Author Soraya Carvajal B., April 8 2014:       On 8 March, the International Women's Day was celebrated throughout the world and millions of women held demonstrations vindicating their fight for their rights and for real equality: to be recognized by one’s professional value rather than physical appearance; to break the glass ceiling imposed by limitations on professional accomplishments; to obtain for equal work, the same pay as their male counterparts; to be able to reconcile working life with personal and family life, among other rights.

But despite all the achievements and barriers demolished by women since that 8 March, 1911, when this event was first commemorated [i], in our society there remain some holdouts who continue to position women as those primarily responsible (or almost exclusively responsible) for the domestic sphere, and the advertising we see daily on television reinforces these stereotypes.

This is demonstrated in the following announcements:

Vitro Clen

Lavavajillas Bosch compacto, cabe en cualquier sitio | Anuncio TV

"Supermum" Lanzamiento de Fairy Detergente para Ropa

Cillit Bang

SKIP - Anuncio "Una madre es para siempre"

Limpiamáquinas y Ambientador finish

Detergente Ariel líquido (2010)

Compañeras de piso Septiembre 2013

These ads have in common the representation of women as homemakers, as those mainly responsible for the domestic sphere and the care of their family, although, paradoxically, not knowing the technical operation of the cleaning equipment. In them, the absence of the man in the domestic space stands out, and, when it appears, it is usually as a man who is awkward, isolated and unable to perform housework, or as the voice of authority, i.e., the "technical" or "advisory" figure that dominates the knowledge and technology and has the task of explaining to women the benefits of the products.

This type of advertising usually disconnects men as active agents in the domestic space, as managers of their homes, and as accountable caregivers of their clothes or their children. Then the question would be: Does this advertising reflect the society in which it occurs? Or does it contribute to a specific model of society?

The European Gender Equality Index presented in June 2013 (although data concerns the year 2010), states that in the areas of knowledge, power and health in Spain is equal to the average of the European Union, but in the areas work , money and time, it is below the average. Likewise, in the index that analyzes workers performing household chores for a daily hour or more, the report notes that in Spain the percentage of women who do these tasks is 85.7%, while 37% of men are for working men.

Moreover, inequality in the domestic work force in Spain has worsened due to the economic crisis and high unemployment rates that are affecting the female sector which increased from 13% in 2008 to 27.02% in 2013, according to the report "Women in the World of Work" of the UGT [Unión General de Trabajadores (General Union of Workers)].

Furthermore, and as is well known, the advertising looks to persuasion, while transmitting messages, values, concepts and beliefs. And while advertising messages may be an open system of  meaning and interpretation by a television audience that decodes according to mental models which includes previous experiences of reception, gender, social provision with respect to the information system, etc. [ii] , it is also true that advertising relates to building references and collective imaginations.

In this sense, many of the ads that bombard us daily from our televisions continue to create stereotypes and promote inequality, as they strive to represent women basically as family people, maternal, emotional, self-sacrificing, dependents, wanting to please/agreeable, sensual and oriented toward private space, while men are presented as rational, energetic, determined, independent beings, confident, with a place in the world, oriented to public space, among other qualities.

But such representations harms society in general, because as researcher Estela Bernard Monferrer [iii] says, "advertising that manipulates invisibly, and distorts the role of women in society mistreats the image of women by strengthening stereotypes that seriously damage not only  women but  society in general, since having an egalitarian society is a sign of a more just society for both women and men, and these advertising practices and the cultural and social impact involved make it more difficult to achieve equality."

Bernard Monferrer also warns that "holding stereotypical discourses in advertising continues to shelter patriarchal behaviors of consent, assigning gender roles to both sexes. Gender stereotypes observed through the discourse of advertising, make reference especially to the “invisibilization and ridicule of women, to their role of victim, to the subjugation of women within aesthetic patterns, the strengthening of traditional roles that minimize the female universe to a domestic private sphere, the male worldview as a model of the role for women, the representation of women as objects in the media and the thematic specialization of the function of gender roles."

Therefore, and as initial courses of action to combat this situation, José J. Sánchez Aranda [iv] proposes a more active role of the audience saying: "it is desirable to foster a critical awareness of the audience when viewing the advertising message. They should have sufficient evidence to be able to assess how good or bad is an advertising message, the same as happens when they see a movie in a movie theater."

But changing the situation is also the responsibility of those who create advertisements, and, in this sense, Sánchez Aranda said that "those who create the ad have to assume that it is transmitting messages, and they are modeling or framing the picture, not only of the woman, but the entire environment in which we live. This activity, like it or not, has an influence on the audience according to certain principles, and they must act responsibly to accept them or reject them. "

[i] In August 1910, during the Second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen (Denmark), over a hundred women passed a declaration of  8 March  as International Day of Working Women, having as its objectives: to promote women's right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to have vocational education, as well as an end to discrimination in the workplace.

[ii] LIVINGSTONE, Sonia (2000). Television and the active audience. In: Formations: 21st century media studies. Manchester University Press, Manchester, UK, pp. 175-195.

[iii] BERNAD MONFERRER, E.. Nuevos formatos publicitarios televisivos y perspectiva de género. Estudios sobre el Mensaje Periodístico, Norteamérica, 18, dic. 2012. Fecha de acceso: 09 mar. 2014.

[iv] SÁNCHEZ ARANDA, J., “La publicidad y el enfoque de la imagen femenina” en: Communication and Society/Comunicación y Sociedad, vol. XVI, n. 2, 2003, pp.67-92.

Translated from the Spanish on the icuestiona website.