Feminism and Social Cognitive Theories sample essay

The goal in this individual assignment is to apply the social cognitive theory and feminist theories to contemporary media content and to compare and contrast different theoretical perspectives. Attached to this paper there will be a print advertisement specifically chosen to analyze how and whom these theories reflect on in new media today. After analyzing the two perspectives, the theories will be compared and contrasted, showing the similarities and differences between them and their approach to the advertisement. Throughout the paper the usage of examples from the specific advert chosen will conclude to the appliance and defined terms to support the arguments that will be debated. The social learning theory furnishes a framework that allows usto analyze the human’s psychological functions that produce certain behaviors (A. Bandura, 1986). The concept describes the mental processes at work whenever a person learns (Bandura, 1944).

The theory of socialization explains humans thought and the personal factors that make learning a cognitive process to all agents such as, social groups, parents and siblings, teachers, schools and religious leaders, neighborhoods and media.(Eyal, 2012)According to Bandura, the theoryproves that belief and behavior are determined by three different factors that interact and impact each other, known as the triadic reciprocal causation, examining behavior, personal determinants and characteristics such as cognitive and biological qualities like age, race, sex or height, and environmental factors or events (Bandura, 1944). Bandura’s social cognitive theory of mass communication and the broader social learning theory serve as the foundation for volumes of research in all areas of media effects study today (A. Bandura, 1986). A study of this theory presenting the process of modeling has been conducted by Albert Bandura during the study of the bobo dolls by including the four component processes: attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation.

Later to be discussed in relevancy to the advertisement chosen.Proving that a person that observes other peoples actions and the consequences of those actions can learn from what they have observed, called observational learning, which then can be reenacted by the observer, known as modeling (A. Bandura, 1986). According to the research done in the bobo doll studies, Bandura’s method was to create a lab experiment with kindergarten children, by exposing them to different versions of movies with aggressions toward a bobo doll. Focusing on the children in the experimental groups, these children were aware of what they have watched and this is where the modeling process originates. Attention has been elevated. The experimental group children sat and thought through the film alsopossessing the necessary components and skill, while perhaps thinking of their capabilities and self-efficacy perceptions,known as motor reproduction in terms of the process.

In order to later imitate the aggressive acts, training what they’ve cognitivelylearnt and seen, known as retention, rehearsing of the act in order to properly mock the material exposed. In conclusion to the observational theory, children seemed motivated to model the behaviors they learnt in the film. Children who had watched the violent film were less inhibited about performing other violent acts they had learnt in the past, and not portrayed through the given film. The film therefore, had a disinhibitory effect upon the children who saw it (Bandura, 1963). “Disinhibitory effects disinhibit or lift previously learned internal restraints on certain behaviors (Bandura, 1963 p.73) as explained in the study Bandura conduced on the school kids and the fact they used the violence seen in the film, and not violence that has been shown to them throughout their lives. In addition, the theory also serves as a common denominator among many media effects and hypothesis today.

It provides a framework explaining pro-social effects from mass media, social encouragement or persuasion, and transmission of an idea, message, or belief by way of figurative modeling (A. Bandura, 1986, p.70). The second theory that will be discussed, analyzed, compared and contrasted to my chosen advert throughout this paper will be the feminist theory. Focusing on, outlining the influences of a variety of critical feminist studies on the representation of women in popular media forms. The feminism study is part of a theoretical approach; it’s an actual theory equal to all other theories (Hay, 2012). A few theories that will be analyzed are “The beauty myth” by Naomi Wolf, “The Women Myth” by Roland Barthes, and “Women in films” by Laura Mulvey. Wolf claims that the quality called “beauty” objectively and universally exists. The most effective way to combat this epidemic, Wolf argues, is to show how what we call “beautiful” is a cultural myth that has been framed for certain economic and political purposes.

“In assigning value to women in a vertical hierarchy according to a culturally imposed physical standard, it is an expression of power relations in which women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves”(Wolf, N. The Beauty Myth, p.1). Barthes discusses “The women myth” as being everywhere, relating to culture, time, and change. It’s not something were born with,it’s something society socially constructs (Hay, 2012). He tells us that the image of beauty-“The rhetoric of the image” (Roland Barthes) changes according to where you are, who you’re with, and what environment your currently in, that can all reflect on the image. Last, Mulvey writes about the male gaze, “women in films”.The women’s appearance was created to serve male defense mechanisms against castration, and portrays women as visual objects through the media (Hay, 2012) Mulvey argues that cinema displays the image of women as a certain look, that feminist find humiliating; due to the element it displays the passivity of women, and the activeness of men complying the fact women will never have lead roles or be distinguished as greater than men (Hay, 2012).

