What are the messages
that the mass media sends about women and minorities? If we were discussing this
issue in the 1960s, the answer would be easy. Bill Cosby on "I Spy" and Diane
Carroll on "Diane" probably got around 80 percent of the television air time given
to African-American actors. Red Foxx appeared in "Sanford and Son" in 1968. Chicano
actors would have included the sidekick to Hop-a-long Cassidy. Some of the bad
guys in the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns might have been Chicano. Native
Americans received a few roles in Westerns and Jay Silverstone played second fiddle
to the Lone Ranger.
The Media Contribution
to Racism and Sexism
Women on television in the early 1960s were either victims on "Bonanza," "Wagon
Train" and "Rawhide" or television moms like Donna Reed on "The Donna Reed Show."
Doris Day made a career out of playing in light-hearted romances; Marilyn Monroe
sizzled on the screen. Who but Kathryn Hepburn consistently played serious roles?
Today any discussion of the presentation of minorities or women in films, television,
advertising or magazines is more complicated. Some presentations are stereotypical
while others value difference and some just ignore a person's gender or race.
We'll look at several images from magazines and discuss them individually and
as a group to see how they portray minorities and women. Clearly, a hegemonic
debate is under way as to the meaning of being female or belonging to a minority
group, and much of that debate is occurring in the media.
magazine is targeted to fashion/body/boy conscious teen-age girls. Here are the
three images selected for discussion:
American Eagle Outfitters
Two of these advertisements
present American culture as being an integrated society with blacks, whites and
Asians sharing friendships. The only criteria for belonging are that you are young,
fashion conscious and have good looks. Obviously, the people in the first two
ads meet the criteria for belonging in the Seventeen world for August 2000.
Singer Shakira may be the only native Spanish speaker in the magazine, although a few other people
were hard to identify racially. Shakira's talent earned her a photo in Seventeen.
These images again
present a multi-racial world. In figure three, only the woman on the right has
clear racial characteristics. The man on the left could be Chicano and the woman
in the center has some visual characteristics most typically assigned to African-Americans.
Again, having the right look and right clothes seems more important than racial
identity. The magazine also presents pictures of three African-American women,
who earned a spot in the magazine as a result of their talent.
Cosmo girl is geared toward a similar target audience as Seventeen.
It is produced by Cosmopolitan, an upscale fashion and love life magazine
for women in their 20s and 30s.
The Asian woman in the second figure is worth further study. She wears no makeup
or brand-name clothes. We learn elsewhere in the magazine that she had sex with
her high school teacher and became pregnant. If her appearance is compared with
that of almost every other woman in the magazine, she clearly is the most plain,
unattractive woman presented. In the context of this magazine, then, she is being
punished, letting us ideologically know that her behavior was inappropriate.
A double standard exists. If the woman in the DKNY Jeans ad were evaluated by
the signifiers of pornography, she would seem to be sexually available. As pointed
out in the previous chapter, the signifiers of pornography have entered the mainstream,
and this ad is an example. The woman is on display for the male gaze and she does
not turn away from that gaze. Her shirt is short, exposing her navel, as is her
skirt, which is emphasized by the bent knee. The hand on the hip with the other
on the buckle suggests an attitude that she knows she looks good. If this were
a porn film, the viewers would expect to see her engaged in sexual activity before
Now that is not to say that every woman in a short shirt and skirt is looking
for sex. However, when the attire, the body language and the eye contact combine
with the clothing, one possible interpretation is strongly sexual. Did DKNY Jeans
know that? Maybe not. On the other hand, this ad was not cheap. The model and
the photographer and the graphic designers were all professionals, as were the
advertising experts. Maybe they missed the potential for the ad to be understood
in a highly charged way. If so, they should be fired. On the other hand, if those
professionals knew exactly what they were doing, then....
Then what we have is that Cosmo girl is putting into the agenda for teen-age
girls that they should be sexually provocative and that they should dress accordingly.
If they do, Cosmo girl promises they will be rewarded with the attention
of men and acknowledged as fashionable by women.
From my perspective, the presentation of the woman in the DKNY ad is more oppressive
for women than a Playboy or Penthouse. When opening one of those
magazines, the reader expects to see pornography and ideologically knows what
expectations exist in those magazines. Cosmo girl supposedly is about fashion
and being a teen. The DKNY ad offers the same ideology as Playboy without
fair warning. The images are presented as the common sense of the culture--what
is expected of teen-age girls. A 14-year-old may know she does not want to pose
for Playboy because it would be wrong. Does she know and understand what
values she buys into if she accepts the premise that the woman in the DKNY ad
is fashionable? Does she know what expectations men who are familiar with pornography
may bring on the date when she dresses in a "fashionable" way?
