Sex Roles

, Volume 64, Issue 3–4, pp 238–252 | Cite as

Fifty Years of Advertising Images: Some Changing Perspectives on Role Portrayals Along with Enduring Consistencies

  • John Mager
  • James G. HelgesonEmail author
Original Article


Content analysis is used to evaluate portrayals of women and men in United States magazine advertisements over a 50-year period, 1950 through 2000. We examine 7,912 portrayals of people in 3,212 advertisements from the time period and analyze changes in those advertisements relative to transitions in feminism and cultural trends. Magazines from representative categories provided the sample data. Over the period studied, magazine advertising showed a trend toward objective role portrayals of women fairly equal to men. This trend perhaps resulted from feminist’s positioning women in the public as well as the private sphere. Women were still subordinated to men in more subtle aspects of advertisements, measured by Goffman’s (1979) cultural positioning framework. Sexual exploitation of both sexes was noticed.


Advertising depictions Feminist theory Sexual exploitation of women Subordination of women Content analysis 



The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge the valuable assistance of Linda Summers-Hoskins during the early stages of this project.


  1. Adbusters (2001). Manufacturing desire.
  2. Baudrillard, J. (1990). The transparency of evil: Essays on extreme phenomenon. New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  3. Belkaoui, A., & Belkaoui, J. M. (1976). A comparative analysis of the roles portrayed by women in print advertisements: 1958, 1970, 1972. Journal of Marketing Research, 13, 168–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Belknap, P., & Leonard, W. M., II. (1991). A conceptual replication and extension of Erving Goffman’s study of gender advertisements. Sex Roles, 25, 103–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berger, J. (1972). Ways of seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Hammondsport, U.K.: Penguin.Google Scholar
  6. Bordo, S. (1999). The male body: A new look at men in private. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.Google Scholar
  7. Budgeon, S. (1994). Fashion magazine advertising: Constructing femininity in the ‘postfeminist’ era. In L. Manca & A. Manca (Eds.), Gender and utopia in advertising: A critical reader (pp. 55–70). Lisle: Procopian Press.Google Scholar
  8. Courtney, A. E., & Lockeretz, S. W. (1971). A woman’s place: An analysis of the roles portrayed by women in magazine advertisements. Journal of Marketing Research, 13, 92–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coward, R. (1985). Female desires: How they are sought, bought and packaged. New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
  10. Coward, R. (1987). “Sexual liberation” and the family. In R. Betterton (Ed.), Looking on: Images of femininity in the visual arts and media (pp. 55–66). New York: Pandora.Google Scholar
  11. Culley, J. D., & Bennett, R. (1976). Selling women, selling blacks. The Journal of Communication, 26, 160–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dee, J. (1985). Myths and mirrors: A qualitative analysis of violence against women in mainstream advertising. Educational Resources Information Center database document # ED292139.Google Scholar
  13. Devereaux, M. (1990). Oppressive texts, resisting readers, and the gendered spectator: The new aesthetics. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 48, 337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dominick, J. R. (1979). The Portrayal of Women in Prime time, 1953–1979. Sex Roles, 5, 405–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dominick, J. R., & Rauch, G. E. (1972). The image of women in network TV commercials. Journal of Broadcasting, 16, 259–265.Google Scholar
  16. Ferguson, J. H., Kreshel, P. J., & Tinkham, S. F. (1990). In the pages of Ms.: Sex role portrayals of women in advertising. Journal of Advertising, 19, 40–51.Google Scholar
  17. Fetterley, J. (1977). The resisting reader: A feminist approach to American fiction. Bloomington: U. of Indiana.Google Scholar
  18. Ford, J. B., & LaTour, M. S. (1993). Differing reactions to female role portrayals in advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 33, 43–52.Google Scholar
  19. Ganahl, D. J., & Prinsen T. J. (2001). Prime time television commercials: A virtual never land of missed social and economic opportunity. Paper presented at the Broadcast Educator Association Conference, Las Vegas, NV.Google Scholar
  20. Gilly, M. C. (1988). Sex roles in advertising: A comparison of television advertisements in Australia, Mexico and the United States. Journal of Marketing, 52, 75–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goffman, E. (1979). Gender advertisements. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  22. Gutwill, S. (1994). Women’s eating problems: Social context and the internalization of culture. In C. Bloom, A. Gitter, S. Gutwill, L. Kogel, & L. Zaphiropoulos (Eds.), Eating problems: A feminist psychoanalytic treatment model (pp. 1–27). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  23. Healy, M. (1994). The mark of a man. Critical Quarterly, 36, 86–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holbrook, M. B. (1987). Mirror, mirror on the wall, what’s unfair in the reflections on advertising. Journal of Marketing, 51, 95–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kang, M. (1997). The portrayal of women’s images in magazine advertisements: Goffman’s gender analysis revisited. Sex Roles, 37, 979–997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kang, N., Kara, A., Laskey, H. A., & Seaton, F. B. (1993). A SAS macro for calculating intercoder agreement in content analysis. Journal of Advertising, 22, 18–23.Google Scholar
  27. Klassen, M., Jasper, C. R., & Schwartz, A. M. (1993). Men and women: Images of their relationships in magazine advertisements. Journal of Advertising Research, 33, 30–39.Google Scholar