After explaining,defining and giving examples of both theories, the advertisement chosen will be analyzed and evaluated through these theoretical perspectives. In terms of feminism, the advertchosen will constructively reassure the myths and there theoretical approaches. The advertisement I chose represents, the alcoholic drink, SKYY vodka. Thereis a tan, thin women, in a bathing suit, with a big chest, lying on the sand at the beach trying to get some sun. The close up shot of her “dreamy” chest is likely to attract attention of men, possibly the aimed audience for this advertisement. Mulvey argues about “the look” or “the image” the media portrays a woman’s hypothetical appearance should be, usually categorized as young and skinny (Hay, 2012) which the advertisement assesses. The power through genders are used to catch the man’s eye, making the man see the women as a visual object, also known as the male gaze, leading the male to become aroused, and in conclusionan intended effect of convincing the specified audience, men, to buy the product advertised. As Naomi Wolf mentions in “the beauty myth” the purpose of using the women as an object is for political and economic reasons.

This doesn’t mean that everyone will be impacted in the same way due to sub-cultures, politics, and media, but society’s understanding of the add will hopefully conclude to more or less, the same objective and conscious feeling. In addition to the women’s bareness and attraction, the advertisement shows the man in a suit standing on top of the women, most likelyrepresenting ownership and power, a demanding authoritywhile glazing down on her from above. According to Mulvey, feminists see men as active and the women as passive, clearly shown in the advert. The man is not only trapping the women between his legs while she lays on the floor, but heis also blocking her from the sun, the reason she most likely came to the beach to begin with. Feminist argue that women are usually presented in a submissive way. According to feminists, the media has an important role and defines the women and how women should look, act and represents the power struggle between men and women today (Hay, 2012).

The theory of Laura Mulvey shows that commercial wise, advertising women is usually conducted in a sexual manner relating them to sex items, and ignoring internal characteristics by focusing on just looks(Hay, 2012). In addition to how women were portrayed in programs, feminist critics charged media owners and managers with sexism (Cantor, 1988). They supported this claim with reports showing widespread discrimination against women in broadcast industry employment practices, as seen in the advertisement presented, as the women lays beneath the man and is gazed upon from above with feeling of power. Women in advertising are usually gently touching to looking at something, making it seem that they are not in control of that object, that they aren’t the true owner and masters of it, just participant(Cantor, 1988). In one hand the man is holding a bottle of SKYY alcohol, and in the other hand he is firmly holding 2 cups as to which the alcohol would be put inside to drink.

The differences between the positioning of the genders in the advert really prove the feminist theories can be related to this, the masculine side of the man and his strong fists, and feminine side of the women is shown through the relaxation of her hands holding her sunglasses up, lying on the floor with her pure beauty and fertility.In the past, a lot of time advertisers used women to present women were they needed rescue. Alcohol can be considered a type of escapism, and by the man showing her what he has, once again, the women comes out to be the weak one that wants to be nurtured, and in feel of need, comfort and care by the man. Just like gender role portrayals in Disney princesses and there need of being taken care of by heroes, or prince charming. This advertisement focuses on a specific audience, in particular, perhaps SKYY vodka calls for people who enjoy drinking, probably youngsters that want to let loose try new things, students, and because of the main focus of the close up of the women’s breast, an educated guess would assume that the men population are most likely well off to be the best consumers.

The social cognitive theory portrays many different theoretical approaches to the specific add chosen.Banduras social cognitive theory provides a framework to explain what the media’s effects are towards, violence, sexually explicit material, diffusion of an idea, message, belief by way of symbolic modeling, persuasion and so forth (Bandura, 1986). Human communication is built upon a system of shared meanings known as language that is shaped by various symbols, such as letters of the alphabet,” used to construct words which serve as a symbol to represent specific objects, thought or ideas” (Bandura, 1986 p.68).The word “SKYY” printed on the alcohol bottle doesn’t just cause the brain to think of the company SKYY vodka. When speaking about the sky in a metaphoric way, people relate the word to an unlimited effect, just like the quote many people use these days, “the sky is the limit”.

