Considerable numbers of research and commentary have shown that there are differences in female and male portrayals in print advertisements which are not exactly similar to the reality (Davis, 1970; Douglas, 1976). Generally, they include negative representations of women which effects mostly the younger generations (Matlin, 1987). According to Bardwick (1967), since the 1960s, there have been growing concerns about the women’s portrayal in the media. Furthermore, Rakow (1985) stated that there was a renaissance of women’s movement created awareness to the portrayal of women in the media in 1960s. In advertisements, there is a tendency to portray women as sex or fashion objects and homemakers (Wortzel et al, 1974). These stereotypes mostly do not acknowledge women in work or that they can be more than homemakers or sex objects. Furthermore, it may be concluded that stereotypes still exists since then and seems to reflect what behaviours are acceptable in the society.
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Media can play an important part in societies. Perse (2001) illustrated the effects of media illustrated as `cognitive, affective or behavioural`. Similarly, Lippmann (1922) discovered that mass communication can also be foundation of people`s perspective of the world. Therefore, people may also acquire values, norms and customs through media, in our case stereotypes. Baker (1996) one said “When experiential knowledge does not exist, we often assume that images we see in film reflect reality”. Moreover, Lippmann (1922) presented stereotypes in his book `Public Opinion` while describing them as “pictures in our heads” which help us to understand the world. Similarly, Bootzin (1991) described stereotypes as mental symbols which illustrate different kinds of people. These include all the knowledge that people have or believe to be largely true.
One of the most perplexing and complex issues currently facing advertisers is how best to portray women in advertising. Feminist critiques were mostly focuses on the limited and ‘unrealistic’ portrayals of women such as being dependent on men or under representation of women with their careers (Courtney et al, 1983; Wolf, 1991). Other critics, on the other hand, focus on the sexual representation of women in advertisement which objectifies women to sell the product (Reichert et al, 2004; Ford, 2004; Lambiase, 2003). Moreover, there are further accusations towards the advertisers about the women’s dependency to men and promoting about something called ‘ideal beauty’ and the increase in the sexual portrayals. Since advertising is a powerful tool for creating and spreading cultural ideals, and people are exposed to it constantly, it is not surprising that advertisements are targeted to such comments. The reason why I chose this topic is both by personal interest and desire to analyse the effects of stereotyping in women magazines. This study will investigate the stereotypes which exist in today’s world connected with women in fashion magazine advertisements and measures to what extend female students in UK associates themselves with these portrayals.
1.1. Research Background
Advertising may have developed over time and became a tool for endorsing the consumerist society; however it is also a tool for exchange of meanings by using products and services in today’s world. According to Pawlowski (2007), in the world of ‘branding’, products are representation of certain meanings or beliefs and consumers are purchasing them in the belief that they are actually buying into a lifestyle or an image. Women’s fashion magazines have become a common advertising tool because up to 95 per cent of the space in the women’s magazines filled with advertisements (McCracken, 1993). The power of magazines may be coming from the variety of interest and needs that people have. As a result, we can conclude that this has created a demand for magazines with different focuses, such as general interest, automobile, fashion or women. In addition, Sanders (1985) suggested that there are different buying behaviours and motivations among men and women. According to Calder (2003), magazines can be considered as brands and concluded that they have apparent individual character profiles that audiences’ appreciate as well as matching these characteristics to their own. It has been suggested that young women choose to read women’s fashion magazines to learn about style and beauty (Levine et al, 1996). Calder’s (2003) research about magazine readers experience’s ranked the most important motivations which make people read magazines.
Table 1. Motivations for Reading a Magazine
1. I get value for my time and money
2. I like it (i.e. negative correlation with ‘It disappoints me’)
3. It makes me smarter/cleverer
4. It’s my personal timeout
5. I often reflect on it
6. The stories absorb me
7. I learn things first here
8. It’s part of my routine
9. I find the magazine high-quality and sophisticated
10. I trust it
11. I feel good when I read it
12. It’s relevant and useful to me
13. It’s brief and easy for me to read
14. I build relationships by talking about and sharing it
15. I find unique and surprising things
16. It improves me, and helps me try new things
17. I save and refer to it
18. I keep or share articles
19. I think others in the household would enjoy
20. It’s for people like me
Source: Calder et al. (2003: 13)
Furthermore, the same study also investigated women’s attitudes to women’s fashion magazines and discovered that 69% of women sees advertisements in magazines ‘as a source of information’ and ‘trust the advertisements in the magazine’ (Calder et al, 2003).
