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Must Women Be Seen to Be Heard?

September 18, 2014
New Research

Voice and Gender Bias in TV Advertisements

Washington, DC  -  A new article in the National Communication Association journal Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies examines the voice in TV advertising and its relation to visual image and gender. Do advertising voice-overs affect consumer perceptions of gender? Using quantitative and qualitative analysis, Mark Pedelty, an Associate Professor in Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota, and Morgan Kuecker test their hypotheses on these issues. Their fascinating results reveal some thought provoking insights into audio visual media gender representations.

Having trawled through 1,000 plus TV ads, it was found that 80 percent of voice-overs are male. Moreover, any female voice-overs are predominantly embodied by an attractive woman, whereas male voices are often disembodied or represented by both ugly and attractive men. So, why is there such an imbalance in representation? Does a woman have to be beautiful to be worth listening to? Despite consumers’ ambivalence for gender of voice-over, some marketers claim a male voice to be more authoritative, more knowledgeable. Moreover, male and female voices seem tailored to their role, with men adopting characteristics such as adventure, technical knowledge, and power, and women being heard in relation to domestic settings, relationships, and nurturing roles. Even deeper-seated cultural, political, and economic issues around the world further entrench the huge gender imbalance in media representation of women. An infamous marketing dictum, “men act, women appear,” has come to fruition in TV advertising.

The proliferation of silent women in the “male gaze” seems to reinforce old prejudices and sexism which have long been balanced out in other areas; female competence frequently appears undermined in popular ads. The authors’ qualitative studies of ads also proved that representation of gender roles are largely rigid; “men’s and women’s voices and bodies tend to be represented in ways that reify dualistic understandings of gender: man/woman, mind/body, culture/nature, public/private, business/domestic, active/passive, and so on.” The authors stress the significance of voice in media representations of women. They note, “When a woman’s voice is present, she is not speaking to the population at large but to dogs, cats, babies, children, and women dieters.” Should we agree with the authors that stereotyping of women in this way is highly problematic?


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