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Visual images in print advertising: Representations of women using gender stereotypes in young women’s magazines

Amy Kenney Hypothesis: the representation of women in the advertising of popular young women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and Seventeen portrays unequal gender roles, with women more often being depicted as sexual objects or victims. Introduction Advertising exists today as one of the most important nonverbal symbols in our culture. Modern advertisements are dependent upon images. Bovee and Arens (1986) found that most people first look at the illustration in advertisements before reading the headline or body copy. The visual images in our print advertisements strongly influence our attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors (Kang, 1997). Unfortunately, images in print advertising can perpetuate existing stereotypes or create new unwanted social roles for groups. In particular, modern advertising has been accused of gender stereotyping of women through its images. Traditionally, advertisements have confined women to traditional mother-, home-, and sex-oriented roles (Kang, 1997). Given their prevalence and farreaching influence, advertisements promoting gender stereotyping have a role in forming or strengthening cultural norms. Multiple studies support the claim that woman’s role in advertisements is to be sexy or subjugated (Sullivan & O’Connor, 1998, Kang, 1997). Goffman’s (1979) pivotal study of print advertising in magazines found that the even the simplest gestures or rituals were crucial in understanding interactions between the sexes and socially accepted roles and behavior. Goffman also found that women were regularly marginalized, subordinated, and sexualized in most print advertisements (Goffman, 1979). During adolescence

behavior. Goffman also found that women were regularly marginalized, subordinated, and sexualized in most print advertisements (Goffman, 1979). During adolescence and into early adulthood, women and men alike are developing their self-concept, combining different traits about themselves into an organized identity. Identity development is crucial at this time as individuals learn more about themselves and how to function in socially accepted ways in society (Berk, 2009). Though women are gaining ground in the workplace and society, I was interested in whether the abundance of women stereotyping found by Kang, Goffman, and others in past years could be similarly found in young women’s magazines today. Hypothesis My hypothesis was that the representation of women in the advertising of popular young women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and Seventeen portrays unequal gender roles, with women more often being depicted as sexual objects or victims. Methods To test my hypothesis, I obtained three issues of Teen Vogue and Seventeen and six issues of Cosmopolitan from the past year. I went through each magazine and looked for instances of gender stereotyping in their picture advertisements. There were four specific categories of gender stereotyping I looked


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Cosmopolitan from the past year. I went through each Vogue, however, sexually charged picture magazine and looked for instances of gender stereotypingadvertisements, averaging twenty-five an issue, far in their picture advertisements. There were four specificexceeded the average of around fifteen advertisements categories of gender stereotyping I looked for: instanceseach issue without any stereotyping (Figure 3). of relative size, feminine touching, ritualization or Teen Vogue truly distinguished itself from the subordination, and those that were sexually charged.other two magazines. While averaging about 178 pages Relative size advertisements were those containing both per issue, it still managed to contain about thirty-five men and women when the man was shown with greater instances of gender stereotyping per issue (Figure 4). In girth or height in comparison to the women.contrast, Seventeen averaged a similar 160 pages per Advertisements including feminine touching had womenissue, eighteen pages less than Teen Vogue, and had tracing, cradling, or caressing an object or product eighteen instances of gender stereotyping per issue – instead of strongly grasping it. Ritualized ads featured almost half of that of Teen Vogue. Teen Vogue had more women as subordinate and deferent: women on floorsinstances of gender stereotyping per issue in comparison and beds looking up at the camera, in bashful knee to Seventeen as well, a magazine that averaged 235 pages bends, and in whining or begging postures. Sexuallyper issue, substantially higher than its two counterparts charged ads were those that blatantly portrayed women (Figure 4). as sex objects or sex symbols; they ranged from sly On the other hand, while analyzing the data on come-hither looks to women outfitted in completethe stereotype of relative size in pictures containing men lingerie in bed. The four types of gender stereotyping and women, I found some interesting results. Despite its were named and used by Basow (1992) in her many prevalence of sexually charged advertisements, seventystudies on gender stereotypes and roles in the media. four percent of Teen Vogue’s advertisements of men and I only included advertisements that took up at women contained the relative size stereotype (Figure 5). least half of a page and contained either women or Seventeen stood at a comparable seventy-five percent, women with men. I would “score” the advertisements in but nearly eighty-eight percent of the advertisements of multiple categories if applicable. I also kept track of howmen and women in Cosmopolitan, the magazine with the many pages were in each magazine and how manyleast amount of total gender stereotypes, were advertisements contained none of the four genderstereotyped by relative size (Figure 5). stereotypes I was tracking. Discussion Results My findings showed that few changes have been My results were highly interesting. All threemade in the stereotypical portrayal of women in print magazines had high rates of gender stereotyping in theiradvertising in magazines. Young women’s magazines advertisements. Sexually charged advertisementsmirror other magazines that have been analyzed in the comprised for over half of the instances of genderabundance and type of gender stereotyping. The findings stereotyping that I found. Fifty-four percent of ads indicate that the representation of women in these containing gender stereotypes were sexually charged, andmagazines do portray unequal gender roles. The twenty-three percent contained ritualization orvictimization and inferiority (shown by the subordination. Relative size and feminine touching, theritualization/subordination category) and sexualization last two types of gender stereotyping, roughly shared the (shown by the sexually charged advertisements) of other quarter of instances of stereotyping (Figure 1 & 2).women are most common in these three magazines. An Advertisements containing none of the four genderinteresting finding was the marginal number of ads stereotypes I was looking for only slightly outnumbered containing men and women, leading to a low incidence the sexually charged advertisements in Seventeen andof gender size stereotyping. As Kang (1997) Cosmopolitan (Figure 3). In Teen Vogue, however,hypothesizes, this could be because of companies sexually charged picture advertisements, averagingtargeting their advertisements on more specific twenty-five an issue, far exceeded the average of aroundaudiences. fifteen advertisements each issue without any The abundance of gender stereotypes portrayed 2


