RGM Blog 3 – Gendered Children’s Toys

You can ask nearly anyone in our modern society, what do you associate the color blue with and they will reply with ‘boys’ and the same with pink for girls. It’s not something we think about very much because it seems normal, but we have allowed marketing and advertising to brand certain colors and toys and dictate what is gender normal for children, and it could very well be harmful to them.

Upon entering a toy store, you will see the girls section filled with pink and purple; sparkly dresses and plastic high heels abound, as well as toy kitchens, fake food, and cooking sets. Similarly on the boys side you will see blue, action figures, and fake handyman equipment as well as a pretty large assortment of toy guns and other pretend weapons. All of this may seem pretty benign, but in reality we are actually limiting what our child thinks is okay to play with and placing lines and gender roles on children before they can define their interests and preferences for themselves.

Not only does this place gender stereotypes and societal norms on children before they are old enough to think for themselves, it could be harmful to their development as well and have a much more far reaching impact. “Rather than encouraging experimentation and urging children to play with whatever excites them, toy companies presume that girls are less interested in toys that build spatial-reasoning skills (like Legos) and boys don’t want to play with toys that encourage verbal skills and creativity (like Barbies). This can have a serious impact on kids’ future skill sets and career aspirations, ultimately affecting the makeup of the workforce.” More information on toy segregation and how this affects children can be found in the article linked here.

Children are learning that certain toys are “for boys” or “for girls” when in reality, they should be free to play with whatever they want and allow any interests that they do have blossom. One of the biggest arguments I have seen against the gender wage gap existing is that there are much fewer girls in certain lucrative fields and that is skewing the results. Well one reason why there might not be any women in fields like science, architecture, and many manual labor positions, is that we teach our children from a young age that certain pasttimes and occupations are for certain genders. This becomes ingrained in their head and is a source of conditioning that I believe is stronger than we give it credit for. “By late primary age, research by Welsh organisation Chwarae Teg shows that children already have very clear ideas about the jobs that are suitable for boys and girls; ideas that are very hard to shake later on.” More information about this study and more negative effects can be found in an article linked here.

It is important that we change our commerical landscape and become more aware of these messages that we are telling our children just by the toys they are given. If we eliminate these gendered notions and products, we would see a more accepting environment for our children and a more diverse and productive workforce.

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RGM Blog 2 – Female Body Image and The Media

As a woman, I don’t know if I’ve met any women who are completely happy with their bodies. Maybe a fitness trainer or a model, but out of the women I see and interact with on a daily basis, it is extremely rare for me to hear any talk about how happy they are with their bodies or how they look. This is extremely sad to me. Self love and confidence in your body is important, but in our increasingly consumeristic and superficial society, it is the opposite of encouraged. The truth is, in our world, sex sells. And making women feel worse about their bodies will help them buy more products that are aimed towards making them feel more sexy and attractive – closer to the “ideal”.

Our media is largely to blame for this. The idea that as a women your worth is tied to your attractiveness is promoted everywhere, so much so that most of the time we don’t even notice it because we are so desensitized.

Because of the advances in technology we have seen in the past 20 years and the increasing availability of the internet, the influence of the media has grown. We are constantly being bombarded with messages everywhere we look– from television, to social media, to ads that pop up on the sidebar when reading a news article. The saddest part is that this means these harmful messages and negative conditioning start early. “On a typical day, 8 – 18-year-olds are engaged with some form of media about 7.5 hours…Even media aimed at elementary school age children, such as animated cartoons and children’s videos, emphasize the importance of being attractive. Sexually objectified images of girls and women in advertisements are most likely to appear in men’s magazines.  Yet the second most common source of such images is the advertisements in teen magazines directed at adolescent girls.” More facts and information about this study about the effects of media on body image can be found here.

Almost every fashion and beauty brand caters to the concept of the ‘thin-ideal’ with their models, showcasing women who are usually over 5’8 and are a size 4 or smaller. “The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds, while the average American model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds.” More facts like this and information about this study can be found here.

