Women aren't the only ones harmed by sexist advertising. A new study says print ads in men's magazines encourage and normalize a particularly detrimental stereotypical form of masculinity, hyper-masculinity.
Hyper-masculinity is an extreme form of masculine gender ideology that consists of four inter-related beliefs:
- toughness as emotional self-control
- violence as manly
- danger as exciting
- calloused attitudes towards women and sex
Psychologists from the University of Manitoba analyzed ads from eight men's magazines that were published in 2007 and 2008. The chosen magazines represented a wide variety of content topics and target audience demographics (age, median income, and education level) including Playboy, Game Informer, Maxim, Esquire, Wired, Field n Stream, Golf Digest, and Fortune. Researchers coded 527 advertisements using a 21 question checklist that identified zero to four hyper-masculine beliefs present in each ad. Questions included: "Does it appear that 'partying' is fun/exciting? Is there an element of danger (dark alley, war zone, etc.) in the ad? Does it appear that being extremely muscular is important for men?"
The study found that 56% of the advertisements portrayed at least one or more hyper-masculine belief. They also found that two of the magazines depicted at least one hyper-masculine belief in 90% or more of its advertisements. The researchers claim that through print ads, products are paired with representations of culturally "ideal" hyper-masculine men which can be harmful because it normalizes and encourages these traits as socially acceptable and desired.
Research has linked adherence to hyper-masculinity to various social and health problems in men, such as thrill seeking through dangerous driving, alcohol abuse, drug use, homophobic behavior, interpersonal violence, high-risk sexual behaviors, and violence towards women.
Further analysis of the data showed that hyper-masculine ads were more likely to appear in magazines targeted towards younger, lower income, and less educated men. Researchers concluded that advertisers know those men are more susceptible to believing hyper-masculine traits are desired so they intentionally target the magazines they read the most, like Playboy, Game Informer, and Maxim.
The researchers also argue that advertisements that promote hyper-masculinity have critical implications for both men and society at large. "The manner in which men are portrayed in advertising plays a role in maintaining and reinforcing negative male stereotypes." Advertising is an agent of socialization and plays a strong role in the ways men see themselves and learn acceptable gender behaviors.
When ads that perpetuate hyper-masculinity are everywhere, internalization is inevitable. Studies show that repeated and increased exposure to sexist media hurts men in many of the same ways that it does women, contributing to unhealthy body-image issues, self-objectification, eating disorders, unrealistic relationship expectations, and self-esteem problems.
There's more to being a man than stereotypical muscles, driving a fast car, and being callous about women and sex. Advertising should reflect that.