Essay: Did gender equality in advertising take a step forward in the 1980s only to take a step backwards in the following 30 years?

Essay details:

  • Subject area(s): Sociology essays
  • Reading time: 15 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published on: August 6, 2018
  • File format: Text
  • Number of pages: 2
  • Did gender equality in advertising take a step forward in the 1980s only to take a step backwards in the following 30 years?
    0.0 rating based on 12,345 ratings
    Overall rating: 0 out of 5 based on 0 reviews.

Text preview of this essay:

This page of the essay has 4457 words. Download the full version above.

In advertising women have consistently been exposed in clichéd ways, and more often than not, the use of female imagery in advertising has been used as bait to sell a product or brand. Although, the modern mindset on gender is moving much faster than it ever has and the way the public and media view women is becoming much more equal to men, with women now having the same opportunities for the achievement of important goals in society such as education, employment and income and to contribute to political, social, and cultural development (GIS Marketing & Communications, 2012). Although there is still a long way to go globally concerning equality for men and women, there has been a huge shift in the way women are viewed in advertising over the past 30 years. Since the 1980s the advertising industry has showcased much broader ideas and visions of roles for women, Rosalind Gill has argued that the traditional image of ‘wife-mother-housewife’ is being replaced by images of sexually assertive, confident and ambitious women who exert their ‘freedom’ through consumption (Amy-Chinn D, 2011). This report will be exploring the fluctuations of gender equality in advertising during the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s, looking at the major factors which has led to a turbulent 30 years of how women are viewed and used in advertising. The way women have been portrayed in advertising has changed noticeably over the past 30 years and the way society views women because of it. Adverts are relentlessly contending with us about how women are portrayed, and these chapters will give an overview on the past the present and all that’s in between.

The first chapter inspects the changes in advertising associated with the end of second wave feminism which ended at the start of 1980, as well as how important legislation in the period of second wave feminism like The Sex Discrimination Act which was passed to reduce unlawful certain kinds of sex discrimination and establish a Commission with the function of working towards the elimination of such discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity (The British Library, 2017) looking in to this will demonstrate the change from the once negative portrayal of women to a new-found vision of women, showing a more self-assured, confident and powerful figure, the exploration of this time frame will show a range of iconic women focused adverts linking with these changes and looking at how they have affected the vision of women though out this period.

The second chapter will go forward to the 1990, a period which had many positive advertisements, big brand company Nike became one of the first marketers to celebrate women in sports in 1995, although even with a powerful advertisement like this the world of gender equality and women’s role in society seemed to take a step back. I will be exploring how men’s magazines, more specifically Loaded which launched in 1994. This section will look into the controversy and criticism over the ‘Lad mag’ and illustrate how the expectations of women changed and how unrealistic visons rubbed off in the media and advertising. Examples and comparisons of adverts throughout 1990 will be create a strong visual timeline of how lads mags have contributed to an ongoing cultural shift.

The third chapter will look at how gender equality in advertising took a slow but sure turn in society in respects to gender stereotypes and body image; showing advertisements which have promoted women in a positive manner, such as This Girl Can. This final chapter will show a shift from the lad’s mag vison of women, a sexual shell to be seen and not heard, to advertisements showing a strong woman, knowing their rights and place in society. But although the year 2000 to present date has shown some ground-breaking adverts showing women as ‘powerful’ and as equal as men, the chapter will also challenge whether gender equality has taken a step forward in the 21st century, or if gender equality in advertising still has a long way to go, looking at current advertisements which at first don’t seem to be problematic but show a clear gender stereotype such as the Aptamil Follow On Milk – Today for Tomorrow television advert.

Chapter one – 1980s, The end of second wave feminism

This chapter will show examples of adverts which had shown a major social change following second wave feminism and discuss the key aspects of this period and how they influenced the advertisements emerging in the 1980’s. The ‘’second wave’’ feminist movement proved to be a major social transition for Western countries and the United States from the 1960s to early 1980. This social change forced a major social awareness movement that questioned the roles of gender in society. Two movements surfaced within the larger second wave feminist movement, which were more mainstream and radical elements of feminism, which left second wave feminism behind ending early 1980, leading to a movement of their own. Ultimately, the second wave feminist movement gave women the opportunity to start conversations about how their social inequality and begin to think about gender, identity, sexuality, race, and class as all equally important factors (, 2017).

