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«Citation: Chan, K. and Cheng, Y. (2012). Portrayal of females in magazine advertisements in Hong Kong, Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 22(1), ...»

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Portrayal of females in magazine advertisements in Hong Kong

Dr. Kara Chan


Department of Communication Studies

Hong Kong Baptist University

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Tel: (852) 3411 7836 Fax: (852) 3411 7890

email: karachan@hkbu.edu.hk

Yolanda Cheng

Hong Kong Baptist University

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong


Keywords: gender portrayal, cultivation, content analysis, print advertisements, Asian stereotypes


Chan, K. and Cheng, Y. (2012). Portrayal of females in magazine advertisements in Hong Kong, Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 22(1), 78-96.

JAPC Dec 2011.doc 1 Portrayal of females in magazine advertisements in Hong Kong Abstract A content analysis was conducted to examine the portrayal of beauty types and occupational roles of female figures in magazine advertisements. A systematic random sample of 215 advertisements from a popular lifestyle magazine in Hong Kong was analyzed. Results provide evidence of gender role stereotypes. Two thirds of the advertisements adopted classic/feminine beauty type. The other two common beauty types were sex kitten and casual.

Over-representation of Caucasian models was found as one-third of the female figures were Caucasian and other minorities. Caucasian models were more likely to be portrayed in trendy beauty type. Over half of the advertisements portrayed females in decorative roles and thirty percent portrayed females as celebrities. Recreational roles and professional roles were featured less frequently. Advertisements for products target females were more gender stereotyped than advertisements for products target males and females. The lack of variety in beauty types and occupational roles among female figures were discussed.

2 Introduction Extensive research has been done on the issue of gender roles in adult advertising and has supported the stereotyped portrayal of the two genders in television advertising (Dominick & Rausch, 1972; Flitterman, 1983; Livingstone & Green, 1986; Manstead & McCulloch, 1981). Consistently, female characters are associated with domestic products and home setting, while men are associated with non-domestic products and out-of-home settings. The female gender-role stereotypes in advertising include lack of female roles actively participating in sports, as well as depicting women predominantly in family and home-oriented roles, decorative and non-functioning entities. The phenomenon has been witnessed for many years, and has remained the same in the recent years (Cheng, 1997; Frith, Cheng & Shaw, 2004; Furnham & Mak, 1999; Furnham & Paltzer, 2010; Kang, 1996; Wolin, 2003).

Research on gender stereotyping in children’s advertising also found similar results as that among advertising for adults in the United States as well as in other countries, such as Australia (Browne, 1998; Mazzella, Durkin, Cerini & Buralli, 1992), Britain (Furnham & Schofield, 1986), Canada (Rak & McMullen, 1987), Italy (Furnham & Voli, 1989) and Hong Kong (Chan & Yik, 2001). Evidence of existing cross-cultural research supports universality rather than cultural specificity of gender stereotyping.

Hong Kong, with its unique strategic position in business, finance, and information in the world, is a meeting point of the Eastern and Western cultures. Hong Kong is one of the most urbanized cities in the Pacific Rim and the per capita advertising expenditure is similar in level to the United States, one of the major advertising markets (Frith & Mueller, 2003). Hong Kong’s advertising endorses western values and is significantly different from advertisements from Taiwan and Mainland China (Chan & Cheng, 2002; Tse, Belk & Zhou, 1989). Several studies of gender portrayal in television advertisements in Hong Kong have been conducted (Chan & Yik,

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gender portrayal of female figures in magazine advertisements in Hong Kong. Magazine reading is a common leisure activity in Hong Kong. Weekly magazines ranked the fourth in terms of media coverage, after television, the internet, and newspapers (The Nielsen Company, 2009). Fifty-four percent of respondents aged 12 to 34 reported that they read weekly magazines in the past week (The Nielsen Company, 2009). A survey of media usage among 7,570 adolescents in Hong Kong reported that over one third of respondents read newspapers, magazines, comics, and books to increase their knowledge (Sivan, Fung, & Fung, 2008).

Magazines were often used by adolescents for information about adolescent experience, sexuality and femininity, interpersonal relationship, and the value of success through physical beauty. Magazine contents and images played a significant role in construction of self-identity among adolescents (Evans et al., 1991; Kaplan & Cole, 2003). Seeing the importance of magazines in the Hong Kong media scene and among adolescents, the current study attempts to examine the contemporary gender role portrayal and beauty images of magazine advertisements in Hong Kong. It contributes to the understanding of the gender role portray in an underresearched but important medium in Hong Kong, a society that is influenced by both East and the West cultures.

Literature review Advertising provides images and language that are relevant to its target audience while keep pace with specific cultural, economic and social changes (Zhang, Srisupandit & Cartwright, 2009).

However, advertising is a “distorted mirror” (Pollay, 1986) as it serves the interests of the advertisers by portraying selected lifestyles and values considered to be beneficial to the advertisers. For example, a content analysis study found that many traditional Confucian values such as humility,

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Gender role stereotyping as a communication strategy was often used by advertisers to establish a shared experience of identification with the consumers (Hovland et al., 2005). These stereotypes include portrayal of young and physically appealing women, as well as portrayal of women in decorative roles or as sex objects. Over the past decades, content analyses of television programs, television commercials and print advertisements have found that women are underrepresented and portrayed in stereotyped roles (Cheng, 1997; Courtney & Whipple, 1983;

Furnham, Mak, & Tanidjojo, 2000; Furnham & Paltzer, 2010). Most of the studies on gender role portrayals have been conducted in Western cultures (Kim & Lowry, 2005). There are few empirical studies on beauty types and gender role portrayals in Asian advertisements. Many scholars argue that Asian cultures are different because of the long-standing values concerning families and human relations (Zhao, 1997). As an example, Cheng (1997) reported women in Chinese television commercials wore less sexually suggestive clothing than did women in U.S. advertisements.

