Portrayal of Women in Movie Ads Changes Little from 1963-1993. (Research in Brief)

By Lee, Tien-tsung; Hwang, Faith Hsiao-Fang | Newspaper Research Journal, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Portrayal of Women in Movie Ads Changes Little from 1963-1993. (Research in Brief)


Lee, Tien-tsung, Hwang, Faith Hsiao-Fang, Newspaper Research Journal


Scholars have analyzed newspaper stories, editorials and photographs. (1) Yet, very few studies, by contrast, exist about advertisements in this important medium. (2) The image of women in advertising is also a topic of frequent academic investigations. Most studies of this nature examine magazine ads and a few analyze television commercials. Newspaper ads are again neglected in this line of research. (3)

To study the image of women in mass media, the inclusion of newspaper movie ads is important for two reasons. First, in a culture generally criticized for portraying females as objects of demeaning "entertainment," movies are likely to reflect this phenomenon. (4) Such bias is likely to appear in movie ads. Second, newspaper advertising is a critical medium in mass communication. Many people scan newspaper movie ads to study the genre, stars, plots, show times and locations to decide which movie to see. Because movie ads in newspapers are seen by a great number of people, whether these readers end up in the movie theater, such ads are worth studying. The feminist movement's impact on gender roles in films and whether newspaper ads faithfully reflect the content of movies that they promote are important topics for academic research, but they are beyond the scope of the present study. The present research only focuses on newspaper movie ads.

The Feminist Movement and the Present Study

The present study aims to understand whether gender roles portrayed in movie advertisements in newspapers have changed to parallel the feminist movement.

Movie ads in 1963 and 1993 were chosen because of their association with two milestones in the feminist movement. The year 1963 was significant because of the publication of a landmarkbook, The Feminist Mystique. (5) The movement reached a peak of "mass mobilization" around 1970 and continued into the 1980s. When a large number of women ran for political office in 1992, it was proclaimed as the "Year of Women." (6) This suggests another peak in this movement and indicates that the status of women has been advanced in society. If the movement had an impact on the entertainment industry, newspaper movie ads in 1993, a year after a milestone in the movement, should reflect such an influence.

The key concerns of the feminist movement include job equality in terms of opportunity and compensation, division of labor within the home, and portrayal of women as sex objects whose primary function is to attract the opposite sex. (7) These concerns can be summed up with one phrase--equality between men and women in all aspects. Accordingly, the present study examines the changes of gender roles in the number of appearances, dominance and aggression and treatment as sex objects. Ageism against women, especially female actors, is also of interest. (8)

Specific guidelines for analysis, such as the quantity of representation, the scale of sexism, dominance, function ranking, aggression and definition of sex objects, were adopted from frequently cited studies. (9)

Research Questions

The present study seeks to answer the following research questions.

RQ1:

Does the number of female figures increase over time?

RQ2:

Do movie ads continue to show male dominance over time?

RQ3:

Does the treatment of females (10) as sex objects decrease over time?

Method

One constructed week was created for 1963 and 1993 to provide a "before-after" comparison. The sample was randomly selected and then adjusted (one date was substituted) in order to cover both the summer and Christmas seasons because Hollywood traditionally releases a majority of its movies during both time periods. (11)

The Los Angeles Times was chosen because Los Angeles is the "home" of Hollywood movies as well as a metro area with a large movie audience. …

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