«Citation: Chan, K. and Cheng, Y. (2012). Portrayal of females in magazine advertisements in Hong Kong, Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 22(1), ...»
Gerbner’s cultivation theory proposed that values and portrayals in mass media such as television are capable of influencing or shaping viewers’ perception and attitudes (Gerbner et al., 2002). Media is an important socializing agent in the modern society. Children and youth may learn gender roles through observation and imitation. By observing members of their own sex and copying that behavior, children and youth can discover how they are supposed to behave. Media contents can contribute to children and youth’s learning process by providing a pool of available models for observation (Thompson & Zerbinos, 1997). A study using visual methodology found that girls aged 10 to 12 in Hong Kong learn about traditional as well as modernized feminine values from media images (Chan, Tufte, Cappello, & Williams, 2011).
Gender equality in Hong Kong Because of improvements in education, economic development, and the influence of the Western feminist movement, the status of women in Hong Kong has achieved significant improvements in the last two decades (Lee & Collins, 2008). In terms of social economical development and availability of education for women, Hong Kong is compatible with many western societies. The female labor participation rate for Hong Kong was 52 percent (Census and Statistics Department, 2006), which was lower than 56 percent in the U.S. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). The proportions of Protestant Christians and Muslims were both low (under five percent). As a former British colony, Hong Kong has laws protecting women from gender bias in terms of education, employment and pay package (Chan, 2000). Hong Kong provides nine-year free education to all children, both males and females, between the ages of six and fifteen. The proportion of females with tertiary education is similar to that of males (Census and Statistics Department, 2006). The Hong Kong government takes an active role in promoting gender equality. The Equal Opportunities
Women’s Commission was set up in 2001 to promote the well-being and interest of women in Hong Kong (Lee & Collins, 2008).
As Hong Kong is a Chinese society, Hong Kong is influenced by the Chinese paternal oriented culture that discourages gender equality. The traditional Chinese female ideal would be obedient, and would respect and maintain the patriarchal hierarchy within the kinship system (Croll, 1995). Chinese tradition has shown favoring toward males as they are responsible to pass down the family names.
Chinese culture accorded greater esteem, privileges, and status to males and there were more restrictive prescriptions for the role of women. Women are expected to submerge their individuality to the family, following the orders of their fathers when young, their husbands when married, and their sons when widowed. The virtues for a woman are defined narrowly in her role as wife and mother (Cheung, 1996). Leadership was a problem for women in Hong Kong as women occupied only 18 percent of the elected members of the Legislative Council. There was a sharp fall off in women at higher levels (The Women’s Foundation, 2006). A random sample survey of 2,010 Hong Kong people found that both male and female respondents were gender stereotypic, and few of them are counterstereotypic (Women’s Commission, 2003). Fung and Ma (2000) argued that deep-seated notion of stereotype has been traditionally inherited from the families, the education system, and the society. A survey found that 28 percent of respondents considered that women could realize their potential fully (Women’s Commission, 2003). An updated survey found that women in Hong Kong remained largely responsible for household duties. The concept of “women as homemakers” was common in the society and there was room for improvement for women’s status at home (Women’s Commission, 2010).
The current study attempts to answer the following three research questions:
2. Are Chinese female figures and Caucasian female figures in magazine advertisements portrayed differently in terms of beauty types and occupational roles?
3. Are there differences in the beauty types and occupational roles between the advertisements of products target females and the advertisements of products target
Research method A quantitative content analysis study of advertisements in a popular lifestyle magazine in Hong Kong was conducted. Content analysis is an effective research method because it provides data that is empirical, systematic and objective. Popular lifestyle magazines have great impact in the society because of their vast readership. They have served as mirrors to reflect the main stream ideology of marketers and advertisers.
The Next Magazine, the second most popular lifestyle magazines was selected. We did not select the most popular lifestyle magazine because the university library did not have access to it.
Statistics showed that the readership profiles of the top two lifestyle magazines were similar (The Nielsen Company, 2009). The Next Magazine has been published weekly since 1990 and its readership in 2009 was 688,000 (The Nielsen Company, 2009). Each issue of the Next magazine contained two books, i.e. Book A on general news and Book B on entertainment news. The average circulation during the period of July to December 2008 was 132,011 (Hong Kong Audited Bureau of Circulation, 2009). Six issues of the Next Magazine were selected by a systematic random process.
The fourth issues of the magazine for the odd months from July 2008 to May 2009 were selected.
The unit of analysis was each individual advertisement with at least one full page, containing at least one female image displayed in dominating shot. Advertisements that did not have a dominant
advertisement was selected for coding. The beauty type, occupational role, and race of the female figures were coded according to the operational definitions shown in Appendix 1. The coding frame of Frith, Cheng, and Shaw’s (2004) study was adopted because of its clarity and relevance to our current study. The product category of the advertised products was also coded. The advertisements were coded by one of the authors. Another author coded independently one fifth of the sample. The Perreault and Leigh (1989) inter-coder reliability scores for the six categories ranged from 0.92 to 1.0, which were above the minimum expected inter-coder reliability (Kassarjian, 1977).
Findings The sample consisted of 215 advertisements. Table 1 shows the sample profile. Cosmetics, skin care, perfume, contact lens and personal care advertisements made up thirty percent of the sample. Beauty and slimming treatment service, women clothing and accessories contributed another 18 percent and 17 percent respectively. These three product categories accounted for two-thirds of the advertisements. Most of these advertisements attempted to evoke consumers’ awareness of physical beauty. The remaining one third of the advertisements was about retail and services, food and medicine, as well as furniture, home appliances, and electronic products. We further classified the product categories into two groups. We assumed that the first three product categories related with beauty target female audience while the latter three product categories unrelated with beauty target male and female audience.
