What Does the Media Teach Us About Gender? Term Paper

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Gender Socialization and Advertisement

It is well-known and understood that advertisement subtly effects the way in which its purveyors view the world and themselves as humans and consumers. If advertisements were not capable of changing and shaping opinions, then companies would be particularly foolish to invest in it! On the surface, ads are supposed to sell the products they represent. However, advertisement scarcely works directly by presenting the object abstractly or to the senses. Rather, advertisement uses a host of other images and cultural ideas to promote its own purposes.

The question then becomes, to what extend do these other images and ideas become the actual messages of advertising, quietly infecting the minds of readers and creating not a desire to buy products, but to conform or react to those images. Of course, the degree to which advertisement messages are swallowed up and subsumed by the other media might make them the least likely subjects for study, but at the same time because of their brevity they are somewhat pure forms of bite-sized social expression through which once can analyze greater social trends. It is the belief of these researchers that an exploration of the advertisements in four major magazines will show that traditional gender roles are still being propagated, though oddly often as much (if not more) at the immediate expense of young boys and men as of women -- for both genders appear to be assigned destructive roles by the advertising aimed at them.

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This research was performed using four magazines of varying degrees of popularity. In order to assure a wide range of advertising and solicit responses that were aimed both at primarily female and primarily male markets, the research was begun with two largely gender-specific magazines. To represent the female market, the magazine Woman's Day (October 5th 2004 issue) was chosen. Woman's Day appears to be a relatively comprehensive women's issues magazine, including such articles as "20 Things to do with $20" and "Low-carb eating secrets." It tends to be targeted at slight older, settled, suburban females.

Term Paper on What Does the Media Teach Us About Gender? Assignment

Finding a representative for the male market was much harder, and in many ways the search for a proper research medium was itself enlightening as to the nature of gender struggles in America. Going to the ever-so-American local Walmart, the researcher was astonished to find that despite a plethora of female-oriented lifestyle magazine's, ranging from Woman's Day to Women's World, Cosmopolitan, Red Book, Family Circle, Seventeen, and so forth, there were no corresponding men's magazines readily available. Where was Man's Day or Male World? Where was the male counterpart of Cosmopolitan? In an attempt to solve this mystery, inquiries were made at customer service and the register. Here concerned associates assured the researcher that there were men's magazines -- all the hunting and sporting magazine's were for men, and so were the muscle car and other auto magazines, and all the sports magazines like Sports Illustrated. Yet here wa a dilemma -- is it fair to compare a general lifestyle magazine such as Woman's Day to a topic-specific magazine such as Deerhunter or Musclecar? There still seemed to be a significant lack of magazines celebrating male lifestyles apart from male hobby rags. Eventually, the researcher turned outside of Walmart, and at a local Blockbuster found a copy of Maxim. (Rocktober 2004 Issue) This magazine is, like Woman's Day, focused on daily concerns, but also includes a smorgasbord of amusing news and anecdotes, celebrity interviews and photo shoots, and sexual humor and advice. It is certainly not sex-saturated in the fashion of Hustler or Playboy, and one will find that photos and articles usually hover around a PG to PG-13 rating. Articles included such gems as "25 Craziest Rock Deaths," "10 Ways to Stop Music Sucking," and "Car Wars." It appears to be popular among men both for reading and for the sexy (though not explicit) interviews and photos of female celebrities. While Maxim at times walks a fine line right about falling into the smut category, it is safe for boys. Targeted males appear to be in their mid-twenties upwards, single, of any of a variety of social strata, and troubled with women.

These two gender-specific publications are rounded out by the inclusion of Time magazine, (October 4, 2004 Issue) a news and world magazine that currently has such stories as the events in Sudan and the presidential election. This magazine is targeted towards the educated, but not necessarily opinionated middle class, and tends to feature solid reporting and famous photographic skill. Additionally, an opinion and news magazine called the Nation (October 11, 2004 Issue) as included in the study, as something of a control for conservative/traditional values which may have influenced the other works. The Nation tends towards radicalism of the political and social nature, and includes both investigative reporting, opinion, and other literature. It is self-supporting and does have advertisement.

In order to study the sorts of advertisements that would occur in such magazines, a careful grid was established by which they could be evaluated and coded. Each magazine had it's own grid sheet on which ads were recorded. Each add was evaluated first for the gender of the actor(s), as either falling into the male, female, or mixed category. Those ads that only featured young children or figures of indeterminable gender, inanimate objects, or animals were not included. Subsequently, the ad was then coded as being in most in touch with one of the following value systems: very traditional gender roles, somewhat traditional, neutral, somewhat nontraditional and very nontraditional. After this survey of all the articles was completed, it appeared that a full picture had not emerged, and the researcher went back a second time to record a rough account of the content of the ads in terms of male and female activities. In determining what activities would be considered very traditional, the coding stuck to particularly obvious examples, such as the portrayal of a women in a wedding gown, or down on her knees scrubbing the floor. Images of inferiority would also qualify. Generally traditional images were those that, for example, portrayed ordinary heterosexual relationships or imagery, including traditional power structures. Men who tended to have physical dominance over women in the images were considered traditional. Nontraditional roles included very powerful women, men who were involved in traditionally female activities, women in power over men, and such behaviors. The following table demonstrates the results:

Magazine / Category

Very traditional roles

Somewhat traditional roles

Neutral roles

Somewhat untraditional roles

Very untraditional roles

Total ads

WOMAN'S DAY

Women

Men

MAXIM

Women

Men

TIME

Women

Men

THE

NATION

Women

Men

The most obvious pattern to emerge here is that women's magazines portray women far more frequently (roughly six times as often) than men in their advertisements, which tends to suggest that readers are meant to empathize with (rather than be sexually attracted to) characters in these ads. Strikingly, women are almost never shown in the same ad with men, and only seven ads show men and women interacting with each other. In the men's magazine, men are still the primary focus of the ads, and solitary men appear roughly three times more often than solitary women -- however, despite the fact that the two publications have almost the same number of ads, in the men's magazine ads showing males and females interacting with each other are twice as common as they are in the women's magazine. A little less than a third of the ads show interaction between couples, whereas in the women's magazine it is half that and in the non-gendered Time magazine it is an even lower percentage. Only the sensitive, liberal Nation magazine has similar rates of interaction in its ads. In both gendered magazines, traditional gender activities take place in between 33-38% of the ads, though in more public magazines such as Times this is only true in 25% of the ads, and it is never true in the more liberal magazine. The majority of ads are neutral in all cases.

This analysis by itself is primarily useful in showing two things: first, that the state of advertisement may not be as bad as one might have suspected, considering that over half the ads appear to be gender neutral; secondly, there seems to be a very significant preference for same-sex intimacy in the men's magazine than in the women's magazine. Understanding what that would be the case requires a little more in-depth analysis.

It is possible that this difference can be explained merely by the target group -- Maxim is targeted primarily at singles who wish they had a mate, and Woman's Day is targeted at older women who already know better. However, this cynical interpretation is not the only one possible. If one looks closer at the content of the ads, on might develop a more tragic interpretation. There are some more facts that may shed light on the case. 16% of ads dealing with women involve food -- this constitutes 88% of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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