Girls and Media—Dreams and Realities

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The role of media in any society is vital and is closely related to brands and consumption especially in a vibrant 21st century Asian city. Hong Kong with its free-market economy and urban bustle is a perfect place to observe this in action. But Hong Kong is also deeply conservative in many ways especially with regard to family values, and the presence of overtly sexualized images in advertising sits uncomfortably with the values of modesty and traditional sexual mores that exist there. Young girls are also discovering their identities like any other groups of girls in the world

Pub. Date
Jul 1, 2014
272 pages
165 x 229 mm
Chinese society has been for centuries a male-dominated society. Girls and women are expected to carry out their domestic roles dutifully. When a female is young, she is subject to the authority of her father. When she gets married, she is expected to listen to her husband. When her husband dies or when she reaches her senior years, she needs to yield to the will of her eldest son. Not getting married indicates that she is not good enough for anybody. Not producing a male offspring means that she is a failure. The extended family will take action to find another female to replace her.

But the world is changing. Chinese girls in Hong Kong luckily have an opportunity to grow up in a former British colony. Under British governance, legislation that protects the rights of girls and women was established and implemented. Girls are able to receive education and enjoy more or less the same rights as boys. An ordinance was passed in 1981 to enable female civil servants to receive the same salary as their male counterparts. With the introduction of full-time domestic helpers from overseas, Hong Kong women had the option of pursuing their career goals. The female labor participation rate in Hong Kong had reached 53% in 2011 (Census and Statistics Department, 2012). There were 284,901 domestic helpers working in Hong Kong in 2010 (Wan, 2010). Assuming each domestic helper is working with one family, a rough estimation indicates that about one in every eight households has the choice of allowing the female householder (very likely a wife or a mother) to stay in the workforce.

Marketers fully understand the power of female consumers. Cosmetics and skin care is the number two advertising product category in Hong Kong (admanGo, 2012). Females also make purchase decisions for the households. As a result, females are the target audience of the product categories that they consume as well as the product categories that they purchase for their families. Research studies indicate that most of the advertisements aimed at the female target group employ female images that are classical (Chan and Cheng, 2012), using female models that are usually mature in age, gentle, elegant, and sophisticated in taste. Female images using a classical beauty type tell girls and women what to wear, what to eat, where to go shopping or have fun, when to use the product, and how to win the hearts of the opposite sex. The marketers are eager to play a part in the girls’ process of constructing their own gender identities.

Hong Kong has a media-saturated environment. Televised messages can be found at home, in public transportation, inside lifts and lift lobbies, and around shopping malls. A rich diversity of print-based media outlets such as newspapers and magazines can be found in Hong Kong. Printed advertisements are commonplace, from roadside billboards to single sheets in train stations and from inside train carriages to the sides of double-deck buses. In addition, the Internet provides a wealth of sources and image-driven content.

Images of females in advertising are abundant. On an average day walking across a subway station, you will come across dozens of posters featuring beautiful, sexy, and most often non-Chinese female images. They are the dominant players in constructing what facial and body beauty is about among the target audience. These advertisements tell females that they need to have a pretty face, v-shape face contour, white and spotless skin, full breast, narrow waist, and a slim body. Many advertisers believe that sex sells. Sexy advertisements of watches, jewelry, cars, or electrical appliances dominate the media scene. Newspapers and magazines often feature “female models of the day” that are young and seductive.
The female images and the sexuality displaced are in sharp contrast with the values endorsed by parents, schools, and educators. Some primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong place strict rules about courtship and intimate relationship during childhood and adolescence. Parents often encourage daughters to refrain from sexual activities until adulthood. Chinese families are in general conservative about sex. Sexuality of girls is considered as dangerous and undesirable.
  1. Gender Roles and Media Images
  2. Sexuality and a Media Scandal
  3. Social Learning from Celebrities
  4. Evaluations of Female Images in Media
  5. Social Learning of Gender Roles from Media Images
  6. Interpretations of Sexuality in Media Images
  7. Social Learning of Gender Roles and Beauty Norms from Celebrities
  8. Adolescents and Advertisements Using Celebrity Endorsement
  9. Psychographic Segmentation based on Gender Roles
  10. Conclusions and Implications
Kara CHAN: Professor of Communication Studies at the Hong Kong Baptist University. Her research specializations include mass communication, advertising, and consumer behavior in Hong Kong and China. She is the co-author of Advertising to Children in China (Chinese University Press, 2004) and edited Advertising and Hong Kong Society (Chinese University Press, 2006). She also co-edited New Vision in Advertising and Public Relations (City University of Hong Kong Press, 2006) and Advertising and Chinese Society: Impacts and Issues (Copenhagen Business Press, 2009). Her journal articles had won four Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence. She is married with one child and, when not pondering advertising and its implications, she is an enthusiastic amateur kayaker.