Portrayal of Gender Roles in Advertisement: Effects on Women’s Self-Esteem

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In today’s society appearance is everything. Looking the part and playing the role can allow one to go a long way in media, but particularly advertisement. Honestly, who has not mumbled or thought to themselves while watching an advertisement, I wish I looked like that? A commercial for intimate wear or a trendy cosmetic line can have women looking in the mirror critiquing their physical appearance while reviewing their flaws. Mass media and advertisement can form insecurities within women which play on their self-esteem. It’s important to examine the negative stereotypes in media and advertisement which cause reporting of low self-esteem.

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Advertisement impacts its viewers, so that is why it’s important to understand the impact on how it shapes the perception of the viewer. Self-esteem and advertisement are not often correlated with one another, but it’s evident that women are affected mentally and physically which can have effects on their self-esteem. Advertisement focuses on gender roles and how women are positively and negatively portrayed. This study will focus on the effect gender roles on the self-esteem of women and how they can be view differently. Society plays a role in creating low self-esteem in women from a young age due to the many unrealistic expectations that women try to live up to. It’s crucial to see the positive, so one doesn’t get lost in expectations that society and media has placed on them.

Literature Review

It is known that people turn to forms of mass media for information when they lack the knowledge and experience with subjects or situations (Lee, 2009). Cultivation Theory suggests that people mostly rely on television messages for a worldview, which causes unambiguous views on social reality. Cultivations theory is a form of communication that claims repeated exposure to images in mass media could affect the viewer’s perception of reality (Riddle, 2009). Social norms and perception of reality are created by the worldly views. Lee (2009) claims that behaviors are replicated when the subject is physically attractive, which grants for a pleasing outcome. Johnson and Holmes (2009) stated that those who seek and follow an unrealistic perception of reality, when the outcome doesn’t replicate to the desired fantasy, they will be disappointed. This can be problematic granted the outcome doesn’t turn out in their favor. Perception can allow one to believe that what they see is right or correct. An example would be a viewer watching unhealthy eating being displayed by a model who has the idea or perfect figure, they view will hold the same expectations for themselves not realizing that an unrealistic perception has been shown to them. Adults, both younger and older who set their goals on idealized images, which they desire to look like, will repeated have their expectations violated. This leads to low self-esteem and low self-satisfaction (Johnson & Holmes, 2009). These images will be used in media through advertisement, with hope to capture the viewer’s attention.

Media can have a major impact on its viewers. Commercial advertisement significantly impacts its viewers because fictional perceptions of reality are considered the social norm and valid. Riddle (2009) stated that those who are consistently exposed to commercial advertisement, these individuals have an altered knowledge and worldview of everyday life. The more the mass media messages are exposed, the more likely the viewer will accept the content. Viewers are less likely to differentiate fiction from reality once they have been exposed to high consumptions of these forms of messages (Riddle, 2009). This can be controversial because women who view advertisements may receive the wrong idea, as most advertisement involving women suggest that females should look like models, be trendy and stylish, while concealing their physical flaws. Advertisement messages affect all who view them whether they know it or not. These messages shouldn’t be adapted as the social norm or part of one everyday reality. It is important to create self-expectations during adolescences, as taking on the wrong views can impact one long-term (Riddle, 2009).

Gender Roles

Advertisements can be persuasive to the consumer as it suggests the viewer has a need for the item, which motivates the purchase. Women are known to focus on their beauty, which explains why most female target advertisements are focused on products to achieve or enhance one’s beauty to receive the look of perfections (McKinley, 2005). Advertisements used female to sell products, this can determine the idea that they are often objectified (Skorek & Schreier, 2009). Advertisements are used to sell a lifestyle; the product must be viewed as a necessity for ones life. Happiness and values play a role into the products that are on display to be sold (Skorek & Schreier, 2009). Women and men are portrayed differently in media. Generalized stereotypes are used to represent women, which gives off the impression that they are subordinate to men. Skorek and Schreier (2009) reported that ten percent of women portrayed working professional roles, such as waitress, secretary, or assistant. Females were viewed as subordinate figures in these advertisements. It was thought that women and presented that women are unable of completing work related task without the help from a male or a machine to assist them. Eisend (2010) boosted the idea that business was an industry for men. In many advertisements, men are seen in positions such the manager or pilot, while women are seen in positions as their secretary or flight attendant, which promotes gender biases and stereotypes.

