Attitudes Toward Women's Liberation and Perception of Advertisements


Michael B. Mazis and Marilyn Beuttenmuller (1972) ,"Attitudes Toward Women's Liberation and Perception of Advertisements", in SV - Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, eds. M. Venkatesan, Chicago, IL : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 428-435.

Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, 1972      Pages 428-435


Michael B. Mazis, University of Florida

Marilyn Beuttenmuller, University of Florida

[Michael B. Mazis is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Florida and Marilyn Beuttenmuller is a member of the Palm Beach County (Florida) Consumer Affairs Department.]

In recent months the rhetoric of the women's liberation movement has permeated the mass media. One result has been a proposed constitutional amendment and a myriad of legislation dealing with women's rights.

Subtle discrimination against women has come into the spotlight. For example, the National Organization of Women (N. O. W.) contends that there are at least five ways that advertising, in any medium, subtly discriminates against women:

1. Women are shown as frivolous, docile, stupid, and incompetent.

2. Advertising appeals to women's insecurities and fears about their roles as wives, mothers, lovers, and house-cleaners. It encourages the image that the only role open to women is to cater to men. "Women are encouraged to have a manic obsession with cleanliness."

3. Advertising portrays limited and unrealistic stereotypes of male and female roles - both occupationally and sexually. This includes the sin of omission in showing only a limited number of occupational roles held by women. A recent survey of ads indicates that nine percent of ads showed women in working roles while ninety-one percent showed them in a decorative or homemaker roles. When shown in an occupation, most of the time it was as a secretary, nurse, or stewardess.

4. Women are used as decorative objects. Using women who serve no function except to decorate the product is dehumanizing, N. O. W. contends. When it is desirable to have a person in an ad, that person can be an active, competent woman, rather than a doll. They singled out industrial product advertising as a chief offender. Frequently, the industrial product is so uninteresting that the advertisers "throw in a good looking broad in some ridiculous pose."

5. Advertising tries to exploit the women's movement. Many ads are employing the word "liberation," implying association with the movement. Although it is basically a civil rights movement-, it is subjected to much abuse "in the name of humor, creativity, and timeliness." (Chicago Tribune, 1971.)

In general, do women feel exploited by women's images in advertising or does the idea of exploitation even occur to women looking at advertisements? This paper attempts to provide a partial answer to the question. Specifically, this research attempt to determine whether a woman's attitude toward women's liberation will affect her perception of advertisements containing women.

The subject of attitudes and values affecting perception has been the focus of numerous psychological experiments. This emphasis on selective perception was termed the "new look" in perception by Bruner since it stresses "behavioral" influences on perception rather than emphasizing physical properties of stimuli (Bruner, 1958). While previous studies emphasized the influence of values (Haigh and Fiske, 1952; Postman, Bruner, & McGinnis, 1948; Soloman and Howes, 1950), income levels (Bruner and Goodman, 1947), skin color (Mark, 1943), and other factors on perception, the present study follows a pattern established by Kassarjian (1965) in attempting to assess the impact of an internal psychological state on perception of advertisements



For the experiment, five product categories were chosen - cleaning products, perfume, liquor, cigarettes and stereo equipment. Each category contained four advertisements taken from current magazines - one "unfavorable" ad, two neutral ads, and one "favorable" advertisement. Each of the five unfavorable ads embodies one of the aforementioned criticisms (although opposite favorable-unfavorable ads were not necessarily placed in the same product category). These twenty ads were so classified by a convenience sample of five female students at the University of Florida. The ads were disguised as to their actual brand names and any identifying labels, etc. Each product in a category was assigned a "brand name" of L, M, P, or H. [These four middle-alphabet letters (consonants) were chosen because they have about the same frequency of use in English (Stafford, 1966).]

A random sample of 24 female students were chosen from the 1971-72 University of Florida Student Directory. Data was collected by personal interview at the residence of each student. Each subject was given the ads for only one product category and she rated the women in the four ads on a series of nine six-point bipolar adjective scales chosen to be representative of the criticisms by N. 0. W. (e. g., "competent-incompetent"). Also, the respondent indicated on a similar bipolar scale how willing she was to purchase the particular brand shown in the advertisements. After rating all four ads, each woman completed an attitude questionnaire consisting of 47 statements dealing with the major goals of women's liberation. The statements were scored on a five-point Likert-type continuum with items being scored in both directions to avoid acquiescence set. The attitude questions were administered after women viewed the advertisements in order to avoid biasing the ratings of the advertisements.


The results shown in Table 1 indicate that coefficients for the women's liberation attitude test and the willingness to buy scores were .16 and .31 for the favorable and unfavorable ads respectively, both in the predicted direction, but failing to attain significance. Similarly, the correlation coefficients for the women's liberation attitude test and the summative score of the nine bipolar adjective scales describing the woman in the picture were also in the predicted direction, .16 and .34, but not significant,





Realizing that the small sample size in experiment may have contributed to the lack of significant findings, a second study was conducted with a somewhat different methodology. Since large classes of students were used, advertisements were placed on slides. Slides were shown to two groups of approximately 50 and 100 female students. Both groups were shown the identical pictorial content in the ads; however, the copy has changed on four of the advertisements to reflect "favorable" and "unfavorable" statements towards women's roles in the ads. Four control ads were the same in both groups.

Respondents completed a six-point bipolar scale ("influential-not influential") for each of the eight ads and nine bipolar scales about the women pictured in each of the ads. Finally, subjects completed a revised 22 question women's liberation attitude questionnaire (appendix A). The attitude questionnaire was refined through the use of factor analysis, which revealed only one salient factor, discriminant analysis and examination of the intercorrelation matrix for the original instrument.


