Images of Arab women in advertising
Chapter 4 Case study
In the last chapter, the portrayal of Arab women in the Arab media has been put under full light, examining both the written and the visual format.
In this chapter, however, the focus will be on examples from each so as to prove what has been stated above but the focus will be limited to the Moroccan context.
Concerning the written media, the focus will be on advertisements since they are found in the written media, but when it comes to the visual one, the example would be a movie to be analyzed since movies are also found in the internet as they are available on television.
The focus here will be on the Moroccan context.
One of the functions of advertisements is to unveil the outside world for the women who see in them how other women live their lives in an idealized world, even though the scenes depicted are not necessarily the representatives of women as reality.
Through these images advertisers not only sell items but also make women blind enough to believe that they should live their lives the way the advertisements portray them.
Thus, what can be deduced from this is the fact that advertisements have their own effect on women like any other type of media.
Before analyzing some images, it would be useful to have an idea first about the nature of advertisements and what has been written about them by different scholars in the field of media; how do they function? What are their effects and how do they stereotype women through the images they give them?
This would be all explored in the following section.
4.1.1 Notes on advertisement
Ads have become nowadays the great focus of soft- news media which made it the trivia of our daily life. We see them, never question them and finally become a part of the perpetuation of what they advocate. In fact, people as ability to decipher these images depends on photographic literacy, which is the ability to read ads. We have become used to them furthermore, we take for granted their content as well even though they are not innocent and there is a huge ideology to behind them.
One of the ideologies or the strategies of advertisements is to play on the consumer as emotions since they are seen as everybody as weak points. Advertisers took the advantages of these factors to attract the viewers in a very subtle way.
This point has been deeply highlighted by Milium in the following passage. He states:
Advertising tries to achieve its ends by emotionally abusing its audience. Recognizing that we all have fears, hopes, anxieties, aspirations, insecurities, advertisers seek not to increase our understanding of them, but to use their existence whatever product they happen to have been paid to sell at any particular time.( Milium, 1975, p.18)
It should be noted, however that advertising is but a form of organizing an industrial economy; moreover, they are considered as cultural aspect since it carries cultural meanings in addition to sale message.
Advertisements equal visual communication, for they get the consumer introduced to the product. Additionally, they perform a kind of social communication through addressing the consumer about the nature of the product. Hence, advertising can be considered a social, cultural discourse that focuses on the notion of selling.
In fact, there is a strong tie between advertisements and the signs since they make a link between the meaning of the ad itself and the images as a sign of signification. Thus, to study an ad is to study both the meaning and the sign.
This idea has been developed by Robert Goldman in Reading Ads Socially when he stated admits As an institutionally rationalized process of fitting meanings to commodities, advertising break meanings down into their most fundamental units an into signifiers and signifieds- for the purpose of creating differentiated commodity signsa (Goldman, 1992, P.6). This proves that what we see in ads is really more than just images, but also signs and meanings altogether.
After seeing the complicated nature of advertising, what is left is to know whether advertising is good socially speaking or not? Does it improve life or make it worse?
Answers for these very questions have been given by Anthony J. Cortese in his book Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising (2008) where he quotes a group of well-known writers. He quotes Herman Wouk saying a Advertising blasts everything that is good and beautiful in this land with a horrid spreading mildewa (Cortese, 2008, p.3).
F. Scott Fitzgerald also has his own vision of advertising when he argues that an Advertizing as contribution to humanity is exactly minus zeroa (Cortese, 2008, p.3). From these two statements, it is obvious that advertisement is perhaps more negative than it is positive in society.
Advertising then, can be seen as cultural, economic, social and even political which makes it highly complicated, and, thus, needs to be deconstructed. Gender is another theme that is always connected to advertisements since they have a lot to say about gender identity thanks to their projection to gender display, the way we think men and women behave and not the way they actually do.
Cortese commented on the connection of gender and advertising saying a Advertising images provide culturally sanctioned ideal types of masculinity and femininity (e.g., dependency, concern with superficial beauty, fixation on family and nurturance and fear of technology)a (Cortese, 2008, p.57). Hence, gender is one of the themes always tackled in advertising.
