Special Session Summary Rethinking Gendered Representations and Interpretations in Advertising: a Critical Approach

Ozlem Sandikci, Bilkent University
Torsten Ringberg, Pennsylvania State University
[ to cite ]:
Ozlem Sandikci and Torsten Ringberg (2000) ,"Special Session Summary Rethinking Gendered Representations and Interpretations in Advertising: a Critical Approach", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 27, eds. Stephen J. Hoch and Robert J. Meyer, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 118.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 27, 2000      Page 118



Ozlem Sandikci, Bilkent University

Torsten Ringberg, Pennsylvania State University

This session explores three different theoretical approaches to how socially constructed identities interact with the interpretation of advertisements. A shared theme among the three papers is their focus on how socio-cultural categories interact with interpretive strategies used by individual consumers. However, the particular positions the papers take on the predictability and stability of such interpretive strategies differ considerably.

Schroeder and Zwick theorize, through explication of marketing techniques such as 'lifestyle marketing’ and 'target marketing,’ in conjunction with recent work in critical consumer research, how masculine identity interacts with consumptionCof imagery, products, desires, and passionsCin advertising and consumer culture. By using Foucault’s notion of the 'limit,’ the authors analyze the body as a discursive 'effect’ created at the intersection of consumer practice and several marketing discourses such as advertising imagery, product availability, and market segmentation strategies. Schroeder and Zwick acknowledge that gender politics are changing, that many people resist sexist stereotypes, and that there now exists a myriad of possibilities for choosing sexual identities. However, Schroeder and Zwick argue that cultural messages within the advertising discourse still function largely to reinforce traditional gender roles and to limit the consumer body to conservative forms of masculinity and femininity. From this juxtaposition the authors are then able to illuminate the limits advertising imposes onto the possibilities of male ontologies.

Barbara Stern complicates the more general observation about the recent shift in the male gaze expressed in Schroeder and Zwick’s paper. Stern suggests that the masculinist analysis of the "female gaze" (objectification of men) requires the examination of men’s studies, which evolved in the 1970s as a response to feminism. Masculinists problematized the gender construct and established the male image as an object of study. Stern explicates how the heterosexual male’s ideal self-image, long defined by differences from women and homosexuals, was challenged in the 1980s by being exposed to the female gaze. Just as ads objectified women by exposing them to the male gaze, so too did ads display men as passive objects of the "look of the other" (e.g., Calvin Klein). However, the extent to which male viewers still resist objectification may be mediated by a history of having (versus taking) control.

Sandikci and Ringberg’s paper takes one step further toward a deonstruction of the overall assumption of relating masculinity and femininity to that of the gendered body. The authors use a post-structuralist perspective as well as empirical observations to show how gender as a social construct only invariably can be used as signifier when distinguishing between traditionally conceived differences between how females and males interpret advertisements as romantic or pornographic. The authors extend the research to other socially constructed identity indicators, such as gay and lesbian as well as cultural capital, and show how these indicators also fail to have generalizable values when applied across socio-culturally constituted landscapes. The three papers offer an interesting exhibition of various interpretive positions and how these may contribute in various ways to the understanding of consumers’ engagement with advertising.