Mass media and the products of their activity (news, advertisements, television programs, movies, and others) are inescapable elements of people’s everyday routines. Much has been written and said about the ways, in which media facilitate and reinforce the development of various stereotypes. The sea of advertising is difficult to measure, and its impacts on social cognition are difficult to estimate (Plous & Neptune, 1997). Nonetheless, the fact that advertising changes the way people perceive one another cannot be ignored. The purpose of this paper is to reconsider a recent Barbie commercial in the context of gender stereotyping. The results of this analysis will help to determine the way television commercials alter the balance of gender forces in the postmodern world.
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At the heart of this analysis is the 2008 Barbie 3 Story Dream House Commercial, which was a television hit in 2008 and can be found on YouTube. The commercial features a group of girls (young ladies), who are playing with the Barbie Dream House. According to the advertisement, the House is a dream of every girl, a state-of-art creation for everyone who wants to play creative games and feel like an adult. Unfortunately, the hidden messages sent by the commercial can potentially contribute to the development of gender stereotypes. One of the most interesting things about this advertisement is that it is designed in pink-and-rosy colors. The dolls in the dream house are presented as good housewives, who spend their time in the kitchen, wash their husbands’ clothes, and serve the parties, while their husbands are having fun. It is not difficult to see how the discussed commercial contributes to the development of gender stereotyping, where women are positioned as powerless and submissive against men, who are strong and powerful in their breadwinning roles.
The overt message sent by the Barbie commercial is that of beauty as well: beautiful girls deserve to have beautiful Barbie houses, playing with which will teach them to adopt appropriate gender roles and prepare them for being adult ladies.
However, what are these gender roles that are presented by the media? According to Eagley and Steffen (1984), women are mostly perceived as homemakers, whose social roles are limited to child care and household chores, and do not imply any engagement in the paid workforce. Not surprisingly, the covert message sent by the commercial is that women are not suitable for anything except playing with Barbie houses, wearing pink clothes, cleaning the house, washing the dishes, and serving their husbands’ parties. It is the role of a woman that is submissive and secondary to the role played by men. It is a reflection and representation of the traditional or, actually, outdated patriarchal beliefs about the division of gender roles between men and women.
Unfortunately, the potential impacts of such commercials on workplace’s stereotypes are likely to be negative. Lavine, Sweeney and Wagner (1999) confirm that advertising profoundly influences viewers’ self-concepts. As a result, men will have a perception that their female colleagues are incompetent and not capable to do anything in life. These consequences may be even more dramatic, bearing in mind that the target audience for the discussed commercial is children. Gender role socialization is a very lengthy and complex process that shapes the ways in which individuals reconstruct the social reality and gender roles (Lafky, Duffy, Steinmaus & Berkowitz, 1996). Consequently, girls get used to their submissive gender roles early in life. These gender role perceptions further contribute to the development and expansion of gender-based inequalities in the workplace, making them usual, common, regular, and normal. Many girls may fail to see the promise of a different independent and colorful life that goes beyond homemaking and includes the joys of professional development, self-confidence, and personal fulfillment. They may fail to accomplish their workplace mission, simply because they feel too weak to change the existing stereotypes about their professionalism and workplace effectiveness.
The 2008 Barbie commercial features beautiful young girls playing with Barbie dolls that represent the roles of good housewives. As a result, the advertisement reinforces the patriarchal gender stereotypes, which position women as powerless and submissive to men. The discussed commercial reinforces a belief that women are not expected to be anything more than a housewife. Consequently, young girls lose their hopes to make a productive and self-fulfilling career.
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