This shows a huge dichotomy, and being that tall and only weighing 117 pounds indicates an unhealthy BMI. So we are actually sending the message to girls and women that in order to look like what is considered commercially and societally ‘ideal’ one has to resort to unhealthy measures. Not to mention all of the digital retouching that goes into nearly every photo of a model you see in commericals, internet ads, and magazines.

This is a huge problem for women everywhere and plays a part in the systematic inequality and oppression women face. We need to take a stand and push for regulation that doesn’t allow women with BMIs proven to be unhealthy to walk in runway shows and do print or digital modelling. That is not to say we need to shame skinny women. That is definitely not the answer. For reference, I myself am fairly skinny and struggled with gaining weight during my junior high and high school years. Since reaching adulthood I am 5’6, 115 pounds and wear a size 2/4. But I am not unhealthy. I run and workout. I eat healthy, but I eat regularly and eat enough. I weigh only 2 pounds less than the average model, but I am 5 inches shorter. That is what I am talking about when I say unhealthy. If a health professional determines that a women has an unhealthy BMI, then they should not be walking on a runway and selling the most luxurious brands. Instead they should be getting medical help to get to weight that is healthy so their body can function normally. We must be aware of the messages that our media is sending to girls and women and work to change that. Only then can we begin to empower women about their body image and celebrate our differences instead of making people feel horrible about themselves just to sell products.

 

RGM Blog 1 – The Gender Wage Gap

We have all heard that statistic that women get paid 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. And although this is an improvement from the 1960s, where women made 59% of men’s salaries, we still have a long way to go to reach equality. Women comprise a little more than half of the work force, and earn more degrees, both Bachelor’s and graduate, than men, yet we are still being paid much less to do the same work. According to Institute for Women’s Policy Reseach, if this wage gap continues as it has previously, it would take until 2059 for white women to be paid as much as men, and much longer for Hispanic and African American women. More information on the research done by IWPR and these statistics can be found here.

In addition, women make up only “14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs,” according to the Center for American Progress. More information about these statistics and a more detailed fact sheet can be found here.

It is important to understand the gender wage gap and why it matters. Awareness is the first step to changing policy. I believe that as the wage gap continues, it exacerbates the gender inequality and misogyny that all women face at some point in our life, and especially in the professional world. Statistics like these are disheartening to me as a woman, because I know that representation is important and if girl children do not see women in positions of power in the workforce, they will not know that it is something that is attainable for them as a goal in their own life and the cycle will continue.

Closing the gender wage gap would be advantageous to employers because they would be hiring the best person for the job without bias, and productivity would increase. It would also be advantageous to our economy on the whole because if women were being paid more, they would be able to spend more, and most importantly, it would be good for our society by decreasing inequality and empowering more women as well as providing better representation for the younger generations.

Together we can work to educate the public on this issue and to implement programs like pay transparency in the workplace and better childcare options for working mothers that would help create positive change across the board and lead to a better tomorrow, not just for women, but for everyone.

Scandal and Image Restoration

Let’s take a look at a scandal I’m sure we’ve all heard of — the Lewinsky Scandal. For anyone who was living under a rock, here’s a quick summary.

In the late 90’s, Monica Lewinsky was hired on as an intern at the White House while Bill Clinton was president. Lewinsky and Clinton began a secret affair, and Lewinsky shared the details of this affair to a friend, Linda Tripp, who began secretly recording their telephone conversations. In 1998, after learning that Lewinsky had sworn an affidavit denying such a relationship, Tripp released the tapes to an investigator and the story was broken to the public leading to many ramifications for both parties and eventually Clinton’s impeachment trial.

Now let’s take a look at how this scandal was handled with reference to image restoration and more specifically,  Benoit’s Image Restoration Strategy.

Benoit’s Strategy consists of five steps: denial, evade responsibility, reduce offensiveness, corrective action, mortification. A more in depth description of these steps can be found here.

