Stereotypes Of Men In Advertisements Visual representation of reality, as seen through mass media, is acknowledged by sociologists to be influential in shaping people’s views of the world. Our everyday realities are articulated mostly by what we see in the media. The role of advertising in this interpretation of reality is crucial. The target audience’s self-identification with the images being a basic prerequisite for an advertisement’s effectiveness, makes advertising one of the most important factors in the building of behavior models and values systems. The way a certain notion is managed at a visual level determines how people will perceive this notion and whether they will identify with it or not. Meaning is encoded in the structure of the images, which thus become potent cultural symbols for human behavior.
The framing and composition of the image, the setting, the symbolic attributes and every other element in its structure, all are engaged in the effective presentation of the underlying notion. What do images of the male body in advertising reveal about the notion of masculinity today? What is today’s model man? Is there consistency in the visual representation of masculinity or are there competing images of it? In this study I will do a content analysis of the portrayal of men in 20 magazine advertisements. 5 ads were taken from “Maxim,” a men’s magazine targeted at 20 to 30 something males. 4 were taken from “Men’s Journal, a men’s magazine targeted at men from 30 to retirement age. 5 were looked at from Harper’s “Bazaar,” a women’s magazine targeted at adult women.
4 were taken from “Allure,” a women’s magazine targeted at women in their 20’s and 30’s, and two were taken from “Entertainment Weekly,” an entertainment magazine with a non gender specific target audience. I selected these ads by tearing out all of the ads in each magazine with a man or men in them, scattering them face down on the floor and picking up a few. I intend to look at these ads as a group of 20, looking at collective similarities among them and any common stereotypes and themes in the way these ads portray men. I also intend to examine any general differences between the ads fro the men’s magazines, and those from the women’s magazines, as well as differences along product lines. I expect to see reinforcement of the stereotypes discussed in Denise Kervin’s study as well as the stereotypes delineated by other authors cited in this paper.
I expect that these reinforcements will occur as much as, but in a different way than is seen earlier in time as discussed in the various literature cited in this paper. I also expect that these stereotypes will be equally present, yet will manifest themselves differently depending on the target audience and product being pitched. Dominant discourses surrounding gender encourage us to accept that the human race is ‘naturally’ divided in to male and female, each gender realistically identifiable by a set of immutable characteristics. In Foucault’s terms, relations of difference are social constructs belonging to social orders that contain hierarchies of power, defined, named and delimited by institutional discourses, to produce social practices. “Gender differences are symbolic categories” (Saco, 1992:25).
These categories are used to ascribe certain characteristics to men and women. The representation of those characteristics determines how men and women are presented in cultural forms, and really whether an individual is identified as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. It is important to understand the big role that media, in general, and specifically advertisement plays in maintaining an ingrained gender hierarchy. The closer study of men’s and women’s images as presented in advertising should result in uncovering the messages about their identity and role in society. Until recently, masculinity in the media was not considered problematic since there was the notion that masculinity is not constructed.
“Masculinity remains the untouched and untouchable against which femininity figures as the repressed and/or unspoken” (Holmlund, 1993:214). During the 1990’s this notion started to change since a significant decline in portrayal of men’s traditional roles became obvious. Until then though, qualities such as being aggressive, autonomous and active were always naturally attributed to men. Until mid 80’s men also seemed to be the only ones that occupied powerful roles in society, so advertisements showed powerful images of men to sell products. Qualities culturally associated with women in ad’s included being caring, warm and sexually passive in contrast with the muscular and powerful male. Common themes were these of the promiscuous gladiator with the female victim, the protector and the rescued.
In even older ads men were invariably portrayed as husbands and fathers. It is interesting to see that now, when things have admittedly changed for women, we still see much of the same themes in modern men’s advertisements. In the ads from “Men’s Journal,” we generally see a handsome, strong, successful and somewhat rugged man. The camera angles are almost invariably from the bottom up, giving us a view of the man as though we, the viewer are below him, looking up at him. All of them are young, but none are teen-aged looking.
All but one have, or show remnants of facial hair. None of these ads show the man in the work place, but their depiction of leisure is that of mature success, not youthful excess. Because of the camera angles, the strong stances, the rugged good looks, and the depictions of success, these ads reinforce the stereotypes of men as strong, powerful, aggressive providers. 1 ad for Tommy Hilfiger shows the man with his arm around a girl who is leaning into his chest. This ad depicts a man as protector and as a heterosexual.
The one ad that stands out from the group in this collection of ads from Men’s Journal is the one from ESPN’s Sport’s Center. This ad shows a man finishing up a piece of cake at a diner and watching Sport’s center from across the bar. This is a different depiction of leisure which seems directly related to the product it is selling. The rest of the ads are selling some form of apparel. They are designed to show clothes as comfortable and stylish and show that a man who wears those clothes can be the aggressive, dominant male.
The Sport’s Center ad is selling a product that isn’t consumed as part of public image, but of private pleasure. The copy, “What Sport’s Center Do You Watch?” implies that whenever, wherever the man wants his sports, he can get it from ESPN. It does not matter what he looks like, what he’s doing, or where he is when he watches it. It is on several times a day, and it is a man’s right and priority to enjoy it however he wishes. The man in this ad is a bit rounder, a bit more approachable but still not under anyone’s control.
These advertisements prove the man’s power, with his success, his heterosexuality, and his virility. These are all considered to be attractive features in males. To be more specific, they are considered attractive features in a grown man. Stuart Hall, in his book: Representation and Signifying Practices, focuses on three important looks for grown men, these are the ‘Street Style’ version, the ‘Italian-American’ version and the ‘Conservative-Englishness’ version. He has argued tha …