1.2. Research Objective
Based on the literature, this research will try to answer the question of how do female students relate themselves to the portrayal of women in women’s fashion magazine advertisements. This question is designed to fill a gap in literature which exists among the analysis of portrayals women in advertisements and if advertisements reflects the female students in the UK. The study is focused on UK; however there are referrals to researches from other countries where they discovered proofs of a kind which may not be applied in the UK. Main objective for this thesis is to answer the research question by analysing the aim and the effectiveness of advertisements and gender stereotypes, and responses of the participants.
Structure of the Dissertation
Chapter 1 starts with providing an introduction to the subject, briefly explains the reasons behind magazine advertising and presenting the research objective as well as describing the structure of dissertation.
Chapter 2 discusses the previous studies related with the subject and reviews the concepts of advertising, gender, gender stereotypes, gender portrayals in advertisement and feminist critique.
Chapter 3 introduces the method this research will adopt and explains the reasoning behind the selection while providing information about research process and data analysis.
Chapter 4 reports the findings of focus group research and links the concepts to the theory.
Chapter 5 presents the conclusion of the research in accordance to the analysis of the findings and discuss the implications and limitations to provide a direction for future researchers.
2.1. Introduction to Literature
Many studies about advertising and consumer research analysed variety of reactions toward an advertisement (Derbaix, 1995; Sengupta et al, 2008). Similar to this case, researchers such as Goffman (1979), have investigated the gender representation in advertising, especially sexual representation of women different than men, researchers has tried to explore the responses of women as well as the effect. However, can women associates themselves to these representations? Do they perceive these images negatively or positively? According to Sengupta (2008), responses of men and women to the use of stereotypical portrayals in advertising, mainly the magazines, have hardly been explored. A relative research of women’s magazine emphasising on sexuality could introduce new results, specifically if it illustrated women’s perceptions in positive or negative light. This study will attempt to fill the gap in the literature with investigating these questions.
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Goffman (1979) defined advertisements as `commercial realism`, which means the portrayals are “hyper ritualized” and “edited”, and Hammer (2009) suggested that advertisements are portraying the world `in ways that could be real`. On the other hand, Schudson (1984) said that abstraction which is not dependent of characteristics, associations or managing something as a concept, is vital in advertising in terms of meanings and aesthetic. This could mean that advertising relies on these meanings. Furthermore, designing a world in advertisements does not have to be real or purely fantasy which he defined as `capitalist realism`. In contrast, realism defined as a fact which characterizes a person, an object or a circumstance that is true or accurate. These two concepts, abstraction and reality, can be combined in advertisements.
Advertisements may create a balance between different concepts; gender and sexuality seems to be more effective in our culture. According to Hammer (2009), advertisements are promoting the questions of gender and sex in a cultural discourse. These concepts will be analysed further in this research. Relevant analyses have provided an insight for the context of this analysis. It has been suggested that in terms of reaching the consumers, especially the younger generation, there has been a shift toward modern and innovative forms of marketing (Schmitt, 1999) such as social networks. However, rationality may not always be the case in advertising (Fill, 2009). The review of literature in this study has focused on these subjects; advertising as a form of communication and its affects to the society, existing stereotypes of women, the way advertising portrays women according to this stereotypes and the feminist critique.
