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GENDER PORTRAYALS: ADVERTISING IMAGES OF MALES AND

FEMALES IN MEDIA
Carolynn A. McMahan, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL
Tiffany Shoop, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN

Introduction
Researchers have long held that media representation of sex roles and gender stereotypes have a dramatic effect on
individuals and society (Courtney and Whipple, 1983; Goffman, 1979; Kang, 1997; Kilbourne, 2000; Klassen, Jasper, &
Schwartz, 1993; Lazier-Smith, 1988). While numerous studies have focused on the analysis of gender portrayals in various
media that are targeted to adults, more research is needed on the interplay between masculine and feminine portrayals in
magazine advertising. This research project addressed the gap in the stream of research with an examination of advertising
images of both males and females in four popular magazines, including two magazines targeted to males and two magazines
targeted to females. Specifically, the presence of gender stereotypes in relation to the interaction between male and female
characters in media was analyzed in advertisements depicting both male and female models. This study is significant for two
primary reasons. First, it builds on and extends decades of research in gender portrayals by examining male representation, in
addition to female representation, in media to determine if stereotypical roles are prevalent. Second, by examining both male
and female images, it is positioned to provide insight into how interplay between the male and female forms either furthers or
breaks down traditional gender stereotypes.

Research Questions and Hypotheses


Much of the prior research is based upon portrayals of women in popular adult publications with only a few studies
analyzing depictions of males and ads that show both men and women. Based on the literature review indicating the need for
further research, three questions and two hypotheses have been formulated. The first research question is central to this study
and is most focused on providing the insights that will link studies of male and female targeted magazines to earlier research
on gender portrayals.
Research Question 1: Are traditional stereotypical roles present when males and females are portrayed together in a
magazine advertisement?
To further explore this question, three hypotheses were developed based on the literature that provide insights into
traditional and stereotypical portrayals of males and females.
Hypothesis 1: When males and females are portrayed together in a magazine advertisement, male characters will be
depicted as more dominant (i.e. primary in position and large in size) than female characters, while female
characters will be depicted as more inferior (i.e. secondary or background in position and small in size) than male
characters.
Hypothesis 2: When males and females are portrayed together in a magazine advertisement, male characters will be
depicted as more confident and more serious (i.e. serious facial expression and straight ahead eye contact) than
female characters, while female characters will be depicted as less confident and sillier (i.e. smiling or laughing
facial expression and downward, off-to-the-side or looking at someone eye contact) than male characters.
Hypothesis 3: When males and females are portrayed together in a magazine advertisement, male characters will be
depicted as athletic, while female characters will be depicted as thin.
Two additional research questions were formulated; however, they are not as clearly addressed in the literature; thus,
no specific hypotheses have been developed. Rather, the study took an exploratory approach to addressing these questions.
Research Question 2: Is there an association between the gender of the targeted audience of the magazine and the
stereotypical portrayals of males and females?

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Research Question 3: How are males and females and their relationships generally portrayed in magazine
advertisements?

Method
This study employed a mixed method approach in the examination of gender portrayals. The primary method,
content analysis, was used to objectively and systematically make inferences about the intentions, attitudes, and values of
individuals by identifying specified characteristics in the media messages (Kassarjian, 1977). A coding sheet was developed
based on previous research and the modification of certain categories within Goffmans (1979) research framework. In
addition to coding and analyzing the data statistically, qualitative analysis was also used to gain a deeper understanding of the
advertising messages.
Four magazines were selected for analysis, two female targeted fashion magazines, Glamour and Vogue, and two
male targeted fashion magazines, GQ and Esquire. The analysis period was 2004, and the sample consisted of six issues from
2004 for each of the four magazines with a representation of two different seasonal periods. A total of five ads per magazine
were randomly selected, which resulted in a total of 120 advertisements and 324 characters analyzed.

Findings
In analyzing images of four fashion publications, the quantitative findings are consistent with overall findings in the
stream of research that gender portrayals over time are showing a decrease in advertising stereotypes and improved realism.
Specifically, the findings revealed the only statistically significance gender stereotypes of male and female characters in
magazine advertisements was that of body type with male characters portrayed as athletic and muscular and female characters
portrayed as thin. Other variables related to gender stereotypes of males and females were not statistically significant in the
quantitative analysis. For example, both the majority of both male and female characters were prominently displayed in
terms of position and size, which made neither gender appear more dominant or inferior than the other, and were portrayed
with smiling or serious facial expressions, as well as looking straight ahead, off to the side, or at someone, which made
neither gender appear more confident and serious or less confident and sillier than the other. Thus, outside of the body type
variable, the male and female characters were portrayed similarly in the advertisements, even when the magazines were
broken down according to the gender of the target audience. Notwithstanding, the importance of the body type variable
should not be overlooked, because of the potentially significant implications such a finding may have on the expectations of
the ideal body types of men and women, as well as the potential image-related problems associated with such expectations.
Despite the fact that only the gender stereotypes related to body type were found to be statistically significant in the
quantitative analysis of the characters, the qualitative assessment of the overall themes and images in the advertisements
paints a different picture. In the qualitative analysis, the descriptions of the ads reveal that most of the advertisements had
explicit sexual tones, while others had more implicit sexual tones. For example, while the female character may have
appeared dominant in terms of size and position and confident and serious because she was looking straight ahead, she may
still have been scantily clothed with one or more male characters staring at her as though she was an object. Likewise, often
male characters would be equal to the female character in terms of size, position, eye contact, and facial expression, but
would still appear dominant and in control, because the beautiful, skimpily dressed female was hanging from his arm. Thus,
qualitative analysis added a significant dimension to the quantitative analysis, revealing more subtle stereotypical cues than
the quantitative analysis alone; the quantitative and qualitative analyses used in conjunction provided a better description of
the images of male and female characters in the advertisements than either method alone.
Therefore, the findings of this research project indicate a need to monitor and analyze the relationships portrayals of
males and females in advertising messages further and provide support for the findings of Klaussen et al (1993) that
advertisers today still must proceed with caution in their portrayal of the interplay between males and females. In addition,
these findings support Goffmans (1979) framing analysis, which states that individuals could be developing a vast array of
social cues, some blatant and others very subtle from images in advertisements. Once learned, these cues could be used in
daily life to try to understand members of the opposite sex and impose frames on them, and their actions.

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