Patriarchy Power in Soap Operas and Advertising

The crucial role of mass media in spreading public beliefs about gender, relationships and family roles is widely recognized. Mass media shape collective patterns of behavior and greatly influence the ways, in which men and women show their feelings, make decisions, and act in daily environments. Mass media, and television, in particular, reflect and emphasize the existing gender ideologies.

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Not surprisingly, television is often claimed to be a strong supporter and promoter of patriarchy. Soap operas and advertising as the two most popular genres of television reinforce the history of female oppression. However, contemporary researchers tend to forget that, like women, men experience the negative influences of television on their social roles. It would be fair to say that the spirit of patriarchy imposed on society through soap operas and advertising limits both men and women in their gender and social choices, making their daily lives difficult and, at times, unbearable.

Television has huge impacts on society’s perceptions of gender. Gender relationships are extremely vulnerable to the effects of mass media. According to Helen Ingham, “television is widely known to represent and reinforce the mainstream ideology of contemporary western culture: patriarchy.” Although televised family images have changed dramatically in the past fifty years, the ideology behind most of them remains unchanged. Like many years ago, women are presented as being in a subordinate position to men, while men are shown to enjoy unbelievable power and superiority over women.

Soap operas and advertising are the two most popular television genres, and they often serve as a source of knowledge about how gender is represented in mass media. Ingham writes that television tends to depict women as being confined to home and family life. Statistically, less than 50 percent of women in soap operas are shown to be working, compared with 75 percent of televised men (Ingham). Women are seven times more likely than men to appear in personal hygiene advertising (Ingham). Meanwhile, any woman who decides to leave her family and look for happiness beyond household chores is likely to be punished (Ingham).

In soap operas, women suppress their emotions and engage in gossiping, since they are not allowed to express their feelings openly. In the words of Mary Ellen Brown and Linda Barwick, many soap operas are based on the philosophy of silence, when working-class housewives are limited in their opportunities to pursue and share their knowledge with other women. When women in soap operas engage in gossiping, they once again confirm their subordinate position in the gendered world. “Women enjoy gossip in part because talk, as opposed to silence, is an empowering activity” (Brown & Barwick). However, women are not the only ones to suffer from the tragic consequences of patriarchy that is constantly imposed on them through advertising and soap operas.

Surprisingly or not, men and women suffer equally due to the lack of objectivity on television. While women are confined to domestic spaces and are not allowed to search for their happiness beyond household chores, men are bound to assume responsibility and power in family relationships, even when they do not feel happy about it. Male discrimination is another side of sexism that is so actively promoted by television. Due to sex-role stereotyping, most men are depicted as being less emotional than women (Ingham). At the same time, the image of masculinity is often associated with aggression and dominance, which are not always characteristic of men in real-life settings (Ingham).

Men who cross the boundaries of acceptable gender behaviors or make decisions that contradict accepted gender roles are likely to face rejection and even isolation. Whenever men are depicted in domestic situations, they look either too weak, incompetent, or too manipulative compared with women (Ingham). Unlike women, men cannot engage in gossiping; they cannot show intimacy in their style or enjoy the power of secrecy since they must act as breadwinners and ensure that their families have everything needed to cope with difficulties (Brown & Barwick).

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Like women, men cannot openly acknowledge their attraction to soap operas, because the dominant culture does not approve such attitudes (Brown & Barwick). At the same time, they cannot state that their beliefs about and perceptions of life differ from the dominant images presented on television. Not surprisingly, the spirit of patriarchy that dominates soap operas and television advertisements limits women and men in their social role choices, making their lives difficult.

In conclusion, patriarchy remains the dominant force behind the development of various television products. Despite the considerable changes in female and male social roles in the past decades, television keeps imposing strict boundaries on women’s and men’s gender roles. While women are depicted as being confined to home spaces, men are expected to be strong, powerful, dominant, and even aggressive. Unfortunately, society often forgets that, like women, men suffer from the lack of gender objectivity on television. Through soap operas and advertising, television limits men in their self-expression opportunities. As a result, it is possible to say that television distorts men’s and women’s gender role choices, making their lives extremely complicated.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Patriarchy Power in Soap Operas and Advertising'. 16 January.

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