Part One of a Three Part Series by: Naa Amponsah Dodoo, Graduate Student
When I decided on looking at gender construction in advertising in three different African countries, I wondered how to put into words what I’ve lived with most of my life, taking for granted the cultural expectations of me as a woman and how this is reflected in advertising in my country, Ghana.
Ghana is nestled in the west of the African continent. Achieving independence from British colonial rule in 1957, Ghana became the first state to do so in sub Saharan Africa and is home to an estimated number of 24.97 million 51%, which are female and 49% male. In addition to being one of the largest cocoa producers in the world, Ghana houses the largest artificial lake in the world, Lake Volta.
I’ve seen and heard some great ads and some not so great ads on TV, radio and on billboards throughout my life in Ghana. The quality of advertisements has improved over time especially with the growth of the advertising industry. My thoughts are based on the advertisements I’ve seen and heard.
There is no doubt that gender–role portrayal in advertising is influential in society because they can reinforce or perpetuate stereotypes. The culture of a country is also a big influence in gender portrayals though there are multiple factors that go into understanding gender portrayals in advertising in any country. Ghana, similar to many other African countries, has a culture, which holds principally well-defined stereotypes about men and women. Ads more often than not reflect the stereotypical roles that women are traditionally expected to take.
I’ve always considered myself a rebel especially in relation to gender role expectations. In retrospect, I suppose my rebellion had the most effect in my home where I demanded the same out of my brother as I was expected to behave. Did I feel constrained by the advertisements I saw that implied certain gendered roles for women? No! I’ve never been one to think that I should do what society deems right based on my gender and I would like to think I’m still that rebel. I grew up in a family with two working parents. Yet, my home still functioned in gender stereotypical ways. More often than not, my mom would come home and be expected (me included, ironically) to have dinner ready for us all.
Women usually play the role of domestic housewives who often work on their own in cooking, cleaning and caring for others. For instance, in an advert for a perfumed rice, as one woman laments over the preparation of the family lunch, the other woman offers help by suggesting the product which will make everyone “love” her cooking and indicating that it’s the “smart way” to cook. This is but one advert of the numerous that feature women in stereotypical gender roles, such as waiting in the background while the husband and children head off to work and school. In reality, of Ghanaian women, 74% are working-women. In writing this blog, I talked to my family and friends back home to see if I was outdated in my opinions of the gender construction in advertisements. Sadly, I wasn’t.
Men are, in contrast, portrayed as problem solvers, professionals, strong, smart, leaders and decision makers who are solely responsible for paying household bills. In one such advert for a service from a mobile phone service provider, a man and his two friends watch television. A woman (wife or sister) meanwhile performs household duties. She questions whether he has completed certain transactions that require money including paying bills and rent. Beyond, the problem solver role, men are also portrayed as clueless when it comes to certain tasks.
It would not be fair to say that all advertising in Ghana is gender stereotyped. However, most are, sometimes overtly and other times subtly. Perhaps the continuation of such stereotypical roles is due to the individuals at the helm of the production of advertisements. I cannot speak to who creates the ads, as I have no data on this. Perhaps there’s a boy’s club culture there too, which determines what is produced. I’ve not been home in a while but I’m fairly certain that the gender stereotypical trend still exists in Ghanaian advertising today. Advertising can and should perpetuate empowering images of women. I’m hoping for a future where women are portrayed as they truly are and not relegated to roles determined by society as culturally acceptable. I’m hoping that future is sooner rather than later.