“Advertising images are a central part of the experienced visual world. Reality and advertising do not constitute two separate spheres acting upon one another; advertising and the mass media contribute to the visual landscape that constructs reality. “
Schroeder et al, 1998
Advertising is a tool to form gender identities as well as culture. Likewise, McCracken (1987) explained that advertising is reflecting cultural values and presents them through media, and Kernan (1993) suggested that advertising mainly shapes the gender identity. According to Berger (2004), advertising can be regarded as a type of communication that is influential and effective which can also use ‘sexploitation of the female body’ as an instrument. According to Wilson (1995), the beauty stereotypes were promoted in a sexual way through advertising media which has the motivation (profit), the means (media exposure) and the instruments (language and photos). Although these stereotypes can be considered as unrealistic, it is accessible to every woman. Furthermore, Pawlowski (2007) argues that these stereotypes have been created to maintain `dominant ideologies` for preserving commercial interest. On the other hand, Holbrook (1982) suggested that tangible benefits which describes utilitarian meanings of goods and services also been widely used in advertising same as experiential perspectives which presents symbolic indications of subjective attributions. Similarly, according to Schroeder (1998), the visual images could create meanings to consumers in different ways. To create a relation between the images and meanings, Berger (1989) presented four processes: cause and effect, signification, resemblance and convention. Moreover, to create resemblance in targeted consumers mind, advertisers probably use `typical` people in advertisements. Schwartz (1974) discussed the aim of designing an advertisement. According to him, it is the creation of `pleasurable emotions` which will be prompt by the product in the market. He also said that `I do not care what number of people remember or get the message. I am concerned with how people are affected by the stimuli` (Schwartz, 1974).
Davidson (1992) argued that advertisements in many women’s magazines, aims to promote the idea of material needs and anxiety to women within the construction of ‘the good life’. He defines the idea of ‘good life’ as a ‘mythic world’ which contains perfect people enjoying numerous of product. Jhally (2000), on the other hand, claimed that these ideas are unattainable and advertising is not supposed to show how people should act but reflects how people desire; which is a paradox, because these unattainable desires are the reason why women are attracted to women’s fashion magazines (Pawlowski, 2007).
On the other hand, Brierly (1995) argues that advertising is about a ‘form of fantasy and escapism’ which means that it does not describe the reality. Some contemporary advertisements does not even state the product or service such as Levi`s commercial `Kevin the Hamster` from 1988. The ad considered as one of most surreal ads ever which introduces a hamster running in his wheel named Kevin. In the end, the wheel breaks and Kevin dies of boredom. Until the Levi`s logo shows up, nobody knows what product or which brand was being promoted. Williamson (1978) explained that abstract connections can be made among lifestyles and brands that consumers transfer meanings in the advertisements onto the product.
Cultural perceptions also dictate a prominence on the `intertextual nature` of advertisements and their correlation to the wider cultural discussion on gender identities and femininity (Sandikci, 1998). While the concepts are intertextual, which they are based on prior texts; meanings of ads are also connected with other cultural texts (Goldman, 1992). According to Sandikci (1998), this occurrence was mostly disregarded by many empirical researches about portrayal of women in advertising. Then again, women are constantly subjected to different kinds of images and portrayals of femininity. These portrayals are also taking place in other media forms and the effect of such exposure influences how any specific representation will be interpreted (Sandikci, 1998), which could mean that audiences may transfer meanings from one media form to another through these interpretations. On the other hand, some researchers proposed that there many possible reactions and women can actually resist or alter the meanings of these meanings (Davis et al, 1993; Wilson, 1985). The effect of advertisements in the society was mentioned in this research and similarly, Moschis (1978) explained that gender role portrayals in the ads are influencing self-concept, achievement aspiration and self-images of the members` in a society. Since the 1960s, gender stereotypes in advertising are subjected to many debates (Odekerken-Schroder et al, 2002). Furthermore, these portrayals appeared to be increased in many ways recently (Ferguson et al, 1990).
2.2.1. Sex in Advertisements
Previous researches discovered that women are portrayed as `heterosexual masculine desire` in magazine ads (Reichert et al, 2004; Baker, 2005). Ford (2008) defined the gender portrayals and sexual practices as “abnormal,” “pathologic,” and “deviant” and associated them with the political economy and social culture. In the western cultures sex is a “natural” behaviour of a human biology but `normal gender roles, sexuality, and sexual practice` can be varied among cultures (Foucault, 1988). Furthermore, Rubin (1984) described sex as a “natural force that exists prior to social life”. On the other hand, Ford (2008) argued that gender and sexual norms shaped by ` material bodies` within the cultures which they exist. Similar to Foucault, Hofstede (1998) also suggested that the women’s objectification and sexuality in magazines can be different based on cultural values and equality of the sexes.