Initially when the story broke in January of ’98, Clinton practiced denial, saying that the allegations were false and directly addressing this to the American people. He continued to deny and skirt around the issue for the next 7 months, refusing to bring it up in his State of The Union Address and even having his wife Hilary cite it as a “right-wing conspiracy” against him. Although the media was buzzing with talk of the relationship and Clinton’s possible lies and perjury, nothing was provable because Lewinsky refused to talk. I would consider this to be the evasion of responsibility, both on the part of Clinton and of Lewinsky, who even went so far as to ask Tripp to lie under oath for her to no avail.

Finally, in August, Lewinsky was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony, and the truth came out. Clinton was forced to admit his wrongdoing, as there was now proof. A video linked here shows both his initial statement of denial and his eventual admittance.

I don’t believe there was anything that could have really been done to reduce the offensiveness. The American people were outraged that their president had outright lied to them, and Clinton was charged with perjury for denying the relationship in his testimony. Since the damage was already done, there wasn’t much corrective action that Clinton could do on the matter either. Congress took corrective action of their own though, holding an impeachment trial on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice that ended with the president being acquitted and allowed to stay in office. A more detailed account of the trial can be found here.

Although Clinton was allowed to remain in office, this scandal greatly damaged his reputation, and he definitely experienced mortification in having to admit his wrongdoing. Without question, his actions were unethical. From a consequentialist standpoint, he harmed his relationship with the American people, put his job on the line, and faced legal and financial ramifications. From a non-consequentialist standpoint, he did not act out of goodwill by cheating on his wife, as well as lying to the American people and under oath in court. He acted out of his own selfish gain, and this damaged his image, although not irreparably I would say, since he was allowed to remain in office and continues to work in politics. Much of the reason he was allowed to stay in office was support of his party for political gain, but as time passed I believe he was able to restore his image more and many people looked past his lies pertaining to the sex scandal and more toward his political contributions.

Ethics in Public Relations

Many people view public relations as unethical. Just the practice itself of shaping the public’s opinions of things, events, and people, and framing information in certain ways seems like just plain manipulation if you think about it. As an advertising major learning about PR and how it started, I had the same thoughts. The founder Edward Bernays, after all, wasn’t a very ethical man. He was very manipulative, pushing propoganda, and using the psychological teachings of his uncle Sigmund Freud to learn how to get inside people’s minds and manipulate them more effectively. He frequently used “third party authorities” to manipulate information and change public opinion. Many of his practices that gained him fame as the “father of  public relations” are things that we in the industry would consider very unethical today. More information about Bernays and his public relations career can be found here.

I have often wondered how something that started so unethically and thrives off manipulating opinions and creating an image for something can incorporate truthfulness, openess, and operate in an ethical manner. I still have my doubts, although I have seen very good and ethical PR, it seems that many in the industry still have very unethical practices. While individually, there are still many that still lie to the public and behave in ways I believe are wrong, the ethics codes and regulations have come a long way from the unfair and deceptive practices used up until 2000 when the new code was written. I believe that there is reform occurring in the industry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that PR professionals will behave more ethically now that the standards have been raised.

According to a recent study, younger workers (namely millennials) are more likely to observe workplace misconduct, feel pressure to break the rules, and experience retaliation. I believe that this is partially because of unethical precendent set by the older generation, but also because in this competitive job market, young people starting out will do nearly anything to keep their job, including many times behaving unethically. Also, entry-level and lower level workers feel pressure to impress the higher up executives, and are sometimes pressured into unethical situations that they feel they cannot say no to at the expense of their job. I believe reform in codes and ethical policies will help to set new precendents towards openness and honesty, but if a firm has been behaving unethically and finding success with it in the past, they are not likely to stop, especially when ethics in PR can be considered a gray area in many cases and is so loosely enforced. More information on this study and PR workplace trends regarding ethics can be found here.

