Female subordination in print advertisements

The representation of women and men in advertisements around the world in various magazines and other print advertising shows a high level of subordination of women before men. Most of the images show an uncanny depiction of the male gender dominating the female. Advertising doesn’t directly represent the actually depiction of genders of the real world, but implicitly diffuses their ‘ideals’ into the belief system of the society. The patterns observed among the general advertising has created aspirational values in the society, where the man yearns to be the centre of all attention and have more superiority over the women while the women is rendered powerless and fragile. The patterns we observe in advertising affect the gender domination or subordination in the society. It plays a vital role in assigning gender roles to the public and in influencing our ideologies.The social stereotypes of men being more superior to women is further reinforced through the magazine advertisements and other popular culture. Each of these pictures are strategically constructed so as to emphasise the social conventions observed in the modern day.


Erving Goffman, a Canadian-american sociologist critiqued these ideals of advertising by pointing out the socialising agents in advertising and how gender roles are played subtly through media. This exposure to gender stereotyping can closely affect the way society functions and perceives gender. In his book ‘Gender advertisements’, he noticed how the construction of femininity was made to look more fragile, dependant and powerless while masculinity in advertisements portrayed that men are powerful, muscular and have an irrevocable control over women. He also explained how this portrayal had nothing to do with what biology said, but with the obnoxious mindsets prevailing in the society. His study also revealed the different representations of women like ‘The feminine touch’, ‘Lying down’, ‘Bashful knee stand’, ‘Tilted head or body’, ‘Licensed withdrawal’ and ‘Infantilization’.(Goffman, Erving. “Gender advertisements.” (1979)).  The ‘Feminine touch’ is used in a wide variety of products ranging from jewellery to electronic products. The very acts of a soft feminine caress of the product is a depiction of the fragility of the woman and also shows that she’s sexually inviting. The ‘Lying down’ pose of the women indicates that she is vulnerable and in most of the advertisements she is found either at the feet of the man or defencelessly lying on the couch or the bed. This depicts that she’s sexually available or otherwise, being fully submissive to the man. The ‘Bashful knee stand’ shows the woman in a very vulnerable position where her one leg is bent at the knee or simply, off the ground. Again, this depicts vulnerability of the woman. ‘Tilted head or body’ of a woman shows the acceptance of subordination by the women. Popular brand like Gucci, D&G, Calvin Klein often showcase women posing with their bodies tilted towards the man, which can be explained as the woman playing a submissive role and the man, playing a dominant role.A woman shown throwing her head backwards with the full exposure of their throat indicates powerlessness. ‘Licensed withdrawal’ is where the woman seems to be in a dreamlike state and often avoiding looking straight at the camera or not making eye contact with the man. She is often seen holding the man for support while the man is shown with his hands in his pockets and looking straight at the camera boldly. ‘Infantilisation’ is a technique of showing women in a childlike manner where the woman is either seen in a playful position or with her fingers in her mouth in a seductive manner to implicate her naiviety, fragility, childishness and that she’s not thinking at all while the man is shown having an intense look on his face and thinking deeply like an intellectually smart person.

Several fashion advertisements have shown stereotyped depictions of women and the men controlling the women through their so-called ‘masculinity’.Gucci’s advertisement in 2010 for the perfume guilty was one such classic example of reinforcing stereotypes.(Lee, Han-sam. “Promoting Prejudices: Stereotyped Depictions of Women in Ads.” Fresh Ink: Essays From Boston College’s First-Year Writing Seminar 26 Aug. 2011.)

The woman is seen looking submissively at the man, while the man stares boldly into the screen and is shown being more superior. The woman looks in fear or submission at the man who is strangely relaxed . The woman looks sideways with her teeth clenched and a pale face and looks up with her craned neck towards the man with her lips slightly parted which calls to the man for affection; again a gender subordination. The brand indicates the ‘guilty’ range which is explicitly seen on the woman’s face than the man. The woman is supposedly meant to be more guilty having sexual intimacy with the man, than the vice versa. The man has a chain with a lightning bolt linked to it which might have a close linkage with the greek god Zeus that indicates more power in the man than the woman. Goffman’s explanation of ‘ritualization of gender’ is more prominent in this advertisement. This ad depicts her as the victim and a sex object while the man as a more superior being who tends to be more powerful. Also, this ritualisation of gender spells out the leading role that men have in society as well as in relationships where the women are made to feel ‘guilty’ for a man ‘being’ seduced. According to Goffman, we can categorise this image as showing a ‘Licensed withdrawal’ and having a ‘Tilted body’ to picture her as unguarded and defenceless.

Here we notice how Dolce and Gabbana has strategically placed the women in a sexually submissive position while the well-clad men are found gawking at her in their position of ‘power’. While she is found donning a cadaverous look with her lips slightly parted that indicates her attempt in seducing the men, the men are observed to have stern looks on their faces, some of them with their eyebrows raised and shoulders broadened to spell power. The woman also doesn’t make any eye-contact with the man or the viewer while the men are seen boldly looking at her.  There is also a glass of wine placed strategically towards the back which makes our view toggle between this glass and the underclad woman. Women and alcohol are in submission to the men. According to Goffman’s theory, we can categorise this as showing her ‘Tilted body’ in a ‘Licensed withdrawal’ while ‘Lying down’.


The ‘Live Your Fantasy’ campaign of RedTape shoes was another such ad campaign primarily shown in India that adhered to the male fantasy of having a woman the man lusts for.Another gross objectification of women , which throws wrong thoughts into a man’s mind reminding him that fragile women are up for grabs. Also, all the women depicted in this scene are clearly fair and slender, which is again portrays the craze for fair skin in India and how men run after these. While the advertisement is supposed to be of shoes, the man is seen well-dressed, but the women are seen wearing skimpy clothes, trying to entice the man and seduce him. He is seen walking out with a woman of his choice after picking her from the group of girls who are again ‘up for grabs’. Even the campaign name’ live your fantasy’ calls out to the men to observe women in a patronising manner and consider them as nothing more than a sex-object. Success for a man is measured by what he can afford or ‘who’ he can afford to have and that includes these ‘beautiful’ women. This is what is then projected on the society and what the public grows to believe. According to Goffman’s theory, we can categorise this image as portraying women in a ‘Licensed withdrawal’ with a ‘Bashful knee stand’. All the women are seen posing in a bashful posture, avoiding the camera and seen fully focusing on the man while he stares right into the camera.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Team BlogAdda
    May 04, 2016 @ 06:13:29

    Congratulations! Your blog post was featured in the Tangy Tuesday Picks edition on May 3, 2016 at Blogadda.

    Please find it here:

    Liked by 1 person


  2. MyBookJacket
    May 04, 2016 @ 07:15:28

    And in the light of what happened to Jisha the Dolce Gabbana one looks nauseating.

    Liked by 1 person


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© Varina Berryl Rasquinha, 7verina.wordpress.com, 2015.
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