How do women know how to be women in America?
April 28, 2007 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Is there academic research that claims that viewing of advertising material a ritual of genderization?

I'm writing a paper for anthropology class and am stating that it is. I've got enough material to support my saying it is, but I haven't come across anyone else saying it is. A large chunk of my writing focuses on content analysis of 7 ads I found in current American magazines that disembody and infantilize women. So what I'm arguing is that this print medium tells women what they can and can't be.

What gives? Has anyone else seen anything along these lines, or might I actually be breaking some ground here?

My university has access to online journal archives, so if you just tell me who and when, or perhaps an article title, I can find the works, if they're around, because maybe I could study this more thoroughly.
posted by bilabial to Education (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: I'd be searching for stuff along the lines of "role socialization AND media" or advertising instead of media. Google scholar can be a fun starting point if you don't necessarily know which database to consult.

Advertisements as a ritual form of genderization? I think that's a stretch, insofar as it's not immediately apparent to me how this process would be any more of a ritual than socialization as a more general process.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 9:08 PM on April 28, 2007

I've seen similar arguments made in feminist theory, as well as in the book Culture Jam.
posted by divabat at 9:11 PM on April 28, 2007

I once saw a terrific video from the late eighties or early nineties on images of gender in advertisements.

I really wish I could remember the title of it. I saw it back in high school...all I clearly remember was of a cologne called Mustang that came in a laughably phallic bottle.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:13 PM on April 28, 2007

Look into sociology and gender studies readings. Jackson Katz has some excellent stuff on violent masculinity and he does discuss advertisements. I've only seen his video, Tough Guise, but I imagine his books and articles hit on similar stuff. For the female side, the name you want is Jean Kilbourne. She focuses mostly on advertising. Her stuff seems directly relevant to what you're writing about.
posted by almostmanda at 9:19 PM on April 28, 2007

Ouch, did I say "stuff" 3 times in that reply? Academia has fried my brain.
posted by almostmanda at 9:26 PM on April 28, 2007

Sticherbeast may be thinking of Killing Us Softly, by Jean Kilbourne, whom almostmanda mentions. (The link actually goes to a page for Killing Us Softly 3, apparently an update. I've only seen the original, I think.)
posted by Orinda at 9:35 PM on April 28, 2007

Found on Google Scholar:

Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction By David Gauntlett.

posted by kisch mokusch at 9:49 PM on April 28, 2007

Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth, if I'm remembering correctly, got into this. Backlash, by Susan Faludi, may also help.
posted by occhiblu at 9:57 PM on April 28, 2007

Also, Ms. magazine used to feature fucked-up misogynist ads every issue (they may still do, I don't subscribe anymore). I know that I've definitely also seen similar analyses online; googling women advertising images turns up some helpful leads. I know it may not be totally academic, but it may help with ideas for further inquiry.
posted by occhiblu at 10:02 PM on April 28, 2007

(When I actually looked at that google search, I saw Killing Us Softly mentioned. That's popped up in almost every discussion I've seen of this issue and is probably a great resource; I just linked to the study guide that accompanies the video.)
posted by occhiblu at 10:04 PM on April 28, 2007

Also (and then I swear to god I'll stop posting), if you haven't checked out Laura Mulvey, you should. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" is basically where the idea of "the male gaze" originated, that women always see women in movies through the eyes of the male protagonist and therefore, in real life, style themselves so as to be pleasing to men. It would seem to get at what the heart of what you're saying, though through a slightly different visual medium.
posted by occhiblu at 10:09 PM on April 28, 2007

Um, the point of university study is that you do this kind of research yourself. Full-text databases that might be worth searching (if your University library subscribes to them): Expanded Academic (InfoTrac Gale Group); PCI; Project Muse; and Proquest, for starters.

Your idea's at least as old as the eighteenth century, so there should be plenty of material out there. Good luck!
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:10 PM on April 28, 2007

In 1979, Erving Goffman did what you are going to do: he analyzed a selection of print ads for sex-role stereotypes. The book is called Gender Advertisements. It's obviously dated, but I suggest it as a place to get started thinking about how you're going to approach your own analysis.

