Popular magazine Essay
The concept behind this method is concerned with signs and in particular three different component parts, signified, signifier and sign. To help in the explanation of these terms it will be useful to examine a recent advert taken from a popular magazine. One such advert within a current publication of OK magazine illustrates a woman smiling having used a certain brand of washing powder to clean clothes; the headline states ‘Another load of your mind’. (OK, 2002, p65) Within this particular advert the signifier would be the washing powder.
The signified however would relate to the headline as another job done, whereas the sign would suggest that washing powder equals happy family with clean clothes, time to do other jobs around the house and it’s a mothers job to worry about dirty washing. However if this is the meaning then how was it arrived at because this particular advert does not state what is conveyed above. It may be that semiotics recognises that viewers interact with material presented, they do not just take it at face value, and they bring other meanings they may have encountered elsewhere in the social world.
Indeed in support of this argument Kline tells us that for ‘advertising to create meaning the observer has to do some work’. (Kline, 1990, p202) Without denying this advert could have different signs for different individuals there may be a case here whereby advertisers are not reinforcing gender stereotypes, it is the reader bringing their own social background or life experience to the reading of the advertisement therefore reinforcing their own stereotypes.
Williamson makes the point that although people’invent adverts these adverts do not claim to speak for them’. (Williamson, 1978, p13) Therefore the interpretations individuals bring may be governed by codes and constraints within our social lives that may well affect the way adverts are constructed and presented Ideology is a code that is arguably influential on how adverts are put together and can change over time. For example if one looks at advertising of the 40s and 50s there was possibly many more obvious signs of hierarchy between the sexes.
Indeed in many of the adverts used by Goffman in his gender advertisements publication, men were seen as breadwinners working outside of the home and women were seen as homemakers and carers with no indication of an occupation. Incidentally he defines ideology as a ‘meaning made necessary by the conditions of society while helping to perpetuate those conditions. In other words leading people to believe certain values to gain agreement in an objective, in this case gender roles.
(Goffman, 1979, p28-82) To reiterate this position Winship takes the argument a stage further and states that it is the ‘ideology of patriarchy with its structures of domination that sets up inequality’. (Winship, 1980, p17) so for Winship there is an influence of a ruling ideology that affects many facets of social life- beauty, sexuality and independence etc- that advertisers are bound to use because within that ruling ideology, society would expect or demand different roles from individuals therefore advertisers would reflect this.
If however advertisers and individuals are constrained by a ruling ideology that again suggests that individuals have lost or never had the ability to think for themselves. Indeed akin to a hypodermic model whereby people are injected-metaphorically speaking- with information that does not get processed and comes out exactly as it went in. Gender stereotyping in advertising is therefore very subjective in that whatever way we measure and analyse the subject it must be stressed that we have the ability to disagree with any message that is conveyed by advertisers.
Through the use of semiotics we can build up a picture of what is behind the images we are confronted with. By the same degree content analysis can give one the idea that the result is conclusive. However no method is perfect and in the same way it can be useful it can also be misleading as has been shown above. When one is also faced with the argument of ideology within advertising it is akin with all aspects of social life.
It is true to say we follow rules and regulation in our every day social lives that may constrain some of our actions, in the same way that advertisers are constrained by bodies such as the BSC. However in the same way we are constrained, we are also protected by the same ideology, therefore we have some powers available to disagree with, contest and challenge messages or actions deemed unfair or stereotypical. As a result it is difficult to establish whether adverts reinforce gender stereotypes or if indeed we do that perfectly well for ourselves.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 6 July 2017