After this movement, women’s role in society took a turn and began for the first time to look as if things in the world of gender equality was looking up, advertising started to show career-minded women as powerful mothers in control and the industry began to challenge the traditional and contemporary roles of women. A pioneering advert which showed this new portrayal of women was the 1980 advert for Enjoli: The 8-hour perfume, by Charles of the Ritz, an 8 hours perfume for a 24-hour woman which illustrated a sexy but capable woman who could “bring home the bacon”. The jingle which accompanied this went as followed:

“Because I’m a woman, I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man! I can work ’til five o’clock, come home and read you Tickety-Tock, and if its lovin’ you want, I can kiss you and give you the shivers..”

Figure 1, Enjoli: The 8-hour perfume, Charles of the Ritz, 1980

This advert is selling the You-Can-Have-It-All lifestyle to a new generation of women who had previously been shut out of such a world, of high position and strength in society. The line, ‘I can work ’til five o’clock’ especially shows women becoming more equal to men, at least within the work place, In 1975 the sex equality legislation made is illegal to discriminate against women in work and education or to pay them less than men for equivalent work (Souhami, D.,1986).

This legislation has highly influenced the advert shown, even down to her tailored suit, known as power dressing (Figure 1), which was developed in the 1980s, power dressing was a look that enabled women to establish their authority in a professional and political environment traditionally dominated by men. The concept of power dressing became popular by John T. Molloy’s manuals Dress for success (1975) and Women: dress for success (1980), The manuals addressed a new kind of female worker entering a typical masculine environment recommending them a “uniform” that would help them to acquire authority, respect and power at work. (Nava, M. et al 1997).

The rise of the power woman was in full flow and another advert which evidenced this was the Volkswagen Golf, Paula Hamilton advert which aired in 1987 called ‘Changes’, this was another huge advert at the time as it showed a woman walking away from a man tossing aside house keys, ring, pearls and mink coat, an act of an assured woman taking charge, contrasting to many adverts where women are secondary figures to men, and if they were not their arm candy, they were the eye candy to viewers. The advert e
nds with the strap line “If only everything in life were as reliable as a Volkswagen” making a suggestion that her husband she is walking out on is unreliable and has realised that she can leave her husband – but not the keys to his car. Showing she can survive on her own, make her own future without relying on a man, sitting at the drivers wheel.

Figure 2

Figure 3

The advert was awarded the Silver prize at the 1988 British Arrows Awards, and is remembered as an indicator of car advertising’s recognition of women’s growing independence (History of Advertising Trust, 2016). This advert showed a leap from previous car adverts, as they ordinarily only featured women as models or showed them as passengers, never as the driver. Both of these advertisements would not have been possible without the women’s liberation efforts of the 1970s and 1980s, and the end of second wave feminism reflected positively on gender equality in advertising and looked to be a start of something great for women’s rights and the way they are portrayed in society through adverting and media.

Although the 1980s showed promise, going into 1990 also showed potential to keep building on the positive changes made during the 80’s, this was until the ‘Lad mag’ was launched in 1994, leaving a concerning mark on what second wave feminism had worked so hard to achieve for women and gender equality was again, about to be challenged.

Chapter two – 1990’s, Stepping back with the ‘Lad Mag’

This section will explore a period which had potential to continue to progress in gender equality, with ground breaking adverts celebrating women in sport, something which had not been done before. But the launch of Loaded, a renowned male magazine appeared to make the world of advertising and women’s role in society take a step backwards.

In 1995, worldwide brand Nike aired on prime-time TV a commercial, written and produced by women named ‘If you let me play sport’.

The advert has a mix of young girls speaking to the camera narrating “If you let me play, I’ll learn what it means to be strong, if you let me play sports …” And then list: “I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer… will suffer less depression… will be more likely to leave a man who beats me … less likely to get pregnant before I want to … I will learn what it means to be strong. If you let me play… play sports. If you let me play sports.”

