We have met the sexist enemy. And it is us.
For decades feminists have blamed the evil advertising industry for its "gender stereotyping" of women as passive, weak, overly emotional, girly-girlish, and obsessed with pleasing men.
But it turns out that the biggest offenders in the gender-stereotyping department are women themselves. According to a recent German study, advertising moguls are sexist pikers compared to females taking pictures of themselves on their phones and sharing them online. After all, when taking a selfie, lady, you alone have total control over both the subject matter and the medium.
"Selfies turned out to be even more stereotypical than the adverts in four of six categories," researchers Nicola Döring, Anne Reif, and Sandra Poeschl write in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. "User-generated content obviously does not automatically lead to a reduction in stereotypical gender portrayal."
The researchers examined a random sample of 250 selfies featuring women, and another 250 starring men, taken from the popular photo-sharing platform Instagram. "The sample only contained selfies that were publicly available online," they note.
The images were compared with those used in 183 print ads for mobile communication systems published in popular German magazines from 2001 to 2003.
The researchers found women's selfies were more likely than the ads to reflect gender stereotypes in four ways: They were more likely to feature a "feminine touch" (using one's fingers or hands to cradle or caress an object); a "withdrawing gaze" (looking away from the camera, or closing one's eyes); "imbalance" (tilting one's body one way or another, rather than standing straight); and "loss of control" (implied by, among other things, exaggerated facial expressions).
"The biggest differences between selfies and magazine adverts appeared for the categories 'imbalance' (85.6 percent of females in selfies vs. 50 percent of women in ads were not standing stable) and 'loss of control' (79.5 percent of females in selfies vs. 50 percent of females in ads showed strong emotionality)," the research team writes. "Only in two of the six categories the magazine adverts revealed more gender stereotyping: 77.8 percent of the adverts depicted women in a lying position, as opposed to 66.7 percent of the selfies, and in 79.5 percent of the magazine adverts, women were sparsely clothed, as opposed to 59.4 percent of the selfies."
"Additionally, young females' selfies more often use social-media-specific gender expressions like the 'kissing pout,' implying seduction/sexualization, and the 'faceless portrayal' (implying focus on the body solely), while young males' selfies more often contain 'muscle presentation' (implying strength)," they add.
Of course, since this is the reliably liberal Pacific Standard, the conclusion that reporter Tom Jacobs draws isn't that there could be genuine differences between the sexes that the "gender stereotypes" promoted in selfies might accurately reflect. And that advertisers merely cater to those sex differences because they want to sell products.
Oh, no–heaven forbid! Jacobs concludes instead that the "media," including the advertising media, are so subtly and diabolically manipulative that they have managed to implant gender stereotypes so deeply within the brains of women that women do a better job of promoting the stereotypes than the ads themselves:
In other words, if you want to be popular, you portray yourself the way the your peers are portraying themselves—the rules for which they apparently absorbed from advertising.
It's another example of how media imagery can mess with our minds.
Because women are so easily brainwashed. But wait! Isn't that yet another gender stereotype?