In advertising, the perception of “sex sells” is still widely popular (Reichert et al, 2004) and sex has been used extensively to sell more than just products. Ford (2008) explained that advertisers also promote trends, ideas and stereotypes which could mean that they can give sexual meanings, implicit or explicit, to every product as well as attracting consumers with the fantasy of sex. According to the study of Cosmopolitan Magazine, the idea of sexual freedom, lower ‘political authoritarianism’ and using models from the western countries have caused more sexuality in magazine ads (Nelson et al, 2005). Based Lambiase`s (2003) research about erotic rhetoric in advertising in magazines, it can be concluded that these messages which are assembled visually are extremely persuasive. On the other hand, these researchers were only selected advertisements which include sexual contents that are not related to the products` attributes or usage; but it was found that these ads “either implicitly or explicitly offers the promise of sexual benefits” (Liambiase et al, 2003). However, these analyses create more in depth understanding of the messages behind advertising visuals.
Some researchers discovered that level of sexuality, in fact, increased over time (Pawlowski, 2007). Reichert (2004) measured the level of sexuality in magazine based on an extension of a research about advertisements in 1983 and 1993; analysed them from 2003 by using Goffman’s coding analysis. This coding analysis includes five categories as relative size, function ranking, feminine touch, ritualization of subordination and licenced withdrawal (Goffman, 1976). Findings of the study revealed that women are still portrayed in the same stereotypes and being objectified; however the level of sexuality rose over time. According to Jacobsen (1995), sexual contents are being used more than before to reach consumers. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the degree of nakedness remained at the same level in the ads (Soley at al, 1986), number of models who are objectified sexually in the images increased over time. (Kilbourne (2005) argued that young and beautiful individuals are mostly portrayed as sexual objects and especially, young adolescents are exposed to these sexual images through the media. Furthermore, she concluded that it is not possible to measure the effects of these exposures. Particularly, products such as clothing or fragrance are advertised in more sexualised way due to their nature. (Reichert, 2004).
2.3. Research on Advertising and Gender
Schroeder (1998) explained that in media images, social psychologists agree that there are differences in gender portrayals. According to Pollock (2001), visual images have a significant part in the creation of gender identities, which may not display the reality. Belkaoui (1976) suggested that previous empirical researches had been very limited with the purpose of portraying the role of women in advertisements and the changes in the view female roles. Similarly, Schroeder (1998) explained that the differences in male and female portrayals and their effects are being subjected to researches recently. In advertising, most of these differences can also affect the level of gender stereotyping of a given country. Although there are no such laws yet, EU’s Women’s Rights Committee and European Parliament suggested that any kind of gender stereotyping in the media should be banned (Rice, 2012). In addition, media researchers showed their concerns about stereotyping of women previously and some of them approached to the subject empirically.
2.3.1 Advertisements, Arts and Gender
In order to find out the presentation of women in advertisements, Schroeder (1998) analysed the relationship between arts, gender and advertising. He concluded that descriptions are the basic point of interpretation which both arts and advertising includes. It could mean that descriptive images such as a light, genre and subject are the basic point of interpretation. Advertising has also been described as ` aesthetic objects` (Schroeder, 2004). According to Lury (1996), consumption was `aestheticized` through fashion, style and incorporation of arts through the creativity inside the advertising campaigns. In addition, Schroeder (1998) suggested that advertising acquired some methods form art history, to portray the women and highlight the difference between genders. Schroeder (1998) suggested that representation of gender differences in arts involves the nudity, women in captivity, and portrayals of male leaders often with armours.
According to Bohm-Duchen (1992), in terms of cultural standards about looks and attractiveness, female body is the main interest. Berger (1972) also highlighted the connection between art and advertisements. There is a similarity between women portrayal in arts and advertising; and Berger (1972) explained this theory by quoting from art history sources. He concluded that the way of seeing women and images which portrays them has not changed since then. Schroeder (1998) agrees Bohm-Duchen by suggesting that women are perceived ` voyeuristically` and being `fantasized`. In addition, women seem to be characterised in a passive way in both art and advertising. Berger (1972) concluded that women are portrayed different than men; the reason is not because of the difference between femininity and masculinity, but the main focus is to be appeal to male audience. It has been concluded that advertising uses many methods from art portray women and mostly, this supports the inequality between genders.
