Gender Stereotypes in MTV Commercials: The Beat Goes On
By: Nancy Signorielli &
Social Learning Theory
"Interactions, Activities & Gender in Children's Television Commercials: A Content Analysis"
"A Content Analysis of Gender Differences in Children's Advertising"
"Gender Stereotypes in MTV Commercials: The Beat Goes On"
The purpose of this study was to examine the gender portrayals and stereotyping in MTV commercials. MTV is targeted at an adolescent and young adult audience, so this research study is looking beyond just young children's advertisements. They do address research done on children's advertisements and provide a link between the two.
In 1991, it was reported that 80% of MTV's audience was between the ages of 12 and 34. One quarter of that audience was between the ages of 12 and 17. MTV had the highest adolescent audience than any other television network. Not to mention, on average adolescents spent over two hours a day watching MTV.
This study was published in January 1994. The researchers, Nancy Signorielli and Douglas McLeod used a content analysis approach. They obtained their sample during five weekdays in mid-November 1991. Six hours of MTV programming were recorded between 3:00 - 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm - midnight. They chose these times of day because these are the times when adolescents are most likely watching television.
There were five overall hypotheses in the study. These were as follows:
Female characters will appear less frequently than male characters in MTV commercials.
Female characters will be more likely than male characters to be portrayed as having very fit bodies.
Female characters will be rated as more attractive than male characters.
Female characters will be more likely than male characters to wear skimpy or sexy clothing.
Female characters will be more likely than male characters to be the object of another's gaze.
Overall, there were 550 commercials recorded. Duplicate commercials were not used in the study, so the total sample was 119 different commercials. Fifty commercials were selected and coded by two coders. The variables that were coded in the commercial were product type, visual gender orientation, gender orientation of the user, gender, race, age, body type, attractiveness, sexy clothing, and object of another's gaze. Intercoder reliability was quite high.
The researchers found that the demographic makeup of the characters in the commercials were equivalent to the characters that were seen in the music videos. Approximately half of the characters were young adults (18 - 25 years) and a little more than a quarter were adults (26 - 60 years). Only 11.1% were adolescents and 12.1% were considered elderly. Nine out of ten characters were white.
There was only minor support for the first hypothesis. Males only appeared slightly more than females. It was 54.4% compared to 45.6%. There was excellent support for hypothesis two. Less than three quarters of the men were rated as having average bodies, while 77.4% of the women were rated as having extremely fit or beautiful bodies.
Hypothesis three was also supported. Females were rated as being more attractive than males. More than 50% of the males were placed in the middle category of the attractiveness scale, while only one third was rated as attractive. Only 2.2% were rated as extremely attractive or beautiful. On the other hand, more than 50% of the females were rated as extremely attractive or beautiful. Only 8% were considered unattractive.
This also leads to hypothesis four, which stated than women would most likely be wearing skimpy clothing. This hypothesis was also supported. Almost 94% of the men were rated as wearing neutral clothing, while only 46% of the women were rated as wearing neutral clothing. The rest, nearly 54% were rated as wearing either sexy or extremely sexy clothing.
Finally, the last hypothesis was also supported.This hypothesis stated that women would more likely be the object of another's gaze. One out of five male characters was the object of another's gaze. Six out of ten female characters was the object of another's gaze. That's a huge difference, 19% compared to almost 60%.
The other part of this study looked at gender orientation. The researchers found that overall the majority of commercials were oriented towards both men and women. But, when looking at the number of male only and female only commercials things change a bit. Almost 24% of the commercials featured males only. Meanwhile, less than 10% of the commercials featured females only. Males were more often advertising food and drinks, media products, clothing, and entertainment. Women were more often advertising personal products and clothing. Nearly 12% of the male oriented commercials were advertising food, while only 2% of the female oriented ads did.
In the end the researchers found that MTV commercials were indeed gender-stereotyped. They found that more often than not ads were geared towards men. Men were more often handling and controlling the object being advertised than women. Entertainment related products were more often oriented towards men, and personal products were more often oriented towards women. Women tended to appear less frequently, were more attractive, had more beautiful bodies, wore skimpier clothing, and were more often the object of another's gaze. This research was done over ten years ago, so things may have changed since then.
The end of this research article was probably the most effective. Quite frankly, the researcher stated that although MTV is considered cutting edge programming, they are still perpetuating the stereotypes about women and gender. If adolescents use MTV as a source of social learning about gender roles, they are receiving a warped view of society. They acknowledge the fact that there is no causal relationship between commercial content and social problems, but MTV is in no way reducing the misconceptions about women and women's roles in society. In the end they state that, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." (Signorielli & McLeod, 1994, p. 6).
This was an interesting research article, because not much research has been done on MTV advertisements. Research has been done of the videos, but there's more to the programming than just videos. One weakness of this study is that the sex of the coders was not disclosed, so it is not know if they were both men, both women, or a male and a female, or quite simply the researchers. If they were both one sex then there could have been some bias going on. Men and women may tend to disagree on what is considered beautiful and sexy. It might have been better if there were more coders since the subject matter is quite open to disagreement. A strength of the research is that they looked at a wide variety of variables. It might have been nice if they had used a larger sample and looked at ads from all seasons of the year. Summer ads might be quite different from fall ads, and so on. Overall I thought this was pretty good research. It definitely brought about some interesting things to think about, and brought some things into light that may not have been looked at before.