Readers, Writers, Texts

Either/Or: Gender in Advertising

In the advertising world, images of men and women are used to promote products of all kinds. Each of us is enculturated. This is a lifelong process in which our identities are formed. Through enculturation we learn many things. Not least, perhaps, we learn gendered identities of what it is to be a man or a woman, and we learn those behaviours that, broadly speaking, society encourages, sanctions, or condemns. It is through language that a great deal of enculturation occurs. Language works to reflect social life, but it also exists as a social fact to construct it. This is not, of course, to suggest that enculturation wholly determines individual identity, or to deny the possibility of cultural change.

You arguably might expect images of the body to be used in advertisements for, say, beauty products or cosmetics. But the bodies of men and women are used to sell a far wider range of items, from alcohol, to cars, to household appliances! In this section we are going to focus on the way adverts create representations of both men and women, and see how the repetition of these images can shape cultural values and expectations about what it means to be a man or a woman, and shape our unrealistic perceptions of beauty and sex too. 


In Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity, Jackson Katz and Jeremy Earp argue that the media provide an important perspective on social attitudes – and that while the media are not the cause of violent behaviour in men and boys, they do portray male violence as a normal expression of masculinity.

In 1999, Children Now, a California-based organization that examines the impact of media on children and youth, released a report entitled Boys to Men: Media Messages About Masculinity (see below for full article). The report argues that the media’s portrayal of men tends to reinforce men’s social dominance. The report observes that: the majority of male characters in media are heterosexual; male characters are more often associated with the public sphere of work, rather than the private sphere of the home; non-white male characters are more likely to experience personal problems and are more likely to use physical aggression or violence to solve those problems.

Studying the articles and texts in this section will help us determine to what extent these stereotypes are prevalent in advertising:

Learner Portfolio

  1. Select a text (this could be literary or non-literary, and may include visual texts such as advertisements, TV shows or films). Write a one-two page analysis of the representation of prominent men or male characters in the text.


‘Sex sells” is an oft-heard adage in the advertising world, where nudity, suggestion and unrealistic models are used to promote products of all kinds. In this section you will learn how women’s bodies are repeatedly objectified, trivialized, dismembered and sexualized for mass consumption. Watch Jean Kilbourne’s excellent talk and read a couple of the articles below to understand what these terms all mean:

Learner Portfolio

Write a letter to the editor of a popular magazine in which you have seen a range of adverts which represent women in a certain way. Elucidate why you feel the magazine is promoting dangerous stereotypes.

You might like to read this brilliant piece, written by a student in response to a task like this.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: Magazine Covers and Ads

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Below are two sets of resources: Magazine covers based on the theme of powerful women and Magazine ads representing men in stereotypical way. Work with these texts separately, making sure to note down the various tropes of each text type. Add the texts to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam:

Body of Work: Dove Real Women


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