2.3.2. Gender Portrayals
It has been suggested that gender role portrayals creates a problem when advertisers prefers to portray a woman (Whipple, 1985). According to Pawlowski (2007), advertising demonstrates a person’s role in the society, especially when it comes to gender and sex; and depends onto the established representations of gender. In addition, advertising can also play an important role in shaping the perceptions of the society about gender. It was concluded in the study of Courtney and Lockeretz’s (1971) about the portrayal of roles of women in women magazines that women have very limited roles in advertisements. Venkatesh (1994) investigated the perspectives of market researchers and customers about women. According to his research, women tend to be viewed as a wife, homemaker, hostess, mother, or a ‘single girl preparatory to these roles’ (Davis, 1970). Similarly, Rajagopal (2002) explained that woman has one of three roles in their portrayal in advertisements which are not truly `represent women’s diversity: sex or beauty symbol, mother and housewife. ` Furthermore, Scanzoni (1977) highlighted other roles of women outside the family; for instance, business woman or professional employee, which can be called “social roles”, were taken into little or no consideration. On the other hand, it was concluded that women are regularly be associated with two kinds of social representation; desirability and aggressiveness (Umiker-Sebeok 1981).
Similar to Schroeder (1998), Linder (2004) have analysed the effects of gender roles in the media and concluded that stereotypes in gender portrayals are still applied in advertising even today. However, this is a startling outcome since there are social and cultural changes about women’s status in the society since 1950s. On the other hand, especially women’s fashion magazines such as Vogue, these changes have not been affected; since there are significantly higher amount of stereotypical portrayals. Furthermore, Linder (2004) concluded that stereotypical or sexualized representations are the key method of portraying women. `This portrayal of women as inferior and “flawed” is a necessity for the existence of a women’s fashion magazines such as Vogue, which is primarily a means for advertising and selling products that are suggested to be a “cure” for women’s feelings of inferiority and inappropriateness’ (Linder, 2004). This could justify the enduring stereotypes in women’s fashion magazines throughout time. These unrealistic promises may create insecurities and inferiority complex.
Goffman (1979) defines the representation of female body in fashion advertisements as `puckish styling` and explaining it as `a sort of body clowning`. However, MacCracken (1993) argues that these advertisements are within a `dominant moral order`. Although an advertisement sells an image or an idea, women should be able to choose what message they would like to give or how they would like to present themselves to the world. One of the criticisms is about the difference in gender’s portrayal in advertisements. Schroeder (1998) explained that non-verbal behaviours and abilities vary among genders. Gender representation in advertisements has been subjected to several studies. Rajagopal (2002) also studied the effects of advertisements on portraying different gender images. It has been found that there is a significant bias in representation of both genders. According to Milburn, Carney and Ramirez (2001), males are mainly more knowledgeable, active (such as running) and authoritative; on the other hand females are more likely to be young and dressed in more revealing clothes and not very active as males (such as sitting).
Goffman, in his book Gender Advertisement (1979), argued that `women are treated as children` in advertising. He explained that, in order to identify the difference between men and women in advertisements, parent-child relationship should be examined. In advertisements, men tend to be portrayed as the parent whereas women behave as a child. For instance, Goffman (1979) figured that, in ads, a men`s hands portrayed as strongly holding an item and has the power to manipulate it, while women`s hand is just touching the item and not have the full power to control it. Another example is, in many advertisements, women are mentally wandering away under the protection of a male or women appears in finger to mouth position which reminds a children`s behaviour. Another argument is, in magazine advertisements, women’s body was shown more frequently than the images of men’s body (Hall et al, 1994). Jung (2009) argued that these objectifications of women are connected with the gender stereotypes which come from the women’s portrayal in the media. Similar to Courtney and Lockeretz (1971), Goffman (1979) proposed that standards of femininity and masculinity have been created by the help of advertisements and explained the signs of gender stereotypes in advertising: women have less prestigious profession; men are in control of the situations and making eye contact with audiences while women looking at a distance place or a male model whom can protect her or simply drifting mentally; women self-touching herself which shows the female body as gentle and fragile whereas men grasp, shape or product an item. As a result, women seem to be perceived as objects that are desired by men and these stereotypes are emphasized on sexuality. Furthermore, these images of women body exists predominantly in women’s fashion magazines (Ferguson et al, 1990). Evidently, there is a difference between women’s sexual representation in contrast to men. Nevertheless, the degree of sexuality in women’s magazines and consumers’ reaction has barely been studied (Pawlowski, 2007).
