Gender Roles and Stereotypes in Advertising

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Theoretical Framework

In the following chapter we will define important terms and theories that form the basis of our theoretical framework and furthermore, how they are related to each other.
According to Ashmore and Del Boca (in Zotos & Tsichla, 2014) gender stereotypes are generalizations about what certain characteristics that represent and describe either femininity or masculinity. Where advertisement is one of the strongest forces as ideal building when portraying and suggesting lifestyles and characteristics that individuals use to define themselves as gender and in their social role (Giddens & Wolf in Plakoyiannaki & Zotoz, 2009). In the 1960´s the feminists arouse the discussion and research about the portrayal of female stereotypes in popular media. The discussion suggested that the main source for creating and indorsing a misrepresenting female stereotype and sexualization was through advertisements in popular media (Plakoyiannaki & Zotos, 2009).
Our theoretical framework is going to be built upon and defined through sexualization, the gaze and gender. Further, our approach will have its base within stereotyping, feminist theory and gender theory. We will through feminist theory be able to analyze and discuss social inequality between genders and advertisers misrepresentation and sexualization of females. Gender theory will conduce our discussion of gender identity and representation. Moreover, how advertising affect the process and neutralization of sexualization of women within the society. The use of stereotypes will help us embody the different, socially accepted, socially reinforced portrayals of females in the advertisements.


The following chapter includes the definitions of the key terms sexualization and the gaze, which includes the female gaze and the male gaze. These terms are used as endorsement to our framework.


The term sexualization can both be defined as healthy sexuality, which is of necessity when it comes to physical and mental health, but also as negative sexualization when excluding all characteristics but the body and seeing the person as an object rather than subject (APA, 2010). Our theoretical framework is primarily going to rely on the following definition and four characteristics of the term sexualization:

  1. A person’s value comes from his or her sexual appeal or behaviour, to the exclusion of other characteristics.
  2. A person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness with being sexy.
  3. A person is sexually objectified; that is, made into a thing for other’s sexual use, rather than seen as a person with capacity for independent action and decision-making.
  4. Sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person (APA, 2010, p. 1)

According to APA (2010) only one of the characteristics hasto be present for it to be a subject of sexualization.
Furthermore, according to Plakoyiannaki and Zotos (2009) sexualization emerge when women are represented as inferior when related to her capabilities and potential, generating in a patronizing female ideal. These cases are often symbolized as giving the woman aclichéd, traditional role and/or decorative part in the advertisement (Zotos & Tsichla, 2014). These traditional portrayals can moreover be related to retro-­‐sexism, which is a phenomenon that partly is based on the aspects of femininity as something related to the traditional roles such as adherence to household tasks, or forexample; the stereotypical mother (ibid). In addition to APA’s (2010) definition of sexualization, we will also include these traditional, clichéd and decorative representations to the term to be able to analyse the advertisements with a wider perspective.
In conclusion our study is going to rely onthe APA’s definition of sexualization; as the sexual objectification of women, and moreover how they are represented as inferior in relation to their actual competency and as having traditional roles and decorative parts in advertisements. Our theoretical framework will include the term sexualization to analyze and discuss how females are portrayed stereotypically and sexually in advertisements within Mexican magazines.

The Gaze

Within the gender research the gaze is defined as the objectifying gaze, which is centered around and has its base in power relations (Eriksson & Göthlund, 2004). According to Mulvey (in Eriksson & Göthlund, 2004) different gazes are coded and connoted as masculine or feminine. The gaze theory and the view on the contemplation are assumed to be coded dependent on the attribute of gender. Therefore, the gaze is strongly embodied to femininity and masculinity (ibid). Our theoretical framework will include the term of the gaze as it helps us analyze how the women are portrayed. Below follow definitions of the female versus the male gaze, which will be included in the term of gaze as it gives a deeper theoretical approach when analyzing the advertisements.

The female gaze

One stereotypical way of representing women in media is through closed eyes, having her gaze directed downwards and to the ground, or averted. This makes the female more easily accessible as an enjoyable object (Eriksson & Göthlund, 2004). The most significant with the female gaze in advertisement is the passiveness and the lack of power. Further, the stereotypical female gaze is self-objectifying, including female participation in the female sexualization. The female gaze in our theoretical framework will be studied as the definition of passive, powerless and self-objectifying. Throughout our analysis we will use this term in the discussion of how the females are portrayed in the advertisements.

The male gaze

The most significant to male gaze, in contrary to the female gaze, is the presence of power and ability to take action (Shroeder & Borgerson, 1998). In our theoretical framework the male gaze will be defined as the male viewer’s position and how the positioning of the male gaze is objectifying. Meaning, women are portrayed based on and as a result of expectations from the masculine viewer, which is incorporated in the values within the society and culture (Zetterman, 2004). The advertisements will therefore be studied with the theory of male gaze as objectifying and as an attribute that creates and upholds misleading female portrayal with sexualization as a consequence (Gervais, Holland & Dodd, 2013).
The male gaze in our study will be discussed through analyzing how the women are portrayed in advertisements with the male gaze in consideration and as a influencing factor to the portrayal. According to Shroeder and Borgerson (1998) the nudity (a part of sexualization) is “to be looked at, possessed, lusted after” (Shroeder & Borgerson, 1998, p. 171) and relate to how the male gaze has the power of action and the fact that images in advertisements are fixed in and a result of male gaze (Shroeder & Borgerson, 1998).