Also, try EBSCO Host as a journal database if your university subscribes to it. It has a full-text option.

Good luck! It was a project exactly like this in my intro to women's studies course that led me to eventually teach the subject. I find this stuff deeply engrossing.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:57 PM on April 28, 2007

I can't find the references I have in mind; will look more tomorrow. But I wanted to drop in here anyway to say: It's not a new idea, but it's a good idea. Don't be discouraged if you find that this ground is well-trod. You're developing the idea in your own way for your paper.

Meet with your professor to discuss this, and also see if you can meet with someone in the women's studies department who might be able to guide you. Maybe this could turn into an independent study project for you, for next term?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:02 PM on April 28, 2007

Response by poster: I already did the analysis and am so glad I'm not setting a precedent in that regard. I know there is analysis out there that says hey, sexual innuendo. But, I'm looking for something more specific than the analysis that I've done.

I'm looking for an anthropological definition of ritual that encompases viewing print advertisements and the subsequent purchase of an item or change in a behavior. Or better still, (probably from a linguistic anthropologist, but maybe cultural) an article that states that this function of advertisements fits into the definition of ritual that I already have. Of particular interest to me is the notion that this is a social rite of intensification because it reinforces the belief system(s) and ethical code(s) of gender in the United States.

I did not compare gender rituals in other countries to my ideas of genderization through media.
posted by bilabial at 11:16 PM on April 28, 2007

Of particular interest to me is the notion that this is a social rite of intensification because it reinforces the belief system(s) and ethical code(s) of gender in the United States.

Feminist thought is what you're after, especially with regards to patriarchy.
posted by divabat at 4:38 AM on April 29, 2007

I'm looking for an anthropological definition of ritual that encompases viewing print advertisements and the subsequent purchase of an item or change in a behavior. Or better still, (probably from a linguistic anthropologist, but maybe cultural) an article that states that this function of advertisements fits into the definition of ritual that I already have. Of particular interest to me is the notion that this is a social rite of intensification because it reinforces the belief system(s) and ethical code(s) of gender in the United States.

Like, when a little girl gets her first makeup kit or something? I'd say the ages are going to range wildly. Growing up Catholic, the aging "rituals" happened right around the time the religious ones did (First Communion, Confrmation, Quincinera).

But they may be speeding up along with the dumbing down of the culture. I took Older Boy to a classmate's 3rd birthday party at a pizza joint. He (I) had gotten her some fancy crayons and one of those "little sister" barbies. The rest of presents were life size barbies, regular sized ones, and barbie clothes. The only points Older Boy (I) got were for the ingenious wrapping of the stuff in a pink Dora The Explorer handkercheif.

Then you have the nuts that peirce their baby girls' ears when they're a month old because Grandma complains "she doesn't look like a girl!"

/yes, bitter much. Don't know if it helps, but have I captured what you're after?

Anyway, this may make you sick after a week, but try to watch the commercials on a kid's channel like Nikelodeon or any of the mainstream channels on Saturday morning. The stuff is targeted toward Parents early in the morning, then towards toddlers, and then, as the "audience" is older, you start to see the split into gender roles.
posted by lysdexic at 7:14 AM on April 29, 2007

Best answer: From an cultural anth perspective, what you're talking about seems more likely to fit into the Gramsci-hegemony, Foucault-power stuff than ritual per se. What is the definition of ritual that you are working with? Who are you citing so far? How do you think that this process of view-purchase or view-change behaviour represents ritual? I'm not being mean, I love ritual analysis, and I'd like to help, but I'm struggling to see how this fits with ritual.

Some of the foundational stuff on ritual in cultural anthropology is from van Gennup, Victor Turner, and Clifford Geertz. Van Gennup came up with the three stages of ritual (separation, transformation, reintegration) and Turner elaborated the concept of liminality and symbols in important ways. Geertz talked about symbols as well, particularly culture as text. In "Notes on the Cockfight" he makes an argument about art that you might find useful. Geertz and Turner kind of represent two branches of anth; you're probably going to have more luck with the Geertz branch. The problem as I see it with using a cultural anth definition of ritual is that you don't have any research on the actual ritual participants, only on one of the ritual symbols, if you will.

