Advertising: From Exploiting Women to Empowering Women

Before the 1920’s, major advertising was not prevalent in America. Since the rise of commercial advertising, advertisements have been used to make various statements about many things, including women. They have been used to tell how women should look, behave, or how men should expect them to look or behave. Examples of how women are portrayed in advertising can be found around every corner; on every billboard.


This Van Heusen ad is an example of how women are viewed as less than a man. This ad shows that it is ok for a man to treat his wife like a servant. It shows women that they should worship their men and be obedient and attentive to their husband’s every need. It is an oppressive advertisement that encourages women to let themselves be treated as less than human-to be treated as objects and servants. It shows men that they should expect to get service in bed just because they own this “manly” tie that is meant to show their wives that men rule the world.


This Wonderbra advertisement says a few different things. First, it teaches women and men alike that cooking is a necessary skill for women to possess. It shows cooking as a normal expectation to have of women. After establishing the importance of cooking, it then trumps cooking by implying that looks are more important than useful skills. The advertisement implies that women do not need to possess skills to attract men when they have a bra that pushes up their breasts and makes them “sexy” and appealing to men. It also implies that if a woman is “sexy” enough, she won’t need to “satisfy” her husband with food. This advertisement stresses that women should either be able to cook or be “sexy” in order to attract and keep a man. These should not be true things. A woman should be loved for who she is, not by how she looks or what skills she possesses.


More recently, some companies have gone a different direction in how they portray women in advertising. These companies have chosen to attempt to empower women and break down the oppressive ideas set forth by previous ad campaigns. Some do this by placing the women in their ads in dominating roles and switching the men in the ads to submissive roles. Other companies have achieved this by just encouraging women to embrace themselves.


This advertisement contrasts greatly with the Van Heusen ad from before. In this billboard, the woman is in control of these men, who are being exploited. They are being walked on a leash while naked. It is a complete role reversal with the woman dominating the men and the men being displayed as sexual objects who can be bossed around.


Dove has taken a different approach in empowering women in their advertising. Rather than empowering women by exploiting men, they empower women by showing them as being happy and confident in who they are. They embrace women by choosing models of all body types and all skin colors. They show them happy and carefree and emphasize the fact that these women are all beautiful and that beauty comes in many forms. Dove has taken an extremely positive route in advertising and I hope to see many more modern advertisers follow this path.




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