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stereotyping. As Kang (1997) hypothesizes, this could be because of companies targeting their advertisements on more specific audiences. The abundance of gender stereotypes portrayed by print advertisements in magazines that target young women is likely to influence the social and emotional development of this population. Rudd and Lennon (1994) have shown that young people use advertisements as a basis for social comparison. Therefore, individuals will try to “re-create” themselves and mold their body and identity according to the images they see (Rudd & Lennon, 1994). Multiple researches support the idea that images in advertisements Figure 1 are powerful messages on social norms and roles for young adolescents and older teenagers (Adomaitis & Johnson, 2008, Martin & Kennedy, 1993). Further research The findings support the idea that women being Further research could delve into the portrayed as sexual beings accounts for about half of gender influence of the highly sexualized stereotyping in images in the advertisements in these stereotypical gender roles represented by magazines. Young women reading these magazines can be to look at these images as the ideal cultural the visual advertisements in young expected standard and then attempt to attain these standards (Rudd & women’s magazines on the emotional Lennon, 1994). Their behavior may change in order to and social development of young assume the identity or role of the women they see depicted women. It would also be of interest to in the advertisements in media. In young women’s advertisements, this role would be that of a highly conduct a cross-cultural comparison magazine sexual female, subordinate to men. Research has shown that between the United States culture and of the closer young people come to attaining the societal standards set by advertising in magazines, the higher their those abroad. self esteem can rise, leading to the establishment of a stronger social identity (Adomaitis & Johnson, 2008). Limitations Conversely, if the cultural idea is not met, a decrease The limitations of this research include the in self-esteem could occur and the young women readers fact that only three major magazines were could resort to coping strategies (Adomaitis & Johnson, used. If a wider variety of magazines were 2008). These coping strategies might include eating added, I could have further generalized my disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, and higher tendency to buy the advertised product in order to data and found a larger range of data in aattain the ideal pictured by the image. Young women that order to make my claims more valid. are perfectionists or exhibit harm avoidance or disinhibition Another limitation was that I only collected are especially likely to develop such disorders (Berk, 2009). data from three issues of Teen Vogue andUnfortunately, women exhibiting such traits are could also prone to comply to social roles and expectations as Seventeen. If I could have obtained six be represented through the visual media in the magazines they issues from each magazine, I would read. consider my results more reliable. Further research could delve into the influence of the highly sexualized stereotypical gender roles represented by the visual advertisements in young women’s magazines on the emotional and social development of young women. It would also be of interest to conduct a cross-cultural 3


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“ Young women reading these magazines can be expected to look at these images as the ideal cultural standard and then attempt to attain these standards…”

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Literature Cited Adomaitis, A.D. & Johnson, K.P. (2008). Advertisements: Interpreting images used to sell to young adults. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 12(2), 182-192. Basow, S. (1992). Gender: Stereotypes and Roles (3 ed.). Belmont, C.A.: Thomson Brooks/Cole Publishing Co. Berk, L. E. (2004). Development through the lifespan (3rd Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Bovee, C., & Arens, W. (1986). Contemporary Advertising. Chicago, IL: Irwin Incorporation. Goffman, E. (1978). Gender Advertisements. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. Kang, Mee-Eun I. (1997). The portrayal of women’s images in magazine advertisements: Goffman’s gender analysis revisited. Sex Roles, 37(11/12). Martin, M., Kennedy, P. (1993). Advertising and social comparison: consequences for female preadolescents and adolescents. Psychology & Marketing, 10(6), 513-30. Rudd, N., Lennon, S. (1994), "Aesthetics of the body and social identity", International Textile and Apparel Association Special Publication, Vol. 7, 163-75. Sullivan, G., & O'Connor, P. (1988). Women's role portrayals in magazine advertising: 1958- 1983. Sex Roles, 18, 181-188. 5

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