Does advertising influence society, or is it merely a
reflection of society’s pre-existing norms? Where male attitudes are concerned,
a new study implicates magazine advertisements specifically aimed at men as
helping to reinforce a certain set of views on masculinity termed
“hyper-masculinity.” The article by Megan Vokey, a Ph.D. candidate from the
University of Manitoba, and colleagues is published in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.
Hyper-masculinity is an extreme form of masculine gender
ideology comprised of four main components: toughness, violence, dangerousness
and calloused attitudes toward women and sex. The authors found that hyper-masculine
depictions of men, centred on this cluster of beliefs, appear to be common
place in magazine advertisements.
How the research was
Using a range of eight, high-circulation magazines marketed
to men of different ages, levels of education and income (e.g. Golf Digest to
Game Informer), Vokey and her colleagues analysed the ads in each magazine
where a photograph, picture or symbol of a man was shown. The researchers then
categorized these advertisements using the four components that constitute
They found that at least one of these hyper-masculine
attitudes was depicted in 56% of the total sample of 527 advertisements. In
some magazines, this percentage was as high as 90%.
Vokey’s results are consistent with considerable prior
research showing a positive association between hyper-masculine beliefs and a
host of social and health problems, such as dangerous driving, drug use and
violence towards women. Further analysis of the data showed that magazines with
the highest proportion of hyper-masculine advertisements were those aimed at
younger, less-affluent and less-educated men.
The authors argue that this is an area of real concern as
young men are still learning appropriate gender behaviours, and their beliefs
and attitudes can be subtly shaped by images that the mass media repeatedly
represent. In addition, men with lower social and economic power are already
more likely to use a façade of toughness and physical violence as methods of
gaining power and respect. These advertisements are thought to help reinforce
the belief that this is desirable behaviour.
The authors conclude, “The widespread depiction of
hyper-masculinity in men’s magazine advertising may be detrimental to both men
and society at large. Although theoretically, men as a group can resist the
harmful aspects of hyper-masculine images, the effects of such images cannot be
escaped completely.” They add that educating advertisers about the potential
negative consequences of their advertising may help reduce the use of these