It’s common to see ads depicting women wearing little or nothing, posed in ways that are provocative, submissive, objectified, or even the subject of violence. In fact, it’s so common that many of us may not even notice it anymore. But why don’t we see ads with men depicted in these ways? And what if we saw ads with women posed in the hypermasculine ways that men often are? What, if anything, would change if we did?

Students in a Women and Gender Studies class at the University of Saskatchewan created a video (5 min) to “show how ridiculous media portrays gender roles and stereotypes in advertising through presenting gender role reversals.” (Please note that due to the nature of many of the images, this video isn’t appropriate for younger students.)

The video intersperses examples of ads showing often highly objectified and/or sexualized women, with statistics about ads and their impact, as well as about issues like the increase in plastic surgery, depression, and violence against women. There are also a smattering of ads highlighting the hypermasculinization of men. As the video says, “Media plays a strong role in how we view each other and ourselves.”

The video then does a role reversal and shows recreations of the ads previously depicted, but with the men displayed as the women were, and vice versa.

The initial reaction is likely to be laughter and eye-rolling, but these examples serve as an important opportunity to explore the messages media sends us, and the conscious and unconscious ways we’re affected by those messages; to examine the hidden and explicit messages and values condoned and promoted by our culture; and to unpack the gender inequity that still exists in our society.

Additionally, the video itself serves as a useful critical thinking tool. For example, many of the models used in the role reversal ads weren’t as fit or beautiful (as society traditionally defines them) as the women and men in the original ads. Would our reaction be different to some of the ads if “sexy” men were posed in those provocative ways? If so, what does that say about our values and culture?

Most of us don’t realize how deeply we’re affected by advertising. This video can help older students begin to explore just how pervasive and persuasive ads like these can be.

~ Marsha

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