From a consequentialist standpoint one might say that if these PR people are not harming the public, then even if they are twisting the truth, it is okay. One could argue that branding something or someone in a way that omits details and may not be completely truthful, is just part of publicity, and that things have always been framed in the media in certain ways. If it is entertaining, many times it is what the people want, even though it might not be truthful. Also, from a non-consequentialist perspective, some might say that many do not know what they are doing is wrong, and that they have good intentions, and that’s what matters. After all, according to an IABC study, the majority of PR personnel on an “upwardly mobile career path” said that they had little if any education or training on ethics, with 30% saying definitively that they had no academic ethics study of any kind. More information on this study can be found here.

To me it is just as heinous that people are completely not being educated or trained about ethics in a field that deals with altering the public’s perception, as it is that people are behaving unethically in the first place. We in the industry cannot continue to let others behave unethically and blame lack of education as an excuse, and we cannot let people go without the proper information and education to give them the tools to behave ethically in the first place. I believe that organizations like PRSA are moving in the right direction towards education on the matter, developing new policies and approaches for PR, and dealing with transparency towards both the public and the client. I am worried however that this might not be enough in an industry that has been rife with unethicality for so long. I feel that many believe that in order to succeed in this industry, especially in our current society, it is necessary to be dishonest and manipulative, and it seems that many media outlets are anything but unbiased and transparent, creating bad precedents and forcing less than savory chains of events. There is nothing we can do to stop certain people and media from being unethical, but I believe that further education and tools such as the TARES test of ethicality and other tools to measure decisions can help to provide the framework for a more ethical PR industry in the future and eliminate some of the grey areas. I am hopeful for more progressiveness in the field, as we try to move away from the unfair codes and dishonest precedents of the past.

 

Lack of Diversity in Advertising

People often comment on the lack of diversity in the advertising industry, and they’re not wrong. Stereotypically, people who work in this field are young, attractive, and caucasian. In addition, there is almost always a disproportionally large number of men compared to women. Being a woman and aspiring advertising professional myself, this is very disconcerting. Not only do most women make 75 cents on the dollar compared to men, but according to a recent study “an average U.S. company board was composed of nearly 90% men.” more information about this issue can be found in an article linked here.

Of course, these diversity problems are not limited to advertising. It is obvious from the statistics above that we need some kind of culture reformation. It shouldn’t be commonplace that women are making much less over their lifetime, and statistically holding far less leadership positions in basically any field. Some people try to justify such things by arguing that women are simply less qualified, but in my opinion that is simply not accurate. If our society is skewed so much so that in the higher positions within companies we see 9 times more men than women, I believe this is a little bigger than women being underqualified. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which aimed to ensure fair wages regardless of gender. More information on the Equal Pay Act can be found here.

It is now 2016 and women are still making far less and holding less positions than men. This is not an accident. It’s a harsh reality, but we live in a system designed to benefit white males and discriminate against women and minorities, and it has to stop.

This race and gender bias only has negative influences on our society in general, but I believe in advertising the effect is greater than many other fields. Advertising is promotional media, and ads are all around us. Because we are so desensitized towards advertising and the media, I believe a lot of it goes unnoticed, but once you start to look at ads with the perspective of diversity, things become pretty clear. Most ads that I see contain young caucasian people with physically fit bodies that have been photoshopped to look even skinnier and more unattainable. A study conducted last year on women’s fashion ad campaigns found that 84.7% of the models used were white, and only 1% were plus sized. More information on this study can be found here.

Although ethical codes like AAF have been put in place to try to promote fairness and improve the industry, these can do very little on the problem of diversity, and I still believe on this front the industry is far from being ethical. From a non-consequentialist perspective, the intentions behind hiring far less women and minorities, and representing these groups unequally in the media as well, do not seem pure. In my opinion, there is no goodwill to be found in discriminating against certain people based on race or gender, in the job market, in the media, or in any other area. From a consequentialist perspective, unequally hiring and representing these groups in the media only widens the race and gender gap that is becoming a huge problem in America especially, but also in many other parts of the world.

We continue to promote these discriminatory practices and then wonder why nothing is changing. If we want to see social change, we need to take action within our media sectors and start fairly representing those who have been unfairly treated for so long. Our current situation seems unethical from any perspective, and it’s time to remedy that.