Figure 4

This advert is a confronting realisation of how the female population are still been treated with inequality and shows the positive benefits of girls and young women playing sports, also highlighting what the risks are of women and young girls not being able or allowed to play sport, although targeting the unsatisfactory gap in gender equality in sports, this advert was one of the first marketers to celebrate and encourage women being involved in sport, which was an optimistic and hopeful start to keep bringing equality through different areas in society where gender equality lacks through the 1990s.

But, something which overshadowed the emerging positive advert focusing on gender equality was the rise of mens magazines, specifically the launch of Loaded in 1994 with1997 marking the height of peak sales with average monthly circulation of 457,318 copies sold the launch of this showed the change from the “new man” stereotype a thoughtful, well-dressed father figure changed to becoming a “lad”. This became an the start of an era that mocked feminism and feminists, putting a holt on all progress which had been done to show women in a more dignified and equal light, but as the lad culture that the magazine drew in and celebrated grew more and more popular, its main rival FHM featured ever more skimpily dressed women on its covers, Loaded followed suit and within months of Loaded’s launch, GQ magazine had scrapped its no naked covers policy, the vision of women was quickly changing saying goodbye to the power suit and hello to half naked women.

James Brown, one of the magazines founders, wrote in the May 1994 launch issue: “Loaded is a new magazine dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of sex, drink, football and less serious matters. Loaded is music, film, relationships, humor, travel, sport, hard news and popular culture. Loaded is clubbing, drinking, eating, playing and eating. Loaded is for the man who believes he can do anything, if only he wasn’t hungover” (Brown, J, 1994).

This quote shows just the start of a downhill fall, ‘pursuit of sex’, ‘less serious matters’ and ‘for the man who believes he can do anything’ do not sit comfortably together, it is promoting sexist attitudes and behaviours. Lads magazines normalise the idea that it’s acceptable to treat women like sex objects and are degrading and harmful publications. Research shows that young people, particularly boys, who are exposed to sexualised media are expected to perceive women to be sex objects, research found in the APA Sexualisation of Girls report is that “psychology offers several theories to explain how the sexualisation of girls and women could influence girls’ well-being. Ample evidence testing these theories indicates that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and attitudes and beliefs.” (, 2007)


Advertisements during this time frame followed the trend of women gender stereotypes sparked from lad mags, an example of this is the Dr Pepper Advert (Figure 5) which was launched in 1994 soon after the lads mag hit the shelves. This advert shows a busty blonde wearing a barely there dress and stiletto heels, with the main title of the advert saying ‘Impress her with a big one’ a sexualised line suggesting all women are interested in is throwing their selves at men, and offering themselves to them with ease. This report maintains that the light hearted Sexual objectification of women in advertisements hugely heightened while the lads mag was in the spot light, thus having the power to manipulate readers turning them into obsessed purchasers with an unrealistic and sexist vision of gender roles.

Another advert which was huge in the 90s was the Wonder Bra ‘Hello Boys’ (Figure 6) advertisement, an advert which has been seen as empowering to women by some, and degrading by others, but neither the less the running trend of scantily dressed women being used to sell not only does this advert appeal to female viewers, who look at this women in awe, wanting to look like this authoritative sexy woman and to be desired by men, but it also acknowledges men’s interest of the female image. The shift in society’s idea of femininity has shown a great leap from 1980’s super-mums, powerful and successful women being at forefront of importance to women, but during 1990 femininity is defined as a body, the possession of a ‘sexy body’ is shown as a women’s identity, to male and female consumers and this is captured vividly in the advert for Wonderbra as show, as well as the Dr Pepper advert.

Figure 6

At this point it seemed an awful lot had to change, including the mind sets of advertising world for gender equality to be present in advertising, the portrayal of women in advertising during 1990-2000 was very bleak, but with women been seen and used to promote more and more, the opportunity for a rise in more positive images of women, with the decrease in sales and eventually closure of lad magazines Loaded and FHM in 2015, the hope for gender equality during the 21st century was at its mos
t likely, or so we would like to think.

