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Hello, everyone, and thank you for coming. My name is Trevor Arnold, and I am currently studying at Kutztown University, in Pennsylvania.
My research concerns a book written by sociologist Erving Goffman in 1979. In his book, Goffman discusses common gender stereotypes seen in print magazine advertisements, and categorizes these stereotypes into six categories.
The first theme mentioned in his work is relative size. This simply refers to the observation that, in advertisements of the time period, males were seen as larger, compared to females.
Second comes the idea of function ranking. Advertisements of the time period typically portrayed males having higher status roles than women. Women were typically portrayed as housemaids. . .
While men were generally shown in situations such as these, like a high powered businessman coming home to his wife cooking dinner at the end of the day.
Next comes the idea of feminine touch. Goffman discusses how females are more often shown using their hands to gently trace the outline of an object, or gently cradle that object. This is meant to show the difference between men’s hands, used for utilitarian, grasping purposes, and soft, female touch.
In the time of Goffman’s writing, he notes how the family is typically nuclear: Man and wife have two children, one boy and one girl. These advertisements many times show the son bonding with the father, separated from the daughter bonding with the mother.
In addition to his ideas on relative size, Goffman discusses the advertising stereotype of the ritualization of subordination. This category details how, when males and females are shown in the same advertisement, females attempt to make themselves smaller than males. One popular way of doing so is through the female’s sexualized lying, while the man sits upright.
Lastly comes Goffman’s ideas on licensed withdrawal. Females take part in this category by appearing aloof in photos, looking away from the camera lens. Males, on the other hand, glare directly into the lens. This is noted at the female’s attempt to appear as less of a threat than males.
Goffman wrote his piece almost 37 years ago. In order to find if his ideas are still applicable in present-day advertising, the research question of “Can Goffman’s six categories of gender stereotypes and biases still be found in current advertisements?” was used. This study especially examines the posts of clothing retailer’s Kohl’s and Abercrombie & Fitch through Instagram.
To complete this study, the 100 most recent postings including humans were sampled from clothing retailers Kohl’s and Abercrombie & Fitch in November of 2015, for a total of 200 pictures.. This study was completed in order to observe any present themes regarding how genders are portrayed in modern social media advertisements. The retailers Kohl’s and Abercrombie & Fitch were chosen due to the fact that each store seemingly has different goals in selling its products. Kohl’s appeals to consumers of all ages, selling a variety of products in addition to clothing. Abercrombie & Fitch attracts younger crowds while selling clothing and related accessories.
After observation of the two Instagram accounts, findings were a bit varied. Some of Goffman’s ideas were extremely prevalent in some posts, while no evidence of others were found.
These two posts from Abercrombie & Fitch’s account show evidence on Goffman’s ideas on Relative Size. In this picture, the male stands directly facing the camera, while the female looks on from her side. This could be an attempt to make her appear smaller than the man by her side, making the man more dominant in the photo.
Here is another post from Abercrombie’s account. The man has a larger body structure than the woman to his side. His already large structure is added upon with thick layers of clothing, while the woman wears a small dress, accentuating her smaller body size.
No evidence of Goffman’s ideas on Relative Size were found on the Kohl’s account.
While the category of function ranking was extremely prevalent in the time of Goffman’s writing, no evidence of this category was found in either sample of the two Instagram accounts. A wider sample must be examined in order to conclude whether or not function ranking is seen in Abercrombie and Kohl’s advertisements.
Goffman’s gender stereotype category of the feminine touch can be seen in this post, from Kohl’s. The cup, being the focal point of the picture, is gently cradled in a woman’s hand. Goffman discusses that a man would not be pictured in ads like these, because the cup would be handled much more harshly.
No evidence of the feminine touch was found in the Abercrombie & Fitch account.
Erving Goffman’s ideas on the family are not visible in the selected sample of the Kohl’s and Abercrombie accounts. A possible weakness of this study could be failure to recognize the audience of the selected retailers.
Abercrombie typically appeals to a younger crowd who generally do not have children or families of their own. Kohl’s while marketing to a wide array of ages, uses advertising through Instagram to highlight their products being sold, and not using models to show them.
Within the sample taken from Abercrombie’s Instagram account, various pictures were found to exemplify Goffman’s discussion of The Ritualization of Subordination. These two photos show the female in the ad taking part in a seemingly uncomfortable body position to lower themselves to the male to their sides.
Here, a post from Abercrombie shows how females in advertising fall into the ritualization of subordination category by the use of sexualized lying on a couch or bed. The female in this photo lies on her back with mistletoe above her head, waiting for someone to join and kiss her. Goffman argues that a male would never be seen in advertising pictures like this. Even the thought of a man in this photo would seem a bit odd to some.
No evidence of this category was found in the sample of Kohl’s advertising through Instagram.
In observation of Goffman’s thoughts on licensed withdrawal, it was found that samples from both Kohl’s and Abercrombie show posts which reify the concepts he discusses.
In this post from Kohl’s, the woman shown takes part in licensed withdrawal by being playfully unaware of the camera taking her picture. She pretends to be playing or jumping on the rock, having fun with her hands in the air. Goffman discusses this as an attempt to make the female appear less threatening by diverting attention away from the camera lens.
This post from Kohl’s shows how males typically behave in similar ads. The male is seen glaring straight into the camera lens in an attempt to appear more masculine, dominant, and threatening.
Presence of Goffman’s ideas on gender stereotypes in advertising between Kohl’s and A&F were varied. A&F had multiple examples of Goffman’s relative size category, along with many examples of the ritualization of subordination. Kohl’s, on the other hand, exemplified different aspects of Goffman’s work, including feminine touch and licensed withdrawal. The difference between the two accounts can largely be attributed to the marketing goals of each company.
Kohl’s, on one hand, uses their Instagram account to highlight products being sold in their stores. When the products are shown, models using or wearing the products are predominately absent or hard to see.
Abercrombie & Fitch, on the other hand, seems to use their Instagram account to highlight products, as well as those wearing them. They seem to market the experience of “wear our clothes, and you’ll look as good as the people in these ads.” Kohl’s, when showing models in their ads, tend to have the model’s face covered with items such as sunglasses. A&F, in the sample, included models with fully visible faces in a majority of the pictures posted.
While concepts discussed in Gender Advertisements are visible within the selected sample of posts from Kohl’s and Abercrombie and Fitch, a wider array of corporations and social media platforms must be surveyed. Each medium attracts a different audience, especially in age. Further study is needed in order to find if stereotypes are present in the way companies reach out to different age groups.
The findings of this study show that further progress must be made in order to reach full equality between genders. Goffman’s work should be studied and applied for the foreseeable future to see if an evolution in gender portrayal is being made over time.
Goffman’s work should be used in media studies to show how easily biases held by advertising creators are translated into the content created.
Thank you for your time.
Trevor Arnold's ECA Conference Presentation
Gender on Instagram:
An Updated Look at Goffman’s
Kutztown University of