Richins (1991) analysed the responses of female undergraduate students to models in ads and discovered that women are constantly compare their bodies with models which results in dissatisfaction of their physical experiences. Although, the aim of advertising is to sell the product; products becomes less effective to the desired appearance or audiences are not convinced enough to buy them (Thomas, 2000). Curry (1998) suggested that the ideals of ‘beauty’ portrayed in the magazines are not attainable and some people think that these portrayals are not realistic. According to Whipple (1985), advertisers tend to ask the question of `What model- product pairings will be most effective in creating favourable consumer attitudes? ` He concluded that the choices are based on the attitude towards the appropriateness of the combinations and previous information about the target segment. As a result, stereotypes become an issue. For instance, men are be portrayed with electronics or automobiles while women are being portrayed with household products (Aireck, 1982). Current studies suggest that female models shown in the advertisements started to embrace male roles such as being powerful and authoritarian (Schroeder, 1998). On the other hand, Stern (1994) discussed that these reversed roles are the result of a strategy, which is showing products more attractive and appeal to men.
Moreover, it was indicated that women are more aware of the stereotypes in advertising than men (Odekerken-Schroder et al, 2002). On the other hand, Wortzel and Frisbie (1974) discovered that gender preferences are affected by the functions of a product rather than societies opinion. However, Sciglimpaglia (1979) argues that when women’s role in a society is less traditional, criticism towards the current portrayal in advertising is higher. Society members` `self-image, achievement aspiration and self-concept` are influenced by these portrayals in advertisements (Moschis et al, 1998). Myers (1992) associated the ‘ideal’ body image with the “good life” image which could drive people to pursue such images whether it is achievable or not. However, Patterson (2002) explained that the reliability of these images as a symbol of femininity is being questioned, if it could be “transformed and reconstructed” in order to represent the roles. The beauty portrayals have been idealised and exists for all age demographics. Possibly, teenagers are more easily influenced age demographic and teenagers are possibly the most influenced demographic and older women seem to be kept in the side-line. On the other hand, some campaigns are using more realistic representations and challenging the stereotypes by ` celebrating the diverse, the healthy, the real, and the truly beautiful’ such as the Dove ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ (Patterson, 2006). The Dove ad campaign rejects the conventional beauty stereotypes and instead, shows women in many ages, sizes and shapes. According to Neff (2004), the campaign ‘undermines the basic proposition of decades of beauty-care advertising’. The ad campaign portrays ‘average’ women with variety of images and asking rhetorical questions as ‘wrinkled or wonderful?’ which is regarded as unattractive in contemporary advertising world. Examples of the ad campaign are shown below.
Schroeder (2004) concluded that advertising has function of spreading gender roles and setting identities, while Patterson (2002) explains gender as a dominant concept in advertising. Moreover, Myers (1992) suggested that creation and reinforcement of gender identities has been supported by advertising as well as broadcasting them. Similarly to the recent changes in advertising (Dove campaign or advocates in the EU Parliament), it has been suggested that “there has been a substantial improvement in emphasizing woman’s expanding role as a working member of society” (Wagner, 1973); especially with the influence of women’s movement in the American society (Venkatesh, 1980). Especially in demographically varied women’s magazines, higher female employments resulted in changes in the portrayal of women such as more professional, independent and confident images (Chafetz et al, 1993). As a result, it can be concluded that increasing number of women
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