Chapter 3 – 2000, The rise of women and equality in advertising

During the 21st century, a lot of the advertisements had women in the main roles, allowing them to be able to influence on the campaigns, as an overview 2000s seemed to have taken a slow but sure turn in society when it came to gender stereotypes and also stepping away from the ‘correct’ body image for a woman after the expectations leading from the lads magazine. Another positive to come out of the 21st century is the Equality Act 2010, the legislation came into force to legally protect individuals from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society (Gov, 2010) this protects people from discrimination of age, sex, race, religion, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnerships and sexual orientation.

An excellent advert which supports the above, and shows optimistic change in the representation of women in advertising is the This Girl Can campaign which officially launched around the United Kingdom in January of 2015, and quiet fittingly, in same year of the closure of lads magazine Loaded. Sport England who created the campaign had done copious amounts of research into the target market, there was a huge difference in the number of men and women playing sport, it is interesting to see that from the 10 years since the ‘If you let me play sport’ advert (Figure 4), not a lot has changed in the place for women in sport, there was still a massive gap to where women belong and feel accepted. As a result of the campaign 1.6m women have started exercising (Campaign, 2016)

The advert has a wide range of different women, all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and race doing exercise, Missy Elliots sound track ‘get your freak on’ is the backing track, and some of the copy used on the screen includes “Damn right I look hot,” “I jiggle, therefore I am,” and “Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox”. The advert doesn’t show the overly used slender, tanned, perfectly made up woman, the unrealistic image which has been created, which is intimidating for women, the fear of being compared and judged is one of the reasons women are reluctant to take part in physical activity, the advert uses ‘normal’ women taking part in exercise and sport, women from all paths of life. The advert is relatable, realistic and has given hope to women and hope that the gap between genders will gradually close, one year after the advert went live, 2.8 million 14-40 year old women say they have done some or more activity as a result of the campaign (Sport England, 2016) an incredible response and proof that a positive advert which is relatable, focusing creating equality in gender, and giving women the push they need to realise they are not inferior to the man is exactly what was needed especially in 2015. The “don’t give a damn” attitude the women in the advert had was a success of altering the attitude of society’s judgement.

The end of lads mag, the start of the mission to close the gender gap, and create equality in the public eye seemed inevitable during the 21st century after this triumphant advert, but there is still gender inequality even in the present year, an example of this is Aptamil Follow On Milk – Today for Tomorrow television advert, this particular advert had been running for a couple of years, launching in 2013.

The advert is something which isn’t as obvious as previous examples, and watching it you probably wouldn’t be automatically shocked, or perhaps bat an eyelid, but this is a perfect example of how gender stereotypes are subconsciously fed to us on a daily basis, still in 2017.

The advertisement voices, “Your baby’s future can be influenced by the choices you make, and breastfeeding provides them with the very best start in life. If you choose to move on, our experts have created a range of Aptamil Follow On milks inspired by 40 years of breastmilk research.” While this is being said there is three babies, a girl and two boys, the girl is in pink and it shows her future as a ballerina and the boys in blue, showing a engineer and one a successful rock climber; The Advertising Standards Authority did in fact receive complaints for this particular advertisement but it did not uphold as it didn’t breach existing standards, quoting Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, he stated, “Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people,” said Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA” (The Financial Times Limited, 2017).

The Aptamil advert is a prime example of how women, and in this case even babies, are been tarred with the same pink brush, it shows the female population portrayed in ways that belittle their ambitions, a girl can grow up to become an engineer at the same time a boy can become a ballerina, these roles should not be gender specific, and there is no reason as to why any gender should be put into a selection process of what is a female role and what is male.

There is a theory about the cause of gender difference between men and women called the Social Construction of Gender, according to this theory, society and culture have created the gender roles, and these roles are given as an ideal or suitable behavior for a male or female, this report supports this theory as the examples of gender equality in advertising shown within this report have shown a clear link with the effects of the perception of genders and the way society and gender is portrayed, not only in society but through advertising. There is a pattern of advertising portraying gender in a certain way and the portrayal been projected in society, the Aptamil advert, shows female and male roles from birth and society has created a gender role as soon as a little boy or girl is brought into the world which is supporting the theory of society creating gender roles, and this advert showing firsthand how society is supporting this.