The thought the drink may have towards specific audience mentioned earlier, triggers their brain to consider the non-boundary border. As seen in media today, a number of people like to go against the ordinary, and fight the status quo. Possibly now, when people see the word “sky”, the capacity of understanding and using this symbol allows them to store, process, and transform this observed experience into a cognitive model, which may guide them to the long term effect of buying the alcohol while thinking about the positive effects it may have and motivating them to buy this product. Advertisement in media today can be learnt from and modeled leading to positive or negative outcomes. Just like Banduras study with the bobo dolls, the major findings were disinhibitory effects, which concluded to children learning aggression. A disinhibitory technique, as mentioned earlier, “causes a transgressor to shift the responsibility for wrong doing to another.”(Brock & Buss, 1962, p. 75) With diffusion of responsibility, a transgressor acts within a group and therefor doesn’t feel personally responsible for the subsequent act (Bandura, 1986).

As seen in the ad, the bottle of alcohol is being advertised. As most people know, one of the most well-known laws in the U.S. states that the drinking age is 21+. In this case the add is relevant due to the fact a transgressor may influence an adolescent to consume the alcohol in this add showing him it’s the cool thing to do, leading him to another device, disregard of the consequences of action, in which the under 21 person,illegally performs what he is told, not thinking about the harm it might cause and only thinking of the thrill of the moment. Bandura identified four different self-reflective “modes” used in thought verification: the self-reflective capacity, meaning that a person has the ability to perform a self-check to make sure his or her thinking is correct (Bandura, 1986). One being the enactive mode: this means that a person calculates the agreement between thoughts and the result of actions (Bandura, 1986).

For example, this add may influence people to buy SKYY vodka, especially men, since the advertisement shows that the man is over powering the sexy woman, an act in which most men usual want to achieve. After trying the alcohol, the effect it had on the man wasn’t what he thought would conclude to, assuming he would be able to mimic the character holding the alcohol bottle in the advert and is disappointed, having a destructive effect, and in this case his actions do not verify his thoughts and he must reassess his thinking. If, however the man had had the positive effects he was expecting after drinking SKYY brand alcohol, the man’s actions corroborate his thoughts and provide verification. The second “mode” used in the thought verification isvicarious mode: this means that the observation of another person’s experience and the outcomes of those experiences aid to confirm the accuracy of thoughts (Bandura, 1986).

For example, a 17 year old boy that never tried alcohol might look at this advertisement and see that the man has total control over the women, the boy never thought about trying the beverage the man in the ad is holding, but due to positive assumptions, realizes he should. His thoughts about underage drinking could shock him into some kind of reassessment. The third “mode”, serving as the best demonstration of an effective advertisement is persuasion (Bandura, 1986): the act in which a person is influenced or encouraged in some way to change their thought. For example a man sees the SKYY vodka advertisement and it comes off to be eye catching and convincing. Even though he might already have a specific vodka brand he uses, the astonishment of the print add influences him to try new things in an alteration effect of buying the alcohol, maybe leading to a long term outcome of the continuity of buying the specific vodka, and the intended effect the company tried to portray. At last, the advertisement will be compared and contrasted according to the two theoretical perspectives.

The media teaches society how to socially learn, whether it’s through observational and modeling, or how women should be, including all the individual differences (Hay, 2012). Whether the effect is direct or indirect, constructive or destructive, people observe others and their surroundings.One of the arguments the theories can express thesimilarities and differences in, is the effect manipulation or influence can have towards and depending on audience types. The social cognitive theory, the process of modeling shows that the advertisement can be portrayed and looked at as motivating for male audiences, catching there attention while seeing the amount of control and command the man has above the women, leading to arousal and motor reproduction of the customer, influencing them to similar actions.

On the other hand, feminists look at the advertisement and find it discriminating how the media socially constructed the women to fit the image that Mulvey speaks about.The female audiences will see the degradation of the trapped women, looking up at a man, and specifically go against the consumption of that certain alcohol. Women don’t see the need to advertise the alcohol in such a provocative manner and want to fight the status quo of using women in the media for political and economic reasons, as Naomi Wolf’s theory applies. In conclusion, the social cognitive theory and feminist theories play a big role in media today. Providing a framework to academically understand where media came from in history, and how it has currently changes. Media serves as a theoretical basis that was learnt from in the past, and continues to be learnt from throughout years to come.

Bryant, J., & Thompson, S. (2002). Fundamentals of media effects(Chapter 4). Boston,
MA: McGraw-Hill.

Hodkinson, P. (2011). Media, culture, and society: An introduction(Chapter 11, pp.219-242).
Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Wolf, N.The Beauty Myth.

Cantor, M. G. (1988). Feminism and the media.Society, 25(5), 76-81.

Social Cognitive Theory and Feminist Theories
Raphael Recanti International School, Interdisciplinary Center Hertzliya

T.A. – Yael Hay
Introduction to communications