Visual representation of reality, as seen through mass media, is acknowledged by sociologists to be influential in shaping people's views of the world. Our everyday realities are articulated mostly by what we see in the media. The role of advertising in this interpretation of reality is crucial. The target audience's self-identification with the images being a basic prerequisite for an advertisement’s effectiveness, makes advertising one of the most important factors in the building of behavior models and values systems. The way a certain notion is managed at a visual level determines how people will perceive this notion and whether they will identify with it or not. Meaning is encoded in the structure of the images, which thus become potent cultural symbols for human behavior. The framing and composition of the image, the setting, the symbolic attributes and every other element in its structure, all are engaged in the effective presentation of the underlying notion
Background research suggested that stereotypical attitudes of male and female gender roles from as far back as the 1800's were far more traditional than the gender roles of today. However women today may be seen to be more independent, career minded and successful but physical attractiveness still is a paramount quality for a woman to have. In current media beauty is seen to be synonymous with successful women. Women may no longer be seen to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen but the stereotype has only changed to value beauty and the pursuit of the perfect body above all else.
Men have not escaped and they too have a stereotypical model that has evolved to produce a New Age man who is sensitive, in touch with his emotions and no longer depicted with exaggerated masculinity. The prevalence of beauty adverts also point to the importance of physical attractiveness in men. It was interesting to see that in the women's magazine, the only men seen in the adverts were in the background, otherwise women advertised for women only. The same applied to the men's magazines; women appeared vaguely in the background while men advertised for men with exception of the condom and beck's beer ad from GQ.
Even within the stereotypical gender types, a greater diversity of different types continue to be created, this is probably due to the necessity encompass a multi-cultural society that continues to change and progress. Magazines portray stereotypical images but then again magazines were created to entertain and inform, publishers and advertisers alike do not expect readers to take what they see page after page literally. Advertisers will continue to use gender stereotypes to mass-market products, services and initiatives. Stereotypes themselves will never disappear; like clay, stereotypes have the ability to be molded into taking on new shapes.
The first content analysis of gender biases in advertisements was published by Courtney and Lockeretz (1971). Those authors found that magazine advertisements reflected four general stereotypes, (a) "A woman's place is in the home," (b)"Women do not make important decisions or do important things," (c) "Women are dependent and need men's protection," and (d) "Men regard women primarily as sex objects; they are not interested in women as people." During the past 40 years, only one of the stereotypes found by Courtney and Lockeretz (1970) has shown evidence of the image of women as homebound. As women have entered the workforce in growing numbers, advertisements have increasingly shown them in work settings outside the home (Busby & Leichty, 1993; Sullivan & O'Connor, 1988). At the same time, increases in work-role equality seem to have been offset by a concomitant trend toward displaying women as decorative and sexualized. For example, Lazier-Smith (1989) found that the...