered advertising might bring positive change, pointing out that brands should show genuine intention in their ads, and not see non-traditional adverts simply as a tool for profiteering.

Zawisza-Riley recommended solutions to protect viewers from gendered stereotypes in advertising that could lead to negative effects on self-esteem. These include showing viewers that there are no differences between men and women, priming viewers with power, and making role models more visible and accessible. However, these solutions would require mental effort, knowledge and awareness from audiences, and resources including the intervention of an educator, experimenter or broadcaster.

The book prompts the reader to challenge their existing views around advertising and gender roles within society. Most of the studies presented were provided by American or British researchers, and Zawisza-Riley rightfully points to a lack of Central and Eastern Europe representation in the current research. The general lack of representation goes further than that, especially for ethnic minority groups. 

Zawisza-Riley purposefully highlighted research from Eastern European countries (which is typically neglected) and revealed surprisingly progressive thinking. When compared to British commercials, Eastern European commercials were less stereotypical. This is due to the forced gender emancipation under periods of communism in countries such as Serbia.

Overall, the book is a brilliant insight into contemporary advertising and gender roles. Zawisza-Riley highlights socio-cultural issues that impact the entire population, illustrating a clear need for change.

Reviewed by Deborah Adeleke
MSc student at Anglia Ruskin University

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