  28. Krassas, N. R., Blauwkamp, J. M., & Wesselink, P. (2001). Boxing Helena and corseting Eunice: Sexual rhetoric in cosmopolitan and playboy magazines. Sex Roles, 44, 751–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Krippendorff, K. (1980). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  30. Lasch, C. (1984). The minimal self. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  31. LaTour, M. S. (1990). Female nudity in print advertising: An analysis of gender differences in arousal and ad response. Psychology and Marketing, 7, 65–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lindner, K. (2004). Images of women in general interest and fashion magazine advertisements from 1955 to 2002. Sex Roles, 51, 409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lysonski, S. (1983). Female and male portrayals in magazine advertisements: A reexamination. Akron Business Review, 14, 45–50.Google Scholar
  34. Macdonald, M. (1995). Representing women: Myths of femininity in the popular media. London: Edward Arnold.Google Scholar
  35. Macdonald, M. (2004). From Mrs. Happyman to kissing chaps goodbye: Advertising reconstructs femininity. In C. Carter & L. Steiner (Eds.), Critical readings: Media and gender (pp. 41–67). Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Marketer’s Guide to Media (1992). New York, NY: Adweek, Inc.Google Scholar
  37. McArthur, L. Z., & Resko, B. G. (1975). The portrayal of men and women in American television commercials. The Journal of Social Psychology, 97, 209–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nunnally, J., & Bernstein, I. (1994). Psychometric theory. New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  39. O’Donnell, W. J., & O’Donnell, K. J. (1978). Update: Sex-role messages in TV commercials. The Journal of Communication, 28, 156–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Piirto, R. (1989). The romantic sell. American Demographics, 11, 38–41.Google Scholar
  41. Pollay, R. W. (1986). The distorted mirror: Reflections on the unintended consequences of advertising. Journal of Marketing, 50, 18–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Reichert, T., & Lambiase, J. (Eds.). (2003). Sex in advertising: Perspectives on the erotic appeal. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  43. Reichert, T., Lambiase, J., Morgan, S., Carstarphen, M., & Zavoina, S. (1999). Beefcake or cheesecake? No matter how you slice it, sexual explicitness in advertising continues to increase. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 76, 7–20.Google Scholar
  44. Rudman, W. J., & Verdi, P. (1993). Exploitation: Comparing sexual and violent imagery of females and males in advertising. Women & Health, 20(4), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rust, R. T., & Cooil, B. (1994). Reliability measures for qualitative data: Theory and implications. Journal of Marketing Research, 31, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schneider, K. C., & Schneider, S. B. (1979). Trends in television commercials. Journal of Marketing, 50, 79–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Severn, J., Belch, G. E., & Belch, M. A. (1990). The effects of sexual and non-sexual advertising appeals and information level on cognitive processing and communication effectiveness. Journal of Advertising, 19, 14–22.Google Scholar
  48. Sexton, D. E., & Haberman, P. (1974). Women in magazine advertisements. Journal of Advertising Research, 14, 41–46.Google Scholar
  49. Shields, V. R. (1997). Selling the sex that sells: Mapping the evolution of gender advertising research across three decades. Communication Yearbook, 20, 71–109.Google Scholar
  50. Soley, L., & Kurzbard, G. (1986). Sex in advertising: A comparison of 1964 and 1984 magazine ads. Journal of Advertising, 15, 45–54.Google Scholar
  51. Soley, L., & Reid, L. (1988). Taking it off: Are models in magazine ads wearing less? Journalism Quarterly, 65, 960–966.Google Scholar
  52. Standard rate and data: Consumer magazine and agri-media source. (1990). U.S. Consumer Magazines. Wilmette, IL: Standard Rate and Data Service.Google Scholar
  53. Stern, B. (1993). Feminist literary criticism and the deconstruction of advertisements: A post modern view of advertising and consumer responses. Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 556–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sullivan, G. L., & O’Connor, P. J. (1988). Women’s role portrayals in magazine advertising: 1958–1983. Sex Roles, 18, 181–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tinkham, S. F., & Reid, L. N. (1988). Sex appeal in advertising revisited: Validation of a typology. In J. D. Leckenby (Ed.), Proceedings of the American Academy of Advertising (pp. 118–123). Austin: University of Texas at Austin.Google Scholar
  56. Tuchman, G. (1978). The symbolic annihilation of women by the mass media. In G. Tuchman, A. K. Daniels, & J. W. Benet (Eds.), Hearth and Home: Images of women in the mass media (pp. 3–38). New York: Oxford.Google Scholar
  57. Umiker-Sebeok, J. (1996). Power and construction of gendered spaces. International Review of Sociology, 6, 389–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wagner, L. C., & Banos, J. B. (1973). A woman’s place: A follow-up analysis of the roles portrayed by women in magazine advertisements. Journal of Marketing Research, 19, 213–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Walters, S. D. (1992). Lives together/worlds apart: Mothers and daughters in popular culture. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U. of California.Google Scholar
  60. Walters, S. D. (1995). Material girls: Making sense of feminist cultural theory. Berkeley: U. of California.Google Scholar
  61. Winship, J. (1987). Handling sex. In R. Betterton (Ed.), Looking on: Images of femininity in the visual arts and media (pp. 25–41). London and New York: Pandora.Google Scholar
  62. Wolin, L. D. (2003). Gender issues in advertising: An oversight synthesis of research 1970–2002. Journal of Advertising Research, 43, 111–129.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Management Department, College of Business and Public AdministrationEastern Washington UniversityCheneyUSA
  2. 2.School of Business AdministrationGonzaga UniversitySpokaneUSA

Personalised recommendations