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Stereotypes Of Men In Advertisements

.. t across these three looks, the casting of the models (especially in ‘Street Style’ and ‘Italian-American’ images) codes an ambivalent masculinity that combines both boyish softness and assertive masculinity. This sanctions the display of masculine sensuality. The clothes worn by the models are assertively masculine, and often emphasize a broad shouldered and solid body shape. The models display a highly masculine independence and assurance, as well as the coding of narcissistic self-absorption. The choice of lighting and film stock emphasizes the surface qualities of skin, hair, eyes and the texture of clothing.

Finally the cropping of the images works to produce intensity in many of the images. This stereotyped presentation of a gender role, certainly tells us that there is still a part of society that believes that men should be naturally related to power, aggression and authority. In recent years however, other aspects of masculinity have become acceptable in ads. This can be seen in the difference between the ads in Men’s Journal and those in Maxim. The ads from Maxim are similar to those from Men’s Journal but definitely appeal to a younger audience.

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It is therefore interesting to look at what advertisers feel is more appealing to younger men. There is one ad for Ralph Lauren Cologne that shows a young successful looking man in a shirt and tie looking over the top of the head of the women cuddling in his chest. She is looking into the camera seductively and he looks as though his mind is elsewhere. He is dominant, even arrogant in this position and once again appears successful and confident. Another ad from Maxim is for a DVD special edition of “Rocky.” The ad shows rocky beaten and worn but continuing to fight.

The copy reads “at least David had a slingshot.” This ad depicts the ultimate American sports hero. This appeals to men young and old. The other two ads show men at play. This is where we see a new type of masculinity, in ads that portray men as boys, childlike and irresponsible. This is actually very important, along with the fact that we see a lot of ads that are exclusively aiming at young boys. In the fifties and sixties there were actually none of those, since generally teenagers were considered as non-completed versions of grown ups. In most places in the world they were expected to wear specific clothing when they were in school and if they did not look like ‘proper young men’ when they went out they would be probably stigmatized by the rest of the society.

So ads with hair-gelled heroes with jeans and leather jackets were out of the question. It was only after movements like the hippies and the student movements all around the world, that teenagers were seen as an inside revolutionary power of the race, and their non-mature behavior was considered as something acceptable or even good. So now we have advertisements like the one from ‘O P’, from Maxim Magazine. He is a clean-shaven and handsome young man who has a hairless chest, and is looking innocent and idyllic. His clothes are for play and are particularly relevant to teen-agers and twenty-something males and what they might wear for a day at the park or the beach.

He is a ‘boy-man.’ Similar messages exist in ads where boys express their masculinity by acting crazily and in some ads where the men are seen as playful and slightly irresponsible. Some other researchers also suggest that the ‘man as boy’ style can be effective due to the way that in which they lull the audience into having a motherly love for the male character. The biggest decline though, from men’s traditional role as masculine and powerful is expressed in the advertisements that show men attempting to do housework chores and struggling with tasks traditionally viewed as female. I did not encounter any of this in the ads randomly selected for my study. Wernick identifies that as an increasing trend to depict male and female not as opposites, but as fluid categories that occupy equivalent places in society (Wernick: 1987, 280-293).

If this is in fact occurring, I did not encounter it. Wernick discusses the transitional kind of ads that are trying to make traditionally feminine work seem masculine, so that men can do it too. Of course, these kinds of ads really address women, since in most cases, they are the ones that are going to by the products. Wernick is reluctant to tread this as significant progress towards human liberation, and instead suspects it as no more than the leveling effect of market forces. The ads I viewed from women’s magazines did not seem to have any of this phenomenon.

These ads seemed to portray men in similar ways seen in the ads from the Men’s magazine, but more exaggerated and pronounced were then men’s dominance over the women and their aggressiveness. The first ad from harpers Bazaar shows a man staring off in the distance as a lingerie-clad woman appears bent almost over his knee. She is face down to the bed and he seems unconcerned with her. Another ad from Bazaar shows a room full of scantily clad, muscular men surrounding a vamp-type woman. They are all staring at her almost blankly as one of them grabs her by the waist. She is the only one looking into the camera.

Her look does not appear helpless but rather almost vacant, reinforcing the idea of herself as an object, to be handled and gawked at. The men in this room are the aggressors and seem to be participating in some sort of pseudo-sexual fantasy. This ad happened to be a part of a multi-page campaign of which I picked up two. The other is the same woman and the man grabbing her from the first picture is behind the glass door, staring at her forcefully. The pane of the glass is positioned an almost phallic manner and she once again is the object of his desire, and if we remember anything from the first ad, he can probably have her. In another ad from Bazaar, a very attractive man pulling his hair back and glaring seductively and aggressively into the camera.

This man is obviously a sex symbol and displays the masculine stereotypes of the forceful, attractive, dominant male. All of the ads I picked up from Allure featured a man and a woman. The first one I looked at was deceptive. At first glance it seemed opposing to stereotype. The woman is standing behind the man but the camera is shooting from behind.

She has a chain wrapped around the man who stands in front of her facing away from the camera and she seems to be the one in control. However upon closer examination I realized that it is still the man being portrayed as the pillar of strength in this ad. The chain is not a tool she is using to control him, but rather a symbol of his strength. She isn’t pulling on or manipulating it, but rather she is holding on to it; it is supporting her. All three other ads portray the man as either the aggressor, the protector, or the dominant one of the two people. Ads that target men (car, aftershave, alcohol etc.) still portray men as powerful and dominating creatures and point to traditional aspects of masculinity.

Maybe this bizarre landscape in the visual representation of masculinity reflects the underlying identity crisis for men who have started to question themselves of what is to be male. Ads that target women seem to not only present these stereotypes, but depict them in correlation with a man’s relationship to a woman. Sociology.


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