In order to isolate extreme subjects, only respondents with the 10 highest and lowest attitude scores in group 1 and respondents with the 20 highest and lowest scores in group 2 were considered for analysis. These were subjects scoring in the upper and lower 20% of all women taking the women's liberation attitude test in their group.



Table 2 shows that advertisements 1 and 2 were in the predicted direction with anti-women's liberation girls feeling that these two ads would influence them more than pro-women's liberation girls; however, the differences were not large enough to achieve statistical significance. Also, ad 4 was in the predicted direction, but ad 3 was in a direction opposite to that predicted. In general, these results are rather inconclusive.

For the second group, which contained twice as many subjects as the first group, the relationships are somewhat stronger, perhaps resulting from the larger sample size.



Influence ratings for all four ads in group 2 were in the predicted direction, Again, relationships are not very strong. Comparing the data across Tables 1 and 2, it is interesting to note that the pro-women's liberation ads were more influential than the anti-women's liberation ads. This may result because most girls attending college are rather career-oriented and even the anti-women's liberation group are more liberated than their counterparts who are secretaries or housewives.

Also of interest is the fact that married female college students showed some tendency to be more liberated than single students. While the number of married students was too small to reach any definite conclusions, this is a hypotheses worthy of further investigation.

Since the results from group 2 appear more stable, with a larger sample size and far smaller variance, subsequent analysis will deal with group 2 data only. Following the pattern established in the first experiment, the nine bipolar adjective scales describing the woman pictured in each advertisement were summed yielding one score per ad. In general, the same patterns were observed with the bipolar scales as with the influence scores - largely in the predicted direction but rather weak. Differences for ads 1 and 2 were significant at p < .05; however, due to the many t-tests used, these results should be viewed with caution.



One of the interesting findings in this study is that pro-women's liberation girls have a more positive attitude towards advertising than the anti-women's liberation group. The results in Table 5 show that the four control ads were generally given higher scores by women with strong pro-woman's liberation attitudes.




Overall, it appears that there is a weak relationship between the women's liberation attitude test and perception of the advertisements used in the two experiments. Considerable work remains to be completed in this area.

The women's liberation attitude test needs to be refined, with appropriate reliability and validity checks. External validity may be tested by administration to known groups of pro- and anti-women's liberation groups. The undimensionality of attitudes towards women's liberation found in this study should be explored in subsequent studies.

A wider range of advertisements should be used. A non-college student population should be tested, particularly to measure the anti-women's liberation group. Finally, study is needed on the psychological reasons for women holding attitudes at both ends of liberation continuum. For example, it was found that the pro-women's liberation group consistently felt that the neutral ads would be more influential on them and they viewed the woman pictured in the ads more positively than the anti-women's liberation group. The underlying reasons for this phenomenon should be studied. These two experiments represent the start of trying to understand a complex area.


Bruner, J. S. Social Psychology and Perception. In E. E. Maccoby, T. M. Newman and E. L. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in Social Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1958, 85-94.

Bruner, J. S. and Goodman, C. C. Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1947, 42, 33-44.

Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1971, Section 3, 8.

Haigh, G. V. and Fiske, D. W. Corroboration of Personal Values as Selective Factors in Perception. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1952, 47, 394-98.

Kassarjian, H. K. Social Character and Differential Preference for Mass Communication. Journal of Marketing Research, 1965, 2, 146-53.

Mark, C. S. Skin Color Judgements of Negro College Students. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1943, 38, 370-76.

Postman, L., Bruner, J. S. and McGinnies, E. Personal Values and Selective Factors in Perception. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1948, 43.

Soloman, R. L. and Howes, D. H. Word Frequency, Personal Values and Visual Duration Thresholds. Psychology Review, 1951, 58, 256-70.

Stafford, J. E. Effects of Group Influence on Consumer Brand Preferences. Journal of Marketing Research, 1966, 3, 68-75.



1. Women who have jobs demanding the same skills and responsibilities as a man's job but receive significantly less pay should accept the situation.

2. A man should be paid more for the same work than a woman if he is supporting a family and she is not.

3. Women are poor Job risks emotionally and biologically.

4. Men are justified if they judge women on the basis of beauty and sex appeal.

5. Women are more likely to act illogically and "fall apart" in emergencies than men are.

6. Women should be prohibited from working overtime for their own good.

7. If a woman can play football as well as a man she should be on the team.

8. Toy trucks are suitable toys for both girls and boys.

9. A husband deserves more recreational time away from home than a wife does.

10. Housekeeping is woman's work.

11. Every woman should have equal job opportunity with men.

12. Every woman who watts one should be able to have an abortion.

13. State laws that prevent a woman from selling property or starting a business without her husband's consent are for the protection of women.

14. The sexual "double standard" as it now exists in our society is biologically determined.

15. Women are the weaker sex.

16. Every woman who wants it should have access to free or low cost child care centers.

17. Jobs that require hard physical labor should be open to women who are physically qualified.

18. Women should not be permitted to work at night.

19. Getting married is a social necessity for a woman.

20. Men who do household chores are unmasculine.

21. The use of "Mrs." and "Miss" are discriminatory for a women-"Ms." would be better.

22. Women should give up their jobs if their husbands want them to.



Michael B. Mazis, University of Florida
Marilyn Beuttenmuller, University of Florida


SV - Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research | 1972

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