Culture and gender portrayal Different cultures foster different gender-specific behaviors (Matsumoto, 2000). Williams and Best (1990) proposed the “traditional” vs. “ egalitarian” gender role ideologies to differentiate cultures according to their degrees of endorsement of traditional gender norms. Traditional role ideology viewed men as superior over women, and egalitarian role ideology considered men and women as equals and equally important (Williams & Best, 1990). Egalitarian scores were found to be high in the Netherlands, Germany, and Finland where less differentiation was found between males and females. Williams and Best (1990) concluded that egalitarian gender ideologies would be found in countries with relatively high social economical development, a high proportion of

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proportion of women enrolled in universities, and a greater degree of individualism.

Furnham and Mak (1999) conducted a meta-analysis of fourteen studies in eleven countries on five continents over 25 years (1975-1999) on the issue of gender-role stereotyping of television commercials. It showed that gender-role stereotyping of television commercials was consistent across different countries. The meta-analysis concluded that a majority of the studies showed gender

stereotypes. It was characterized by the following patterns:

1. Males were frequently shown as the authoritative central figures, with females frequently shown as product users.

2. Males always played the roles as interviewers or professionals whereas females were confined as dependent roles.

3. Females were consistently shown as younger than males.

4. Females were more often portrayed at home while males were more often portrayed in outdoor settings.

5. Males were shown to be associated with pleasurable rewards, while females were more likely to be associated with social approval and self-enhancement.

6. Males were shown selling automobiles and sports products while females were always related with home and personal care products products.

7. When there were end comments in the commercials, it was more likely that male characters offered such end comments.

Furnham and Paltzer (2010) reviewed 30 content analysis studies in over 20 countries since 2000 and found similar patterns of gender stereotypes.

Regarding content analysis of gender portrayal of advertisements in Hong Kong, the first published study traced back to the 1990s. Siu (1996) conducted a content analysis of 434 Hong Kong

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and women were more likely to be portrayed as product users. A content analysis of 341 print advertisements in Hong Kong youth magazines found that female characters were more likely to be featured in home setting, as wives or mothers, and featured in passive roles. Female characters were also found less frequently as professionals than male characters (Chau, 1997). The author concluded that females’ participation in the labor market had not brought about any fundamental changes in the patriarchal ideology that has been dominating the Hong Kong society (Chau, 1997).

A content analysis of 175 Hong Kong television commercials found significant gender differences in mode of presentation, basis for credibility, role, reward type, location, age, product type, background and end comments. Men were more frequently depicted as central figures in Hong Kong’s television commercials. Males were more likely to be voiceovers and to be authoritative endorsers. Females were more frequently portrayed visually and as product users (Furham, Mak, & Tanidjojo, 2000). In a study of 137 children commercials in Hong Kong, voice-overs were maledominated even for products targeting both boys and girls. Aggressive behaviors were exhibited by boys only. The gender stereotypes were attributed to the low level of market segmentation (Chan & Yik, 2001). A qualitative study of toy commercials in Hong Kong found that boys expressed aggressiveness through adventures and challenges while girls expressed femininity through housework and high concern with beauty (Wong, 1997). However, another study of 45 television commercials found that gender role difference was not significant in food and beverage advertisements in Hong Kong (Furnham & Li, 2008).

Regarding gender beauty type, Ashmore (1994) found that classic/feminine, exotic/sensual, and trendy beauty types were the three most prevalent beauty types in U.S. magazine advertisements.

Another study comparing beauty types of female figures in fashion magazine advertising and music videos on television found that different beauty types appear disproportionately across different

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Solomon, & Ashmore, 1994). A study of female images in magazine advertisements in Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States found that Western models were more often shown in sensual/sexy beauty type while Asian models were more often shown in classic beauty type (Frith, Cheng, & Shaw, 2004). Scholars argued that female roles and beauty types are created by social norms and cultural perspectives. It also becomes an integral part to the audience to establish her self-image (Fung, 2002; Solomon et al., 1992).

Many researchers have argued that these stereotyped patterns of male and female portrayals on television and the print media can convey certain messages (or beliefs) about the genders to the viewers. The cultivation theory proposed that heavy television viewers were more likely to perceive media portrayals as reality (Gerbner, Cross, Morgan, Signorielli, & Shanahan, 2002). A study conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that children in Hong Kong were profoundly influenced by gender stereotypes, affecting choices from selection of school subjects to career aspirations (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2000). Previous studies indicated that reading of women’s magazines and television viewing was correlated with respondents’ dissatisfaction with their bodies (Prendergast & Leung, 1999). Women often referred to popular magazines when forming their self-identities (Fung, 2002). A typology of modern women images in Chinese magazine advertisements was proposed, including the feminine ideal, the cultured nurturer, the strong woman, the flower vase, and the urban sophisticate (Hung, Li, & Belk, 2007). A reader response study found that Chinese young women used a variety of interpretive strategies and selfreferencing responses to incorporate these modern women images. In the study, interviewees accepted Western forms of femininity characterized by independence and self-sufficiency. However, they rejected overt displays of sexuality. They tended to infuse the ideal feminine images with

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chastity, determination, and hard work (Hung, Li, & Belk, 2007).

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