The issue of feminism offers many areas to study in terms of research paper topics. From the history of the movement to its many offshoots, including women’s suffrage and the ERA.
A particular area of interest is women in the media—how they are portrayed in ad campaigns and whether these media depictions are meant to forward feminist causes or merely make products sell.
Can feminism and the media get along?
One avenue to explore in a research paper would be how the media is changing and how feminism must recognize this shift to stay on top of the depictions of women in the media. “Globalisation and Media: Making Feminist Sense” by Susanna George for the April 2004 issue of Women in Action detailed particular areas that should be focused on by feminists, including the links between media corporations and new technologies.
George stressed how pervasive the problem of sexist imagery and media is and that the only way to curtail the problem was to be thorough in rooting out anti-feminist issues in the world. She wrote, “The connections are in the business pages, the special pages on the IT industry, in the advertisements, in the sports and health pages, and perhaps most pertinently, in the culture and lifestyle supplements. We need to read into the meaning behind the messages because otherwise, we will miss the inter-linkages that are both potent and dangerous.”
A look back at feminism and ad campaigns
To many it would appear that portrayals of women in the media is undergoing a kind of renaissance with powerful females taking control of how they are depicted. If this is true, has feminism begun to win the fight with the media? A research paper could explore how feminism is being exploited in ad campaigns to get women to purchase certain products or services.
Or could the media be playing off women and their feminist ideals? JR Thorpe focused on which commercials actually celebrated feminism and women in general in “The 9 Most Feminist Ad Campaigns Of All Time” for bustle.com on September 2, 2015. One campaign cited in the article was the now iconic Rosie the Riveter. Thorpe wrote, “The ‘We Can Do It!’ image, also known as Rosie the Riveter, has since gone on to be one of the most widely used feminist icons in the world. But in 1943, it was simply meant to help female employees feel motivated.”
Today’s approach to women in the media
Which brings us to how women are currently being portrayed in the media. “Are women being played by companies’ ‘feminist’ campaigns?” by Anne-Marcelle Ngabirano for USA TODAY on March 23, 2017, highlighted some recent ad campaigns that might be taking advantage of women’s focus on feminism. Ngabirano wrote, “Secret, owned by consumer products powerhouse Procter & Gamble, uses the campaign called #StressTest to take a closer look at situations that lead women to sweat. The ads are part of a growing trend of companies embracing feminist ideals and female empowerment to sell their products.”
The concern is that these type of ad campaigns detract from the real need to focus on issues that concern women’s lives, health and well-being. A research paper topic to consider is which companies are truly interested in empowering women and which ad campaigns are merely trying to commercialize feminism?
How do you think women in the media are portrayed, is it in a feminist manner or does it not matter? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.