You should definitely check out Susan Bordo's "Never Just Pictures," which for some reason I can't find on line. However, your library will probably have it. She uses a lot of print media in her analysis, and provides an excellent example of how to make a "media influences people" argument without sounding like a conspiracy theorist :)
posted by carmen at 8:09 AM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

While this is a fairly well-established line of argument, you can develop near infinite variations on it. The question of ritualization, for instance, does sound less-than-wholly-done: documenting the experiences of pre-pubescent girls looking at magazines. That's different from looking at the magazines oneself, however, which as other commenters have noted, is quite common.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:57 AM on April 29, 2007

If you're interested in 40's era examples, I remember McLuhan's The Mechanical Bride having some relevant material, but my copy's long gone.
posted by Orb2069 at 11:27 AM on April 29, 2007

Judith Butler's Bodies That Matter (1993) might be helpful...if I recall correctly (I don't have my copy anymore), she discusses how repetition of certain traditionally valued behaviours helps reinforce and reproduce this behaviour in young people learning to be adults. I think you could argue that the repetitive viewing of magazine ads that reinforce stereotypes of femininity could be a ritual of genderization for young girls.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:09 PM on April 29, 2007

Ask a librarian. Please. If you have access to online journal archives, you also have access to people who are paid to help you find things in them! The person sitting behind the desk the day you walk in may not be an anthro or women's studies specialist, but can probably put you in touch with one.
posted by clavicle at 1:25 PM on April 29, 2007

I agree with the materials suggested above, particularly the Naomi Wolf's, The Beauty Myth, Bordo and also the Mulvey.

Also, I recommend looking up the very basic and generic characteristics and processes associated with rituals and rites of passage. It should not be difficult for you to reinterpret the gender socialization materials as rituals. You can do this yourself, and the support comes from the anthro materials.

For example, from an anthropological perspective, rituals are understood to be social, timeless, reinforcing broader societal norms, stylized, repetitive, etc. etc. Rites of passage are a type of ritual which also reinforce societal norms. The details about how this happens is easily available in generic terms within cultural anthropology.

It is these basic characteristics of rituals and rites of passage which will support your point. How are these images providing stylized, symbolic, repetitive (etc) messages about women? How can the social participation in these rituals of consuming gendered media be seen as a rite of passage? Take the basic characteristics of rites of passage and crunch it out linked with the Beauty Myth. Separation? Liminal Phase? Symbolic inversions? You betcha. How is it that they participate in these? Try also looking up 'the Gaze' (internalization of a presumed masculine viewer's scrutiny on one's body whether present or not) or Foucault and the 'panopticon'. How do these rituals serve to reinforce societal norms? (again- anthro rituals + beauty myth).

I don't see a problem using some of these more classic anthro approaches listed above in this context.

It's not exactly what you're looking for, but this application of basic anthro rite of passage literature is done very effectively and clearly (and it's a fantastic book) by Robbie Davis-Floyd in 'Birth as an American Rite of Passage' (she also has an article with a slightly different title but same overall argument, which would probably be useful for argument structure etc.) Obvious gender and body ties here too. If you have it in your library (or the article from the databases or online) you could use it to get some ideas about how to put together this kind of analysis. She is doing with Birth what you are trying to do with media. Perhaps her anthro sources could work for you too.

FWIW: I teach intro cultural anthro and a number of different gender courses. It's a great paper topic.
posted by kch at 10:33 PM on April 29, 2007

Robbie Davis-Floyd actually seems to have many (most?) of her articles online.
posted by occhiblu at 10:38 PM on April 29, 2007

I don't know if this book is based on academic research, but it is on topic and may include references (I don't have my copy handy to check): Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons by Lynn Peril.

In any case it's an interesting read.
posted by MsElaineous at 6:33 AM on April 30, 2007

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