Critical Analysis of Women’s Representation
Through the interpretation of texts, and subsequent creation of social reality, mediated representations are often seen to be presented within the certain of ideological discourses that reflect the existing power structures.
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The main objective of this paper is to analyze television commercials with an emphasis on gender roles to decode the main elements of a dominant discourse (preferred readings) and representation mechanisms; and the elements’ relationships with ideology, hegemony and power relations in reproducing a dominant discourse. Grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical framework of cultural studies and critical studies perspectives, the two-layer analysis is used in this paper – a semiotic and critical discourse analysis of television commercials with an emphasize on gender roles and ideology.
The results demonstrate that the TV advertisements selected in this paper represent dominant gender relations and reproduce traditional values. Furthermore, these representations illustrate a contradiction between society and media in gender roles. Keywords TV advertisements. Representation of women. Gender roles. Critical discourse analysis. Ideology. 1 Ali Hajimohammadi PhD Candidate, Cultural and Media Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tehran, PO Box 773/14395, Jalal Al e Ahmad AVE, Tehran, Iran. e-mail: [email protected] com
Published Online: 15 January 2011 108 Introduction The research is placed within the cultural studies perspective that assumes an intertwined relationship between the production and reproduction of symbolic meanings and actualized meanings. From a cultural studies perspective, the study of women’s representation in mainstream television advertisements with emphasize on gender roles is embraced. Media has an important role in representation of different groups in a society, but television, as the most popular medium, plays a significant role in representing and shaping attitudes.
Advertising, as one of the television genres, is a prominent discourse type in virtually all contemporary societies (Cook, 2005). In addition to information regarding services and products, it constructs a secondary discourse about society and power relations. Gender relations are one of the secondary discourses that advertisements construct. The image of woman and man in media, particularly in television, is essential for the understanding of social practices, social interactions and ideology. Therefore, advertising has an important role in the representation of gender in a society.
Advertising, as a powerful force, often reflects and enhances the social ideologies that it selectively endorses. At the same time, advertising is a cultural environment challenged by ideological discourses in the society and is constantly evolving in response to the shifting power relations between social groups. In addition, advertising considered as a cultural form and discourse is a site in which different subjectivities struggle to impose or challenge, to confirm, negotiate or displace definitions and identities” (Gledhill, 1988, p. 72).
On the other hand, representations are directly associated with collective meanings, power relations, status hierarchies, resistance, alliances or conflicts that may exist in the public sphere. Thus, it is a common belief among scholars that the representation of gender relations actually reflects the social, cultural, political and economic values of the society (Dines & Humez, 1994; Gauntlett, 2002). Recent studies in relevant literature have illustrated that the present systems of mass communication express to a considerable extent gender representations of the dominant Published Online: 15 January 2011 09 patriarchal ideology (Brunsdon, 2000; Shattuc, 1997).
Accordingly, television programs mirror dominant gender relations and patriarchal values that still remain in post-modern societies (Van Dijk, 1993). Representation of women in the media, especially television, is an important issue in social communication and cultural studies, since media has an important role in communities. Media typically carries dominant values, cultural elements, and dominant ideology in any society.
In Iran, despite changes in the representation of women in television, dominant discourse in advertising is evident, thus challenging the dominant regimes of representation should be considered. Utilizing a critical approach, the mainstream television commercials represent women and gender roles is going to be investigated. This study also aims to explore the intersections of gender and ideology that are embedded in television advertising.
Research Approach Cultural studies have linked communication, consumption and cultural transformation to identity through the analysis of both media texts and living experiences (Muhammad, 2003). In terms of method, the cultural studies perspective raises questions that emphasize qualitative and interdisciplinary modes of investigation. In this paper, critical discourse analysis is used as a linguistic tool in cultural studies. According to the purpose of this study, the following research questions serve as the guidelines for analyzing the advertisements: How are women represented in television commercials?
What are the common mechanisms in presenting female characters in television How do television commercials conceptualize women in relation to the dominant What are the socio-cultural mechanisms and ideologies that play a role in How does the dominant discourse become naturalized in television commercials? commercials? male culture and for what reason? shaping these representations?
To answer these research questions, a qualitative analysis method is used. A ajor criticism against quantitative research on the evaluation of gender roles focuses on this aspect that statistical content analysis usually describe the visual elements of audiovisuals, easily recognizable and clearly measurable factors but do not provide an in-depth reasoning about the hidden ideologies and the social interaction of the production procedures (Norenee, 1977). Furthermore, quantitative analyses usually do not investigate advertising as an intermediary system between economy, culture and society (Pazarzi & Tsangaris, 2008).
