Men’s four reactions to gendered media and their implications for society
Due to feminist movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, people are giving additional attention to how women should be treated and to gender stereotypes in the media.
“But overlooked in the conversation is the question of how gender stereotypes in media can also be harmful for men. Ultimately, gender is relational so how masculinity is interpreted and reiterated in society holds implications for both men’s and women’s lives,” says Professor Linda Tuncay Zayer.
She, along with Professor Mary Ann McGrath and Loyola Andalucía Professor Pilar Castro Gonzalez, researched how men in the U.S., China, and Spain accept or reject stereotypes of masculinity in media.
“This research is important as the media shapes the way we think about gender and what is possible for ourselves,” says Zayer. “It can open up or restrict what we can be and how we relate to others, so it’s important to unpack what it means to be feminine or masculine—what is deemed ‘appropriate’ for a man or woman.”
Acceptation and rejection strategies
The study found that men in all three countries display the same four strategies in dealing with gendered messages:
- Reiterating: The consumer accepts the message and finds it legitimate. According to Zayer, this occurs when marketers advertise to men, and men believe the message is true, appropriate, and legitimate.
- Reframing: A consumer “repackages” ideals of masculinity in exchange for another. For example, a man sees a message and decides asserting their own individuality as a man is more masculine than buying into the message of the ad.
- Ascribing alternate logic: Men reject advertisements or messages because they are not authentic. For example, men might reject an ad for an exercise and health regimen if it features a man whose physical health and appearance are beyond what the regimen could produce. The man in the ad, then, is inauthentic for the regimen. “Men replace the ideology presented in the ad with a different one,” Zayer says.
- Assertion of personal values: Men reject messages by asserting their own set of norms and ideals over the messages presented in the ad.
Practical and ethical implications
The conclusions from this study hold both practical and ethical implications, says Zayer.
On the practical side, “Many consumers want to engage with a brand that’s a force for good in society,” she says. “The brand therefore should display a full range of masculine identities in its advertising and situate itself in cultural conversations that are meaningful and authentic to consumers.”
On the ethical side, “We have a responsibility as marketers to do be mindful of consumer welfare,” Zayer says, “especially if the messages we share hold the potential to be harmful to society.
“We’re at a tipping point where we see a broader range of gendered expressions in the media. When I first started this research stream 15 years ago, it was hard for me to find a depiction of a man in a fatherhood role,” she continues. “I had to look at women’s magazines to find men depicted as fathers. Now, you see that much more often. Portraying men in multidimensional roles will hold positive ramifications for society.”
Marketing as a force for good
This study was conducted by two Jesuit universities, a detail that Zayer finds unsurprising given the mission of the Jesuits to promote social good.
“Our hope with this research is to advocate for marketing and advertising as force for good in society. Marketing can and should be a force for good.”