John Berger has shed light on women as appearance in his book Ways Of Seeing (1972) saying a Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked ata (Berger, 1972, p.47). If we link this to advertisements, one might say that the woman in ads are just for the pleasure of men as Laura Mulvey believes; she is objectified to meet the demands of the male viewer who is the surveyor in this case. Women then are no more than a pleasure to be looked at and they are accompanied by their images whenever they go.
Advertising is about information but then again about appearance as well and mainly women as appearance, how we look at other people and how we look at ourselves as well. It creates a kind of relation between the subject who is the male viewer and the object who is the female model. Therefore, we can speak of the women body as used and abused in the field of advertising.
Ultimately, it is true that advertisements are a place where gender stereotypes and destroyed femininity meet each other, but the question which might be asked at this stage is how are women portrayed in this field?
The domestic role of females is one of the frequent images that we might come across repeatedly since it is the only appropriate place given by the society to women. They are shown in the private sphere as if they are the only ones able to manage the house as well as children; additionally it shows them as if they are good for nothing but this work. This image has a negative implication on women since they are expected first to serve well their family, which is given a priority and then to have a carrier which is secondary and they are supposed to work the two well.
Another idea that is found in ads is the theme of beauty in relation to women. They are often used in advertisements for products of beauty and appearance, in other words females are seen as beauties. In this case, women are told either by words or images that they equal their appearance or else that their importance is equivalent to the way they look.
This can be explained also differently, that they always lack something and that there is always what to be fixed in them. Women as self-esteem is lowered by these kinds of advertisements, for it is based on the way they look and most commonly they are not satisfied with their appearance.
A female as a sex object, this perhaps is the most common way that females are portrayed in advertising. They are usually passive, sexualized and subservient to men and most commonly barley clothed which can be seen as derogatory for them.
This encourages men all over the globe to treat women as objects and not humans, and even to use them sexually speaking since they have become used to the idea. One of the aftermaths also is the fact that women are going to be always passive and not in control of themselves. These are not the only images encountered in advertising but rather the most frequent ones, and the following section is to explain this in details through images as well as analysis.
Figure 4.1: figure 1
4.1.2 Analysis of Advertisements
This section will be a continuation to the previous one where a number of advertisements are going to be analyzed to prove the distorted images women are given in this held, but this time not with quotation or words but rather with Images. Hence, let us see some of them and try to see what is behind these images.
To contextualize figure 1, this is an advertisement, promoting the jewellery or the rings the model is wearing, taken from Femme du Maroc (NA° 144- December 2007). In this advertisement, the woman is associated with animals; she is shown as a cat, not a real human being; in other words she is denied humanity.
The model is smiling, unaware of the danger committed against her, and through her against all the women whom she is their representative. This implies another thing which is womenas ignorance, in spite of the fact that she is given a demeaning image, still she ignores it and finally she is happy about it.
Figure 4.2: figure 3
Likewise figure 2 is taken from the same magazine, Femme clu Maroc and the model is the same as the one in the figure one. It is again an advertisement of the jewellery she is wearing which is different this time. Even though the image is different, yet it is still horrible and the theme is still the same, perhaps worse. Women are dehumanized by the image they are given through this model. By looking at the image, the first idea that comes into oneas mind is the image of the bear with all its wildness. This bearish image makes of the woman an animalistic and hard creature to cohabitate with, which is negative in the full sense of the word.
It should be noted, however, that the models in Femme du Maroc are sometimes French models hired for its advertisements, but still they represent the Arab women since they appear wearing the Moroccan Caftan or aDjellabaa and other times other Arab women staff and targeting an Arab women audience which make these images representative of Arab women (Korzenioweska, 2005) . Even the models chosen are brown with black eyes and hair to resemble Arab Girls. This back up the idea mentioned in the previous chapter that this magazine is one of those which rely on the French ones, just a copy of them.
