9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN33 Women's and Gender Studies

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Gender Stereotypes: Representation of Gender in Mind and the Media Building II, C4.02

Gender and heterosexuality: an analysis of visual discursive strategies in women's magazines advertisements

Images are a crucial social actor in the communication landscape of contemporary societies. Due to its commercial and aesthetic value, as well as public dimension, commercial ads play an obvious role in the configuration of this landscape. Not so obvious, though, are the roles that they play in processes of (re)production of social inequalities. Following previous research on gender and ads (e.g. Goffman, 1979; Sullivan, 1988), we explore how women?s relationships with others are visually constructed in and through women?s magazines advertisements. Since the visual others are mainly men, we show the connections between ads and discourses on sexuality (Foucault, 1976) and gender discourses (Wodak, 1997; Lazar, 2005). What kind of knowledge, attitudes and ideologies about sex and gender do these ads express and produce? What kind of social identities and relationships are constructed by them? And what are the visual choices that result from and produce these social effects?
Drawing upon social semiotics (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996), we consider that visual choices perform three simultaneous functions (representing the world, acting upon it, and creating visual cohesion), and they constitute and are constituted by social situations, institutions and structures. To analyse the ways in which print ads construct women?s relationships with others, we focus on the visual structure of representation, the position of the viewer, aspects of modality, and the meaning of composition.
Results of our previous research about female representation in the Portuguese press and ads (Pinto-Coelho & Mota-Ribeiro, 2005; Mota-Ribeiro, 2005) are articulated with a reflection on female sexuality (Butler, 1990), as well as with studies on women?s images and ads (Berger, 1972; Williamson, 1988; Betterton, 1987; Winship, 1987; Goldman, 1992; Weitz, 1998;), to show the present evolution of visual constructions of gender and sexuality in advertising.
Our research shows that women appear mostly accompanied by man, mainly in a one to one relationship, annihilating sexual orientations other than heterosexuality. Although this is not different from conclusions of previous studies, there is a clear evolution in the representation of female sexuality towards man. However, does this sexual empowerment mean a change towards more egalitarian gender discourses?