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Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, May 1997 v36 n9-10 p551(22)

Advertising's effects on men's gender role attitudes. Jennifer Garst; Galen V. Bodenhausen.

Author's Abstract: COPYRIGHT 1997 Plenum Publishing Corporation

We posited that media images of men influence the gender role attitudes that men express soon after exposure to the images. A total of 212 men (87% European American, 7% Asian or Asian American, 3% African American, and 3% other) viewed magazine advertisements containing images of men that varied in terms of how traditionally masculine vs. androgynous they were and whether the models were the same age or much older than the viewers. Men who had initially been less traditional espoused more traditional attitudes than any other group after exposure to traditionally masculine models, although they continued to endorse relatively nontraditional views after exposure to androgynous models. These findings suggest that nontraditional men's gender role attitudes may be rather unstable and susceptible to momentary influences such as those found in advertising.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1997 Plenum Publishing Corporation In the average American household, the television is turned "on" for almost seven hours each day, and the typical adult or child watches two to three hours of television per day. It is estimated that the average child sees 360,000 advertisements by the age of eighteen (Harris, 1989). Due to this extensive exposure to mass media depictions, the media's influence on gender role attitudes has become an area of considerable interest and concern in the past quarter century. Analyses of gender portrayals have found predominantly stereotypic portrayals of dominant males and nurturant females within the contexts of advertisements (print and television), magazine fiction, newspapers, child-oriented print media, textbooks, literature, film, and popular music (Busby, 1975; Durkin, 1985a; Leppard, Ogletree, & Wallen, 1993; Lovdal, 1989; Pearson, Turner, & Todd-Mancillas, 1991; Rudman & Verdi, 1993; Signorielli & Lears, 1992). Most of the research to date on the effects of gender-role images in the media has focused primarily on the female gender role. A review of research on men in the media suggests that, except for film literature, the topic of masculinity has not been addressed adequately (Fejes, 1989). Indeed, as J. Katz (1995) recently noted, "there is a glaring absence of a thorough body of research into the power of cultural images of masculinity" (p. 133). Katz suggests that studying the impact of advertising represents a useful place to begin addressing this lacuna.

Of the few existing studies, a longitudinal content analysis of nine magazines in 1959, 1969, and 1979, found that advertisements featuring men are slowly moving toward decreased gender role stereotyping. However, in traditionally male magazines such as Esquire and Field & Stream, the proportion of advertisements depicting men in "manly" activities did not decrease as much as it did in traditionally female and general interest magazines (Skelly & Luridstrom, 1981; see also England & Gardner, 1983). In fact, Jacobson and Mazur (1995) posit that current advertising promotes a "masculine ideal" that encourages men to "exude an aura of physical strength, power, dominance, and detachment" and to "repress, and loath, their 'feminine' traits (such as vulnerability and compassion)" (p. 80). Thus, although there may be some trends toward less stereotypic images of masculinity in advertising in some print genres, the traditional, agentic man is still a ubiquitous positive cultural representation.


Although media researchers have typically been interested in relatively enduring attitudinal consequences of media exposure, recent research suggests it may be more fruitful to focus on the short-term impact of viewing media depictions. Wilson and Hodges (1992; see also Schwarz & Bless, 1992a) proposed that individuals' attitudes can vary, depending on the current context and the information that is salient in it. For instance, research has shown that incidental exposure to a well-liked African American celebrity, such as Oprah Winfrey or Michael Jordan, can influence subsequently reported racial attitudes (Bodenhausen, Schwarz, Bless, & Wanke, 1995). Likewise, Schwarz and Bless (1992b) have found that activating thoughts about politicians who had been involved in a scandal influenced respondents' subsequent evaluations of politicians' trustworthiness in general, as well as the trustworthiness of specific politicians. It is thus quite plausible that mediated exemplars can have at least a transitory impact on social beliefs and attitudes.

For many relatively complex attitudinal topics, including gender role attitudes, people are likely to possess a mixture of relevant knowledge and beliefs, not all of which are mutually compatible (Wilson & Hodges, 1992; Smith, 1992). The attitude that one holds at any given time will depend in part on which subset of information is most salient at the moment. Although these context-induced attitudinal shifts may not always be of great magnitude, they indicate that attitudes are relatively dynamic entities. Rather than simply residing in some fixed form in memory, they appear to be constructed "on the fly," at least in part, on the basis of currently salient considerations. Shifts in attitudes would be expected to be particularly noticeable when greater ambiguity or ambivalence characterizes the issue in question. In contemporary society, messages about appropriate standards for male behavior are mixed at best. Some socializing influences emphasize the importance of traditionally masculine, agentic qualities, while others emphasize the desirability of developing the communal side of the male psyche. It is thus quite plausible that for many men, attitudes about appropriate male behavior are based on somewhat conflicting ideas and prescriptions. For this reason, these attitudes may be susceptible to momentary influences that emphasize either more traditional or less traditional images of masculinity.

Schwarz and Bless (1992a) offer an "inclusion/exclusion model" to study the context dependency of attitudinal judgments. Applied in the current context, the model implies that when viewers see media images of men, their subsequent judgments about the male role may be assimilated toward that particular media image if the viewers incorporate the image into their current understanding, or representation, of the male role. However, if the viewers exclude a certain male media image



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