This is an advertisement of the outfit the model is wearing. She is in what it seems to be a traditional Arab house which is obvious from the embroidery on the pillows along with the door right, behind her. The woman is odalisque, staring at the photographer with no shame or fear of her nudity which means that she is perhaps used to pose like this.
The so called Arab woman is naked, wearing a very transparent dress from which her body is exposed to everybody to see and mainly to the male viewer. In his book Ways Of Seeing John Berger believes that A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nudea (Berger, 1972, p. 54). This means that women as nudity equals women as objectification to the male viewer because it is done for his sexuality more than it has to do with her sexuality.
Nakedness is considered as women as submission to the man who is the presumed viewer, to whom everything is addressed. Berger expresses the same idea in relation to paintings saying aThis nakedness is not, however, an expression of her own feelings; it is a sign of her submission to the owners feelings or demandsa (Berger, 1972, p.52). Hence to sum it up, the Arab woman who is represented by this female model appears as submissive, sexualized, an exposed body and an object of the male desire.
This advertisement is a promotion for the model as cloths. By looking at the image, one would notice that the woman is standing in the gate of an Arab house which is appears in the gate itself and the curtain that conceals what is inside.
The woman who seems to be an Arab woman is looking to the outside world, dreaming of stepping outside the house which symbolizes prison and chains and this is shown in her leg which is stepping outside. In other words, the woman seems to be living in a harem.
When talking about the notion of the harem, there is one figure whom cannot be ignored and who has written a lot about this notion in relation to the colonial postcards in Algerian context. This figure is the Algerian writer Malek Alloula, the writer of The Colonial Harem. He writes in relation to women and their representation in the Algeria:
FAT1 PORTE UNE ROBE DENTELLE EN MAILLE DE COTON SUR UN SAROUEI. EN MOUSSELINE TURQUOISE.
Figure 4.3: figure 4
These women are fantastically freed by the postcard from their prison, the harem. The postcard lifts the veil from them and grants them a space (that of the postcard) in which they can romp and frolic to their heartsa desire. (Alloula, 1981, P.122)
To link this to the advertisement above, one can say that the ad is freeing this woman who is secluded in a harem to step outside and to see what she has been denied for centuries, the public sphere. It shows Arab women as poor creatures who are in need of a saviour to take them away from their misery. This image plays on the popular conception of Arab women as secluded and mistreated, and perpetuates the same stereotypes about them as kept inside a harem.
Again the female body here is used since some of the model as body is shown to the viewer. Normally women in the harem are wrapped in their veils from top to toe in order not to be seen by anyone; however the photographer did not avoid exposing some of it even though little parts just for one purpose which is to attract the viewers and mainly the male ones. This implies the incredibility of the advertisement as well as the popularity of the usage of the female body in ads.
Figure 4.4: figure 5
Figure 5 is an advertisement taken from Nissae Min El Maghrib a (NA° 93- April 2008) promoting a Acea which is a washing product. The image of the mother and the housewife is still well dominant in the majority of Arab magazines.
In figure 5 for example we have the image of an aged woman who is happily doing her housework. The image communicates the housewife as role as a normal full- time job of all women even though it does not accurately represent women of the time who have entered the workforce at a high rate. The only positive thing in the ad is perhaps the machine that facilitates the women as work though not all women can afford it.
Figure 6 is taken from Nissae Min El Maghrib (NA° 99- October 2008) as well and it shows that the role of the mother in the Moroccan context is always stressed as a result of the cultural and the social components which prove the idea mentioned in the beginning of this chapter that advertisements create a connection between the image and the cultural and the social components.
Figure 4.5: Figure6
There is the total absence of the man in this kind of advertisement to show that it is women as role and duty to serve their husbands, children and to do the house shores. The man is always outside since he is the bread winner who has access to the outside world, but the question to be asked in this stage is what about these women who are well educated and who were able to make it through? These two advertisements are no exception; still Arab ads maintain the image of women as ignorant housewives who are confined and shut behind the walls of their houses.