Advertising campaigns that feature successful men or brave adventurers stand in contrast to ads that portray women as caretakers at home. And they are no exception. It coincides with the conclusions of a new study developed by Unicef in coordination with the Geenna Davis Institute on gender in the media, carried out in Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. It concludes that men are, for example, twice as likely to be represented in advertising as leaders or sources of income (31% compared to 14.2% for women in the case of Mexico, and 32.2% compared to 22.5% in the Caribbean countries); while women are more likely than men to display revealing clothing (4.6% compared to 2.1%), a figure that rises in Caribbean countries (9.1% compared to 1.4 %). And in front of the screen: children and adolescents who consume the reproduction of gender stereotypes that programming offers them.
“We wanted to highlight that advertising contributes to perpetuating discriminatory gender norms and that its impact transcends all ages, including children and adolescents in their way of identifying themselves in comparison with their environment,” reflects Debbie Gray, a specialist in Unicef Gender for Latin America and the Caribbean. For the expert, harmful social norms are reproduced through various factors such as education and family, but also through advertising. “Advertising ads represent society and its forms of conduct and also have an impact on it,” settles the expert.
The report ensures that power dynamics in the home and expectations of the socially accepted roles of men and women continue to be reproduced. The danger, the document explains, is that gender norms normalize the subordination of women and situate violence as a symbol of masculinity. “[Las normas] they are learned by girls and boys from a very early age, they shape their identities and can have a profound impact on their future life options and opportunities”, this research specifies, which was carried out with a sample of 400 television and digital media advertisements. from Mexico and 600 from the four Caribbean countries. The sample was collected between 2019 and 2021.
For Romain Sibille, UNICEF Corporate Alliances specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean, although the reviewed advertisements do not show explicit content of violence against women, they do reinforce notions of male domination. “This can perpetuate and even justify violence against women and girls. Fifty years ago, advertising showed men beating their wives for not preparing coffee properly, today that is unacceptable. So advertising is a barometer of how our societies are, ”says the expert.
Gender norms normalize the subordination of women and situate violence as a symbol of masculinity
In countries like Mexico or the Caribbean, between 60% and 76% of women in the region (two out of three) have been victims of gender-based violence in different areas of their lives. And one in four has been a victim or experiences physical and/or sexual violence by a perpetrator who was or is her partner, according to 2021 data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Cepal).
The relationship of unpaid work as a responsibility of women represented in advertising is not accidental. They dedicate, on average, 39 hours a week to this job – triple the hours compared to men – according to UN Women. But the report by Unicef and the Geena Davis Institute not only highlights the sexualization of women or their role in raising children (5% compared to 1.9% in the case of Mexico) and caring for the house , but also makes social diversity invisible.
In 98% of the advertisements in both regions, heterosexual men and women were represented, which leaves only 2% for LGTBI diversities. In addition, in the case of the Caribbean, less than 9% of the characters were over 50 years of age, which, according to the document, shows a clear predominance of youth, especially when representing women.
50 years ago, advertising showed men beating their wives for not preparing coffee properly, today that is unacceptable
Romain Sibille, UNICEF Corporate Alliances specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean
Another of the axes identified in the research is that, in the ads reviewed, less than a tenth of the actors had a non-thin body type. Both in the data from the Caribbean countries and from Mexico, the realities are different, but the problems are similar. “These are contents that exclude the presence of dark skin, non-thin bodies, people with disabilities and non-binary people,” explains Nashely Noriega, Oxfam’s regional gender justice coordinator.
For Noriega, this type of advertising shows other structural violence: “These ads are not only sexist, but they reveal discrimination based on race, ethnicity, social class and gender identity,” he says. And he adds that those who consume this content do not feel identified with what they see on their screens.
Experts agree that the solution is not as simple as turning off the televisions or taking away the tablets from children. “We need to work with all the social actors. Advertising can produce messages that break gender stereotypes, but laws are also needed to ensure that this is done”, concludes UNICEF Gender Specialist Debbie Gray.
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