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Advertising has a pervasive influence on societies. Children and adolescents are exposed to a barrage of advertisements through television and other digital platforms. This exposure has surged in recent years, as digital technologies have become increasingly integrated into the daily lives of children, adolescents, and their caregivers. Advertisements promote certain messages, which may shape viewers’ perceptions of what society is or could be — including what behaviors and roles are considered appropriate for women, girls, men, and boys.

Indeed, evidence suggests that advertisements and marketing materials may significantly influence gender socialization processes. As outlined in a 2022 UNICEF- and U.N. Women–commissioned evidence review concerning the media’s influence on gender norms and violence against girls, gender socialization refers to the processes by which individuals learn and internalize gender norms: “informal rules and shared social expectations that distinguish expected behaviour on the basis of gender.” This process is especially influential during adolescence — an important transitional phase between childhood and adulthood, when gender norms are either solidified, rejected, or transformed. Gender norms are closely related to gender stereotypes: “generalizations about groups of people as gendered subjects.” For example, many societies believe that a woman’s “appropriate” role is to be primarily responsible for her household’s domestic duties, such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for the family. This norm consequently informs stereotypes that “all women” enjoy performing these tasks.

Programmatic and scholarly research show that discriminatory norms are a key driver of violence against women and girls (VAWG).3 The goal of upholding local norms may be used to justify acts of violence. For example, evidence from India shows that when women’s greater access to employment and financial resources challenges household power dynamics and expectations of men and women’s “appropriate” roles, women may experience greater risks of GBV. Discriminatory gender norms also normalize acts of VAWG: Research from diverse global contexts suggests that media reporting of VAWG that reflects discriminatory gender norms contributes to victim blaming and the cultural normalization of violence, which consequently justifies inadequate state responses. 

To promote positive gender norms more aligned with human rights, evidence suggests that interventions targeting multiple agents and institutional sites of gender socialization are needed. Yet policymakers and practitioners often overlook advertising as a key site of gender socialization and an entry point for changing harmful gender norms. Greater knowledge around advertising and its influence on stereotypes, norms, and gender socialization — particularly among children and adolescent viewers — can help inform future interventions to dismantle these critical barriers to gender equality.

This research from UNICEF and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media attempts to address some of these data gaps by investigating the forms and prevalence of gendered messaging in advertising content in Mexico. Specifically, the study includes a systematic content analysis of gender representation in 400 advertisements from television and digital media that aired in Mexico in 2019 and 2021. This analysis identifies how women, girls, men, boys, and gender-diverse individuals are portrayed in this sampling of advertisements, and it explores how these depictions might reinforce or challenge harmful gender norms, including those associated with the perpetration and normalization of VAWG.

In addition to providing valuable baseline data for monitoring progress and accountability toward gender representation in advertising, the evidence generated from this study also informs a series of concrete recommendations for how advertising agencies, policymakers, and other international bodies can better promote positive messages that advance the rights of all children.

Key Findings

The study’s findings indicate that harmful gendered norms and stereotypes are present in advertising in Mexico. However, inequities are often subtle. Women and men appear in advertisements at similar rates overall — but their portrayals are often distinct and illustrative of discriminatory gender norms and a patriarchal system that privileges masculinity over femininity.

  • First, the reviewed advertisements reinforced imagery that casts women as caregivers but also as objects of sexual desire. For example, women were more likely than men to be portrayed in the home (38.1% compared with 30.7%), parenting (5% compared with 1.9%) and performing domestic tasks (7.6% compared with 3.4%). At the same time, women were more likely than men to be shown in revealing clothes (4.6% compared with 2.1%). Although a smaller portion of children were depicted with revealing clothing, it is notable that 0.5% of girls and young women were identified as such, while no boys or young men were.
  • On the other hand, men were portrayed as workers and “breadwinners.” Specifically, men were more than twice as likely as women to be portrayed in advertisements as having paid employment (31% compared with 14.2%), to be shown working in paid employment (26.2% compared with 11.6%), and to be depicted in an office setting (10.5% compared with 5.5%).
  • Furthermore, this analysis also finds that advertisements in Mexico failed to capture the country’s diversity and widely excluded nondominant groups. Indeed, less than 4% of those portrayed were estimated to be ages 60 and older, less than 2% were identified as LGBTQIA+, less than 1% were identified as having a nonbinary gender identity, less than 2% had large body types, and less than 1% appeared to have any disabilities. Additionally, very few characters had darker skin tones.

Therefore, although the reviewed advertisements depicted very few instances of outright violence or harm being done by individual characters, the subtle ways in which they depict and therefore reinforce traditional gender roles may also suggest that it is “appropriate” and “normal” to punish those who violate these norms — including through acts of VAWG.

This report also identified a few promising trends and practices. There were very few instances of interpersonal harm, and the gender difference between being shown at school or studying was not significant. Furthermore, several reviewed advertisements illustrated positive norms, including men engaged in domestic and caregiving tasks as well as the inclusion of characters with disabilities.

Download this report in Spanish

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