Gender Roles in Advertising

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Female Roles in Television Advertising: Viewers' Use of
Gender Role Cues in Appraising
Stereotypic and Non-Stereotypic Role Portrayals
Richard H. Kolbe, Washington State University, Washington Carl D. Langefeld, Indiana University, Indiana

The study uses the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI) as both a self-rating and projective scale to predict viewer responses to stereotypic and non-stereotypic role portrayals in television conlmercials. Projective BSRI ratings of ad characters were significant predictors ofperceptual judgments about the ad character, advertisement, and product. Differences between self-ratings and projective character ratings on the BSRI were also significant predictors of the ad perceptual judgments. Directions for future research in examining role stereotyping in advertising are offered. INTRODUCTION The depiction of female roles in television advertising has raised a number of provocative research questions. Research in this area has been fostered by the observations made by media analysts regarding the inconsonance of fenlale role portrayals relative to social norms. Supporting these observations have been numerous content analyses which have pointed to the small number, poor quality, and limited breadth of roles afforded female characters in the medium relative to those held by females in real life (Courtney and Whipple 1974; Dominick and Rauch 1972; Gilly 1988; McArthur and Resko 1975; O'Donnell and O'Donnell 1978; Scheibe 1979; Schneider and Schneider 1979). The evidence suggests that advertisers have often used portrayals which can be labeled stereotypic female roles (e.g., female as housewife, female as subservient to a male) as opposed to non-stereotypic roles (e.g., female as athlete, leader, business person). While the content of female roles in television advertising is well understood, the factors which influence viewers' perceptions of these roles has received less research attention. Central to this issue is the determination of which factors explain viewer responses to role portrayals. In addition, the implications of such judgments on perceptions about the advertisement and advertised product

need to be considered. The main issue addressed in the current study is how viewers respond to stereotypic (8) and non-stereo typic (NON-S) role portrayals. The basis of such responses is related to the manner in which an individual processes gender-related information -- a process likely rooted in an individual's own level of masculinity and femininity. If this relationship holds, then masculinity and femininity self ratings should be predictors of viewer perceptions of role portrayals and related attitudes toward the ad character, product, and the ad itself. Gender Processing The use of gender-related information to process and interpret stimuli is a substantial component of cognitive processing (Bern 1985). From early in life, individuals categorize people, objects, and behaviors as masculine and feminine, usually with prescriptions as to their appropriateness for the individual's own gender (Bandura 1977; Fein et al. 1975; Kagan 1964; Kohlberg 1966; Lewis and Weinraub 1979; Mischel 1966; O'Bryant and Corder-Bolz 1978). For people we encounter in social interactions (perhaps including vicarious interactions via television), we frequently ascribe qualities of masculinity and femininity (two orthogonal, bipolar dimensions). The propensity to use gender role cues to categorize others varies across individuals. Yet, gender remains an important classificational dimension for many individuals (Bern 1985). Gender-related processing has been considered in a number of marketing studies with only limited success. For example, Gentry and Haley (1984) were unsuccessful in using gender schema processing to predict ad recall. Schmitt, LeClerc and Dube-Rioux (1988) found attitude toward the ad did not differ between gender-orientation subject groups. These results contrast with the

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