Glamour is an upscale magazine for women in their 30s and 40s with articles
about fashion, health, sex and relationships.
The ideological positions
presented in Cosmo girl are brought to fruition in Glamour. The
first image from a fashion layout shows a woman engaging in sexual behavior, which
pleases the man. The dress she wears is at least partially responsible for her
ability to achieve her desires emotionally, physically and sexually. The three
ads again put the emphasis on how the woman dresses and her physical appearance.
The first woman meets the standards established in the three advertisements, which
explains her success.
None of these images, or any of the other images in this issue of Glamour,
defined a woman based on character, spirituality, intelligence or creativity.
The articles may bring out that a well-rounded woman also succeeds in those areas.
But those successes are secondary to her sexual performance, appearance, youth
and fashion consciousness.
and Redbook are targeted to women with families. Appearance remains important,
but is somewhat subsumed by the woman's role as caregiver for her husband and
Woman's Day and Redbook
These four images
from the women's magazines Redbook and Woman's Day demonstrate how
the media present a multi-dimensional message. Michelle Pfeiffer restates the
ideology that began in the teen magazines and continued in Glamour. The
most important qualities of a woman are her looks, her sex appeal and performance,
and her fashion sense. The ads for Jergens lotion and De Beer's present similar
images of women while the third ad gives women a method of achieving the look
of the other women. In addition, these magazines argue that if you want the love
of your child (Jergens ad) and the love of your husband (De Beer's), a woman needs
to be a caregiver.
Michelle Pfeiffer on the cover of Redbook
Jergens in Woman's Day
A Chinese Diet Ad in Woman's Day
An ad for De Beer's in Woman's Day
Like the other women's magazines we have viewed, these ads present a multi-racial
world. Both the Jergens and De Beer's ads go so far as to place African-American
women into the agenda as examples of beautiful women. Asians, however, did not
fair as well. The only image of an Asian woman in the two magazine issues evaluated
was of the Asian woman offering the green tea diet.
Maxim is a magazine targeted to men with an emphasis on sports, sex and
sexual performance, and women. Sometimes Maxim is described as Playboy
with thin fabric glued on the men.
These two images are typical of the way women often are presented in Maxim.
No surprises, I assume.... Except, how are these two images significantly
different ideologically from the images in the women's magazines? Is it
that, when push comes to shove, these two women are just better than other
women at making a fashion statement that attracts males and suggests enhanced
For me, the real surprise for Maxim was found in these images.
Although Maxim may be sexist, its presentation of race is mixed.
This issue had two positive images of African-American males, although
each is a bit stereotypical. Mr. T of television fame (infamy if you watched
"The A Team") is dressed in a suit and tie and presented in a positive
way. Similarly, the Jazz Festival ad is positive.
Maxim also had a positive presentation of a Spanish-speaking person.
In this case, Alex Rodriguez gives batting tips. Other images of Chicanos
are not so positive, with a story on drugs visually presenting Chicanos
as responsible for the drug trade.
View this film to see how an image can be manipulated.
Three ways of limiting the influence of minorities are to:
the voices of minorities.
To some degree, we have seen this happen. Traveler magazine had many
images of white people but almost none of minorities, even though all articles
were about world travel. An ad for Mississippi tourism showed the only black
However, many magazines presented a picture of the world as multi-racial
and mixed-gender. This image from Sports Illustrated for Kids is
a good example.
Another way of limiting the influence of minorities is to push their images,
their stories and their issues to the sidelines of media. As already shown,
many of these magazines were inclusive. A good example of this is Smithsonian,
which included a story about a man who was an expert on the American Revolution--and
he happened to be black. His expertise defined the man, not his race.
leaders to speak for all members of the minority group.
In some ways, these five images try to tell us the experiences of all women.
Women are about babies, being domestic, enraptured by true love, and in
their element when surrounded by the attention of men. They are also likely
to be victimized when outside the company of men.
When it comes to
racism and sexism, the media present a mixed picture. Some elements of the media
present diversity; sometimes people are defined by their humanity first and their
race or gender second. Meanwhile, other elements of the media exclude or minimize
minorities or present stereotypical images that reinforce the views of those who
believe that inferiority is based on genetics.
Advertising targeted to gays