Media portrays women using many different forms of stereotypes. These stereotypes can be viewed negatively as women have evolved into dominating forces within society. Opportunities are not only presented for men, as women have suited up to take on many roles and challenges over the years. Negative stereotypes of women shown in media, just to name a few; women’s place is home and in the kitchen (Skorek & Schreier, 2009). These forms of advertise once gave off the impression that women don’t deal with the decision makings of the home. The task of the homemaker wasn’t viewed as an important job. The perception has always been that women need men for support, protection. It’s true that once women dependent of men and were only seen as sexual objects. Women appear in sexually suggestive content more then men (Lundstrom & Sciglimpaglia, 1977). It’s seldom for women to be shown as participants in competitive sports or competitions of any sort. They are viewed as an object that men come home to after a long day of work; they are viewed as just the housewife. Researchers have found claims to support that fact that women portrayed in media are always subjected to the same stereotypical roles. Women are not commonly shown in working roles, as business members, or having power and authority over men (Skorek & Schreier, 2009). Due to there being many negative stereotypes in media in how women are being presented, it’s crucial to take a further look at the perspective from the view point of women. This will give an insight more intently on how women are being objectified in media.


Women feminist believe that women’s experiences, concerns, and ideas are as valuable as those of men and should be treated with equal seriousness and respect (Kim, 2008, p.392). Frequent grievances towards media and advertisement portrayals of women would be the consistent idea that females don’t hold positions of authority, the idea that all workplaces are dominated by men, and sex-role socializations (Stephenson, Stover, Villamor, 1997). Feminist primarily focus on dominance and social order (Kim, 2008) and they argue that women should be treated and granted that same equality in media and advertisement representation as men. The goal is to cease the idea that males are the dominate gender, but aim to have women and men viewed as equals and to eradicate the messages being used to stereotype and generalize women. When media and advertisements can get to a place where they generalize the viewpoints of females less, that is when they will be better represented in a different aspect of social life (Lee, 2009).



The gathered information on mass media and how women are portrayed in advertisement the hypothesis suggest:

H: Negative images of females result in high exposure of stereotypes in media advertisement which correlates with low self-esteem among females of all ages.



This study mainly involved female interactions with media and advertisement. They used 350 female high school students living on the west coast of the United States. They used participants of different races, which consisted of Caucasians (70%), African Americans (18%), Hispanics (7%), Asian (4%), and other (1%). The students consisted of freshman (12%), sophomores (34%), juniors (25%), and seniors (29%). The students study ages ranged from 14 to 18 with an average age being 15 (60%).


Two high schools were sought out to conduct this study. Administrators contacted the school board to receive permission to survey the students during lunch hours and after school. The school allowed for flyers to be sent out to all female students, providing information regarding a survey that they could participate in. Female students needed to submit a verbal interest as well as a parental permission slip, granted them access to participate in the survey. The survey was voluntary and only given to those with consent from a parent or guardian.

The first survey was conducted in a classroom during the lunch period for those who wished to participate at that time. The second survey was conducted after school in the lunch cafeteria. The survey was handed out to each student during both sessions once all participants were checked in. The instructors explained the instruction of the survey prior to being handed out. The students were advised not to share the any information regarding the survey with their peers. One instructor advised the student on how to properly take the survey while the other instructor passed out the survey and pencils to the students. The content for the survey consisted of a fifty question questionnaire which involved effects media has on ones emotions. The students were informed that their survey would be submitted anonymously so names were not needed to be place on the paper, and that they answers were voluntary.


Demographic Items

The survey included questions on the student’s grade, age and race.

Media Exposure

Media exposure was measured by focusing on female stereotypes and depictions in commercial advertisements. A nominal scale which focused on yes or no questions was also used. These nominal questions included: Do you watch commercial advertisements? and Do you observe commercial advertisements directed towards females? The Likert scale questions included: How many times a week do you view commercials advertisements? and How often do you notice the stereotypes in which females are portrayed in commercial advertisements? Responses ranged from (1) never view to (5) always view.


The Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) was used to measure self-esteem. The RSE scale contained 5 items; from strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (5) on a 5-point Likert scale (Rill et al., 2009) Samples questions were added to measure the overall emotional level of esteem. High scores reflected high level of self-esteem, while lower scores reflected lower levels of self esteem. The coefficient was rated .85 in a previous study. Sample questions included, I often feel worthless and I often have low sense of accomplishment.

Data Plan

The Pearson Correlation tested the hypothesis. This test calculated the correlation coefficients of the two variables. Both the independent variable and dependent variable are interval/ratio. The hypothesis suggests that high exposure to negative images of female stereotypes in media and advertisement correlate with low self-esteem.

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Portrayal of Gender Roles in Advertisement: Effects on Women's Self-Esteem. (2019, Apr 26). Retrieved July 4, 2022 , from

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