Difference for sale: How advertisers construct different versions of race, class, gender, and sexuality in ten men's magazines

Date of Completion

January 2001


American Studies|Sociology, General|Mass Communications




To win over skeptical product managers and gain a competitive advantage, today's advertisers carefully research and then appeal to the social-psychological fantasies, norms, and fears of their core consumers. This presents the social scientist a rare opportunity to examine how ideology is constructed in strategic ways for different social groups. This dissertation empirically examines how advertisers construct different versions of race, class, gender and sexuality in ten popular men's magazines according to the demographics and social-psychological makeup of each magazine audience. I content analyze 1194 ads to determine how advertisers pose models and stage interaction in ways that strategically appeal to different audiences. Theorizing that middle-class white men are undergoing a “crisis of masculinity”, I find that advertisers compensate for such an apparent crisis by having the white men in middle-class-directed ads largely refrain from doing gender, and by crudely stereotyping black men as hegemonically masculine icons (i.e., buff athletes and performers). Such racial stereotyping is also present in the white-directed ads to a lesser extent, but nearly all of this occurs in the leisure-oriented magazines. It is theorized that men who identify with the work process have more stable and relaxed gender identities than men who primarily identify with the leisure sphere. I also find the most androgynous ads in my two most affluent magazines, which suggests that affluent men may have the smallest psychological investment in the bi-polar gender order. ^ Regarding sexuality, I find that interactive sexualization and nudity levels follow no class pattern, and that they occur in surprisingly low levels for men across the board, although they are higher in non-sports magazines and in heterosocial ads. Finally, because “interactive sexualization” correlates so highly with “femininity levels” (+.52), I theorize that the depiction of sexuality is toned down in these ads because our society's conflation of sexuality and femininity makes sexuality and nudity largely inappropriate material for non-pornographic men's magazines. Also, to get a better sense of what these ads mean socially I examine the process whereby these ads are designed and produced from the industry's perspective. ^