In this respect, a qualitative study is conducted – a textual analysis that studies all the elements in which femininity is conceived, constructed and projected in society through three TV commercials. Textual analysis has been widely used within the cultural studies to uncover the preferred meanings encoded in a text. Specifically, this textual analysis is intended to show how ideology and meanings are accepted and conceptualized by TV commercials to define a woman (or man) in mediated culture.
This is especially true in the analysis of TV advertising because textual analysis often deals with a relative smaller number of texts, but seeks to get into the beneath of the surface, the denotative meanings, to examine more implicit, connotative, and symbolic meanings, through the researcher? s interpretation rather than systematic measuring. By uncovering the connotative meanings and the deeper social and marketing ideologies shaping these images and messages, one can reach to this understanding of how women are being represented and gender roles constructed and ideology enacted in advertisement.
The critical discourse analysis not only concentrates on visual issues and constructing meanings, but it also focuses on the question of how these meanings reflect or support the dominant patriarchal ideology and naturalization of dominant discourse in the society. As mentioned earlier, commercial advertisements are cultural phenomena in the society. Different methods are used to study cultural phenomena, but cultural studies Published Online: 15 January 2011 111 like other qualitative forms of sociological inquiry, inevitably emphasize on “circle of meaning” which is inspired by Derrida (1979) and Laclau and Moufee (1985).
For these thinkers, nothing exists outside of discourse; and race, gender, nationality and class are discursive. Consequently, “semiotic approach cannot explore their strategies. In semiotic approach, representation was understood on the basis of the ways words functioned as signs within language, but in a culture, meaning often depends on longer units of analysis – narratives, statements, group of images, the whole discourses which have acquired widespread authority. Therefore “semiotics seemed to confine the processes of representation to the language and to treat it as a closed, rather static system” (Hall, 2003, p. 2).
It is the fundamental basic of development from semiotics to metatextual analysis. Subsequent developments became more concerned with representation as a source of production of social knowledge and power relation that led to critical discourse analysis and its different approaches. Considering the main vocabulary and purpose of critical discourse analysis (Van Dijk, 2003) and the formations of cultural studies (Barker, 2003), it can be concluded that gender and representation are the main areas of critical discourse analysis and cultural studies.
In other words, they are the shared subject of many researches in these fields. Since approaches of critical discourse analysis are complicated and numerous, and cultural fields also involve a vast part of the community, explaining the interaction between methods of discourse analysis and cultural studies in a brief article like this is not possible. Therefore, the focus is going to be on a certain approach of critical discourse analysis to achieve a clear and perfect vision of cultural phenomena. As mentioned above, the analysis of representation should go beyond the semiotic approach to provide a more complete analysis.
The analysis of gender representation has to go beyond semiotics approach and utilize a discourse approach. Laclau and Mufee? s (1985) approach is the appropriate theoretical framework of analyzing text for the whole discourses embedded in advertising about gender roles and its discourses. Published Online: 15 January 2011 112 Explanation of the theoretical principles of Laclau and Mouffe? s (1985) theory and utilizing it as the method of analysis is not impossible here. This theory is primarily based on Foucauldian interpretation and manifesto of macro semantic system.
It helps researchers to identify discursive distinction and antagonism among discourses and floating signifiers to determine what discourses they produce and which discourses are highlighted or marginalized. Questions like whether it also demonstrates the interaction of them over the definition of signifiers, or how television advertisements, according to this theory, reinforce and reproduce the dominant discourse and dominant patriarchal system. Hence, the two-layer analysis is used in this paper – a semiotics and critical discourse analysis of television commercials.
Grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical framework of cultural studies and critical studies perspectives, the present research can contribute to the current understanding of how TV commercials represent women and how the dominant male discourse becomes naturalized. The common advertising strategies targeting gender roles are examined to illuminate how gender roles are encoded in TV advertising texts, how woman is defined through consumption ideologies, and how advertising constructs subjective positions.
Therefore, a detailed analysis of advertising representations of women and the preferred meanings in advertising are presented. Sampling The main sampling method in this paper is purposive sampling, the most common sampling method in qualitative research (Creswell, 2007). The purposive sampling approach is used when samples are chosen because they have particular features of characteristics that will enable detailed exploration and understanding of the central questions that the researcher intends to study,