Altogether 141 of the advertisements (65 percent) depicted Chinese female figures, while 66 of the advertisements (31 percent) depicted Caucasian female figures. The remaining 8 advertisements (4 percent) depicted Indian, Spanish, as well as African female central figures.
the subsequent analysis.
Table 2 shows the portrayal of beauty types by race of female figures for the 207 advertisements with either Chinese or Caucasian female figures. The beauty type most frequently used was classic/feminine. Of the 207 advertisements, 135 (65 percent) used classic/feminine beauty type. Sex kitten and casual beauty types contributed another 13 percent and 9 percent respectively.
The remaining advertisements used trendy (7 percent), cute (5 percent) or other beauty types (1 percent). Chi-square test indicated that race of female figure was associated with beauty types (Chisquare value=29.7, df=5, p0.001). Nearly equal proportions of Chinese and Caucasian figures were featured in the beauty types of sex kitten and cute. Chinese models were more likely featured in classic/feminine beauty type while Caucasian models were more likely featured in trendy beauty type. Chinese models in casual beauty type were more than twice the proportion of Caucasian models.
Table 3 shows the portrayal of occupational roles by race of female figures. Female figures were most often featured in decorative role (56 percent) and as celebrities (31 percent). Only two (1 percent) were featured as housewives. Female figures were seldom featured in professional roles (4 percent) or in recreational roles (8 percent). Chi-square test indicated that race of female figures was associated with portrayal of occupational roles (Chi-square value=21.1, df=4, p0.001). Caucasian models were more likely featured in decorative role while Chinese models were more likely featured in celebrity as well as recreational roles. None of the sampled advertisements showed Caucasian models in the housewife role.
race of female figure was associated with product categories (Chi-square value=32.9, df=5, p0.001).
Chinese models and Caucasian models contributed nearly the same proportions in the product categories of cosmetics, skin care, perfume, contact lens, personal care; furniture, home appliance and electronics as well as retail services and others. However, Chinese models were more likely featured in beauty and slimming service as well as food and medicine advertisements. Caucasian models were more likely featured in clothing and accessories advertisements.
Table 5 and Table 6 show the beauty types and occupational roles by target group of the advertisements. Chi-square test indicated that both the beauty types and occupational roles were associated with product target groups (Chi-square value=28.4, df=5, p0.001). Advertisements of products for females were more likely to feature sex kitten. Advertisements of products for males and females were more likely to feature causal beauty type. Advertisements of product for females were more likely to feature decorative roles. Advertisements of products for males and females were more likely to feature recreational and professional roles.
Discussions A content analysis of beauty types and occupational role portrayal and beauty types of female figures in a popular magazine in Hong Kong was conducted. The finding echoed previous studies of gender role stereotypes. The classic/feminine beauty type dominated the sample of advertisements.
As the advertisements come from one of the most popular lifestyle magazines in Hong Kong, the dominance of classic beauty model demonstrates the advertisers’ intention to adopt a conservative approach to appeal to the majority of the adult readers. The prevalence of classic/feminine beauty
Magazine were predominantly females (57 percent), and aged 25 to 54 (74 percent) (The Nielsen Company, 2009).The dominance of classic/feminine beauty types may suggest to the audience that a woman’s physical appearance is more important than her ability or talents. The dominance of classic beauty type echoed findings from a study of female figures from magazine advertisements in Singapore, Taiwan and the U.S. (Frith, Cheng & Shaw, 2004) and a study in Taiwan (Lin & Yeh, 2009). The tendency to portray women across cultures in the classic beauty type supported a suggestion that certain aspects of beauty are universal and shared by Eastern and Western cultures.
Consistent with Frith et al’s (2004) study, Caucasian female models were more likely to be featured as trendy beauty type than Chinese female models. The finding supported that Caucasian female models were linked with trendiness and modernity (Frith et al., 2004). Contrary the study of Frith et al (2004), Caucasian female models and Chinese female models were equally likely to be featured as sex kittens. This finding did not support the suggestion that advertisers, across cultures, presented Caucasian female models as more sexually liberal than Asian female models (Frith et al, 2004). The result suggested portrayal of Chinese female figures as sex kittens was accepted in Hong Kong. The occurrence of cute models in Hong Kong was lower than that in Singapore, Taiwan and the U.S. It was proposed that the outcome of depicting women in childish ways is to diminish their standing in society as full-fledged adults may be threatening to men and therefore this type of portrayal may be avoided by advertisers (Frith et al., 2004). The lower use of cute beauty types in the current study may again be attributed to the mature readership profile of the magazine.
The dominant occupational female roles in magazine advertisements were decorative and as celebrities. These two roles occupied close to ninety percent of all advertisements sampled. Females were seldom shown in recreational roles, professional roles, or as housewives. Despite the fact that over 50 percent of the Hong Kong female population participated in the workforce, less than 5
female figures depicted in professional roles showed the ignorance of many advertisers to the opportunities of relating to the female consumers through their careers.
Despite the fact that only 5 percent of the Hong Kong population was non-Chinese, the sample revealed an over-representation of Caucasian female models. The result was similar to a study of 427 magazine advertisements in Mainland China that indicated that nearly 60 percent of the female models were non-Asian. Non-Asian models were most frequently portrayed in sophisticated urban images and were used predominantly by global brands (Hung, Li, & Belk, 2007). The widespread use of Caucasian female models in the current study was also consistent with the findings observed in a similar study of magazine advertisements in Singapore, Taiwan and the U.S.