In the following part our theoretical foundation of feminist theory, gender theory and stereotypes will be defined and examined as our theoretical approach.

Feminist Theory

Throughout history women have had a subordinate role in the social power relationship between the genders. Feminism has emerged as an answer to the paradox and social movement with aim to empower women (Connell & Pearse, 2015). It has become one of the most essential and influential currents of the 20th century (Buchanan, 2010).
Feminism is a very complex, static and powerful term that evokes a lot of discussion and opinions amongst people in today’s society. Abbreviately feminism can be defined as an outgoing social movement that strives to emphasize gender inequality within cultures and to question the conception of women in traditional thought (Buchanan, 2010; Beasley, 1999). However, as mentioned above, the term has an ever-developing and expanding definition (Beasley, 1999).
The theoretical discourse of feminism is the feminist theory. The theory is broad but has its principal focus at social sciences and the humanities. As the term of feminism has a complication when it comes to definition, this is also the case with feminist theory. However, the theory has a core with four principal concerns that according to Buchanan (2010) are:

  1. To address the roots and causes of gender inequality
  2. Explain the propulsion and perservance within this condition
  3. Define strategies to either achieve total gender equality or yet moderate the impacts of the present inequality
  4. To narrate a world where gender inequality does not exist

Further, the dilemma and question that feminist theorists have carried out the most is why sexism still continues even though its main justification no longer exist (Buchanan, 2010). Because of the centrality of this question, the theory will be of highest relevance to our study and aim to investigate how women are stereotypically portrayed in advertisements. Moreover, how it can contribute to and reinforce the inequality within the Mexican culture.
According to Butler (Butler & Almqvist, 2007) one important basis of the feminist theory is the presumption that it exists a certain identity, which is conceived through the category of women and has emerged from representations. Another aspect would be representation as the normative function within a language that would either reveal or distort of what is assumed to be the truth about the category of women. In today’s society women are either misrepresented or not represented at all in language. To be able to favour the salience of women it is within the feminist theory essential to develop a language that fully or adequately represent women. Furthermore Butler addresses the importance of criticizing how the category of women both is created and has limits within cultural power structures (Butler & Almqvist, 2007).
The feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir claims that a woman becomes a woman through the cultural compulsion to be so. Further, women are defined through their, and as a, sex meanwhile men are seen as the bearer of the non-sex justified, universal virtue to be a human (Beauvoir, 2002). Our theoretical approach compasses the feminist theory’s and Beauvoir’s thoughts and defines advertisement as one of the subjects within “the cultural compulsion” that maintains the misrepresentation of women.
According to Feminism theorists advertising in popular media is one of the strongest forces of creating, maintaining and stimulating the female stereotypes and sexism. The misrepresentation of women was mainly focused on how women are portrayed as sex objects, “happy housewives”, themes of females as incompetent, portrayals of women’s dependency upon men and underrepresentation of working women (Courtney & Whipple, 1983). Our theoretical approach will through these hypotheses discuss how the women are portrayed in the advertisements within Mexican magazines and if stereotypical elements can be found.
As big part of the theorizing of feminism lies within the discipline of White women and Western culture the reflections will be grounded mainly in western theories and research but applied on a Latin American context.

Gender and Gender Theory

Gender derives from the Latin word genus, which according to Hirdman (2003) stands for kind, sort, race and sex. Within linguistics the word has been used to relate to a noun for he, she and it. The term gender is significant especially within feminism and gender studies as it can refer to and can be defined as something “bigger”, independently and set apart from the fixed sex. The term can for example be used with benefit when analyzing female subordination and to understand both men’s and women’s participation in it (Hirdman, 2003). Moreover, the term is conveniently used when wanting to lose the aspect of biological sex and the rolls that are expected from these. Instead gender is defined as neutral and refers to a social construction, which creates a term and tool that can be used when analyzing and discussing sex and gender rolls from a bigger, social perspective as it embodies the abstract concepts about masculinity and femininity. Further, gender includes the discussion of how femininity and masculinity are implied in contexts within politics, work, and parenting etcetera (ibid).

1. Introduction
1.1 Background and Problem Discussion
2. Aim and Question Formulations
2.1 Aim
2.2 Question Formulations
2.3 Importance of the Study
3. Research Survey 
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Gender Roles and Stereotypes in Advertising
3.3 Sexual Imagery and Sex Roles
3.4 The Portrayal of Women from Cultural Aspects
3.5 The Consequences of Sexualization
3.6 Conclusion
4. Theoretical Framework 
4.1 Terms
4.2 Theories
5. Method and Material 
5.1 Quantitative Content Analysis
5.2 Qualitative Text Analysis
5.3 Method Discussion
6. Result and Analysis 
6.1 Quantitative Result and Analysis
6.2 Qualitative Result and Analysis
7. Discussion 
Fair-skinned and Happy housewives How women are portrayed in advertisements in Mexican fashion magazines

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