On reflection to whether gender equality in advertising took a step forward in the 1980s, only to take a step backwards in the following 30 years, this report has shown a range of advertisements from 1980 to present day showing gender equality and inequality in advertising, the first chapter showed the advertisements confirming that after second wave feminism, during the 1980s women were being viewed more equally to men and legislation had been put in place to confirm this, a step in the right direction to equality in advertising had been made.

Although, throughout chapter two the report observed the implications of the launch of Loaded in 1994, it became apparent the hard work of second wave feminism had been overshadowed by lad culture, women were no longer looked at as power women of the 1980s and had become objectified with the stereotype of a sexy body was a women’s identity, therefore confirming that gender equality had in fact took a step back.

In chapter three it shows how the Equality Act 2010 came into force as well as the groundbreaking advertisement by Nike aired, showing a new vison of women, targeting women with a don’t give a damn attitude altering the attitude of society’s judgement of what a woman should look and act like, these particular points in chapter 3 challenge the impression of gender equality taking step backwards after 1980; gender equality looked positive, but the misconception of gender equality taking a step forward in the 21st century was disputed with the exploration of the Aptamil advert, a not as obvious example of gender discrimination, but equally as important to recognise. T
he Aptamil advert is one which is wouldn’t initially shock its viewers, which in itself shows how society views gender in the present-day, society is feeding into the gender roles, adding to the gender gap.

A statistic to support this is from the World Economic Forum’s ninth Global Gender Gap Report, it reported that “On current trends, the overall global gender gap can be closed in exactly 100 years across the 106 countries covered since the inception of the Report, compared to 83 years last year.” (Global Gender Gap Report, 2017) This shows that the gender gap has increased and has added 17 years on since 2016, this is a shock even with the evidence within the report of gender equality taking a step forward before to then take a backwards steps the following year, there has been some glimmering hope with adverts such as Nike ‘This Girl Can’ and between the sexist and the gender inequality there has been countless gender positive adverts, but not enough to change the way the world of advertising approaches gender and societies stereotypes. The gender gap is currently going in reverse, even with the world having greater understanding of gender; gender equality in advertising needs to be applied by all companies and agencies for a chance to tighten the gender gap within advertising, not just in the UK but globally.

Gloria Steinem an American feminist and social political activist, who has been nationally recognised as a spokeswoman and leader of the American Feminist Movement during the 1960s and 1970s has said that, “A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist, where everyone can be themselves.”

This quote perfectly summerises this report, in the sense that in fact perhaps gender equality in advertising did not necessarily take a step forward in the 1980s, but was recognised more as and publicised more from the effects of second wave feminism focusing on social inequalities, as these adverts at the time were massive steps forward for women and gender equality and in this sense yes it absolutely was a step forward for gender equality in advertising, but in the great scheme of things the development which had been made throughout the 80s had not been reiterated throughout the 90s of 00s, it was as if society was aware in the 80s that change was needed, and once it had been acknowledged and attempts were made to change the way women were perceived, it was slowly disregarded. It has been clear that gender stereotypes and social roles have been used in the past 30 years and are still being used today, the report has shown hope but shortly after lost it again, gender equality in advertising over the past 30 years has been like a game of tennis and has been continuously moving backwards and forwards. Society has been making smalls steps towards evolving gender equality, and a general awareness has developed that social roles for men and women are inclusive, viewers are aware of this, but unless advertising takes a step away from gender stereotyping and categorizing, and society become less complaisant to the lax examples of gender inequality seen day to day like the example of the Aptamil advertisement, a prediction of a comparable timeline of events 30 years from now would not be surprising, gender in advertising seems a far cry away from equal and as Steinem said ‘A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist’.

About Essay Sauce

...(download the rest of the essay above)

About this essay:

This essay was submitted to us by a student in order to help you with your studies.

If you use part of this page in your own work, you need to provide a citation, as follows:

Essay Sauce, Did gender equality in advertising take a step forward in the 1980s only to take a step backwards in the following 30 years?. Available from:<> [Accessed 09-04-20].

Review this essay:

Please note that the above text is only a preview of this essay.

Review Title
Review Content

Latest reviews: