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The Congruity of Modern Male Gender Identity in Advertisements

Essay by   •  September 22, 2011  •  Case Study  •  1,878 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,888 Views

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Commercial radio channels, televisions, newspapers, magazines and the Internet have formed a natural part of people's lives and they are in one form or another prevalent in all countries across the globe. Corporations use different forms of mass media advertising to reach out to their existing and potential consumers, being men, women or children. As gender is the largest segmentation variable, in recent years, market researchers have substantial interest in gender-related research and in particular, the portrayal of gender identity in advertisements (Zawisza, Cinnirella & Zawadzka, 2006; Kaufman, 1999; Tan, Lee & Phua, 2002).

There are two types of gender identity that are being portrayed in advertisements, namely traditional gender identity and nontraditional gender identity. Most advertisements tend to portray gender identity in the former rather than the latter (Kaufman, 1999; Martin & Gnoth, 2009; Tan et al., 2002; Zawisza et al., 2006;).

Although many researchers (Tan, Lee & Phua, 2002; Wearden & Creedon, 2002) have done studies on the portrayal of female gender identity in advertisements in recent years, there is a shortage of studies that examines the portrayal of male gender identity (Zawisza et al., 2006). In a time when the gender identity of men is changing (Kaufman, 1999), is the traditional portrayal of gender identity in advertisements an accurate portrayal of modern societal male gender identity?

This paper shall seek to prove that the traditional male identity portrayed in advertisements is incongruent with modern nontraditional male gender identity.

Traditional Gender Identity and Gender Identity Congruity

Several different interpretations of "gender identity" have surfaced and this has caused confusion about the subject being studied. This paper defines gender identity as the degree to which individuals (both male and female) identify themselves with masculine and feminine personality traits (Feiereisen, Broderick & Douglas, 2009).

According to Bem (1974), the researcher who came up with the widely used Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) that measures an individual's level of masculinity and femininity, masculinity and femininity are "socially desirable instrumental traits (e.g. independence) and expressive traits (e.g. sensitivity)" respectively (as cited in Martin & Gnoth, 2009, p. 354). Masculine males and feminine females are traditional gender identities while cross-sex-typed individuals such as feminine males and masculine females are nontraditional gender identities (Feiereisen et al., 2009; Kaufman, 1999; Martin & Gnoth, 2009).

Orth & Holancova (2004) state that gender identity congruity is the extent to which the portrayal of gender in an advertisement corresponds with a consumer's gender identity (as cited in Feiereisen et al., 2009). Feiereisen et al. have also found that gender identity congruent advertisements are able to bring out positive consumer responses to them.

Feminine and Androgynous Male Model

In the print advertising industry, as claimed by Ganahl, Prinsen & Netzly (2003) in their content analysis on prime time commercials, advertisers tend to use traditional masculine male models instead of nontraditional feminine or androgynous male models (as cited in Martin & Gnoth, 2009).

However, some researchers have found that the portrayal of nontraditional gender identity in advertisements has greater appeal to consumers. According to Vantomme, Geuens, & Dewitte (2005) in their study of the portrayals of men and women in advertisements, consumers preferred the fictitious deodorant advertisements that featured nontraditional feminie or androgynous male models to the ones that featured traditional masculine male models (as cited in Zawisza et al., 2006). Garst & Bodenhousen (1997) further substantiated this in their findings on mock coffee and computer magazine advertisements where respondents perceived the androgynous male models more favourably than the traditional masculine male models (as cited in Kaufman, 1999). This suggests that the modern male gender identity is nontraditional.

As it can be seen, the masculine male models used to portray traditional male gender identity in advertisements do not correspond with the nontraditional gender identity of today's men. The failure of advertisements to portray gender identity congruent to their consumers' gender identity will result in consumers not identifying with the images shown. Wearden & Creedon (2002) suggest that, due to this reason, advertisers will change their male models accordingly.

Domesticated Husbands

Moving on, another aspect of male gender identity that has undergone change, but is not matched in advertisements, is men's family role. Portrayed as the breadwinner of the family in advertisements, men are often placed in professional occupation settings and shown as independent individuals (Allan & Coltrae, 1996; Courtney & Lockeretz, 1971; Ganahl, Kim & Netzley, 2003; as cited in Kim & Lowry, 2005). According to Furnham & Skae (1997), they are also very rarely presented at home and with children (as cited in Zawisza et al., 2006). These depictions of men in advertisements can be seen as traditional gender identities because they have high degrees of instrumental trait (independence) according to the masculinity definition.

Pleck's (1987) study on fathering from a historical perspective has suggested that the nontraditional notion of a domesticated family man has become increasingly popular as compared to the traditional notion of men as professionals and being featured outside of home (as cited in Kaufman, 1999). This point was further supported by Zawisza et al. (2006) in their observation that the portrayal of "househusband" in advertisements were better received than the portrayal of "traditional businessman" (p. 295). In addition, men are becoming more involved in the upbringing of their children (Lewis, 1988; as cited in Kaufman, 1999). The role of a domesticated family man can be implied as a nontraditional and feminine male gender identity because it is perceived as "dependent and submissive" (Zawisza et al.,2006, p. 293).

As mentioned, men tend to be shown as professionals and out of home, portraying traditional male gender identity in most advertisements. This is incongruent to the modern nontraditional male gender identity as today's men are actually receptive towards their domesticated family roles. This incongruity might not have any implication on the advertisers but in a time when men's roles are changing, it may cause real husbands and fathers to take the traditional men's family role portrayed

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