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ADText: Advertising Curriculum

Sexuality, Race and Ethnicity in Advertising

ADText Unit

1. Introduction

This unit focuses primarily on the representation of sexuality in advertising imagery. However, many scholars consider that speaking of sexuality without also taking into consideration race and ethnicity, with which it is deeply intertwined, is misguided. Thus, this unit looks at sexuality as well as race and ethnicity in advertising.

Advertising imagery has usually depicted sexuality as heteronormative. Over the last couple of decades, gays and eventually lesbians have crept into it. It is a fair generalization to say that advertising imagery, in nearly every case, tends to follow and mimic social and cultural changes rather than to initiate them. Depictions of alternative sexualities in advertising thus began only after LGBT people came out in American society, and media programming, most notably TV sitcoms, included first gay and later lesbian characters. If all this were slow to happen, the inclusion of non-white, non-Anglo LGBT characters and imagery began even more recently and remains quite limited today.

2. Clarification of Terms: Gender and Sexuality

The terms gender and sex are used in somewhat confusing ways in everyday language. Prior to the feminist movement of the 1970s and thereabouts, the usual way of asking whether a person is male or female was simply: What is your sex? Nowadays it is at least as common, if not more so, to ask: What is your gender? American political correctness has tended to prefer gender to sex, although there remains considerable ambiguity and inconsistency in the use of the terms. For example, the application forms pictured below follow different usages.

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