'Gender Images' - From 8th Edition of The Tranny Guide

'Gender Images' By Lesley Lambert

A description of the final research project for Lesley’s BSc degree in psychology.

Men and women are not biologically, very different from one-another, yet their behaviour is different in ways which go well beyond the natural physical differences.

As part of my final year project of my Open University psychology course, I chose to look at a possible reason for this discrepancy.

One area of my study was the 'social representations' in the media, which subliminally influences our understanding of the world, ourselves and those around us.

For the purpose of a project to exercise the courses analytical procedures and to prove my understanding of the subject, I chose to focus a small study on two leading glossy magazines, one aimed at women, Marie-Claire (May 1997) and one at men, GQ / Gentlemen's Quarterly (July 1997).

By undertaking this study I thought that I might also gain some insight into what influences others including my trannie partner who reads such magazines.

Pictures were my main focus of study but I also scanned the text for information to contribute to my analysis. I looked at articles and adverts containing pictures of men and women and then chose a random sample for in depth study. I was looking to see what stereotypes these images conjured up. For example the idea that 'a woman's place is in the home' might be objectified by a picture of a woman using washing up liquid at a kitchen sink.

What I saw in the adverts

In three fashion ads, there were pictures of men dressed in suits, personifying I felt, purposeful, corporate, self-importance. The fashion adverts showing women contrasted heavily with that of the men. They were clad in lighter dress and looked as if their thoughts were elsewhere. I felt that they personified 'cold beauty'.

"women were presented as beauty created by man"

There were four advertisements for beauty products. In two, the women were presented as beauty created by man and in the third the woman appeared to be the object of man's desire. One advert was for a male fragrance - this had the caption 'Essence of Freedom'. The man had a distant dreamy expression similar to that seen on some of the women's faces.

There were four adverts for various eyewear, three of these featured men. In two of these the men looked tough or self-important. In one the man was loving and sexual. The fourth advert was for contact lenses this had the caption 'make love not condensation'. This featured a woman with a sweat-covered face. I felt this image to be anchored in the idea of uncomplicated sex, The advert was in GQ magazine and this led me to consider it as objectification of woman as an object of pleasure by the advertiser.

"women were not set against natural backgrounds ... as if they not a part of the real world"

In adverts for kitchen equipment and slimming products there were both men and women. Usually the woman was more prominent than the man. In the adverts showing a man and woman in an embrace, the woman was in a more passive position with the man doing the holding and caressing. In one advert the woman was on the top but the man appeared to have a more dominant role.

What I saw in features

In the fashion features, pictures of women were not set against natural backgrounds. Some of the pictures were cut out, probably from catwalk scenes, giving the women a disembodied feel as if they were not part of the real world. The male images were more active, they seemed to have more substance being set against a natural background.

What I saw in the articles

There were human interest articles which contrasted with the prevalent images of dreamy women

Articles featuring men showed them as sensitive, confident and concerned about other people. One man was quoted in the text as saying "To me...there's something dramatically ugly about a person who can wear a dress for £6,000, when at the same time people can't afford to eat." The other was a composer who looked very tough and aggressive but had written a piece of music about a woman's story of abuse.

"the representations of men were a complete contrast to the women"

An interview with a famous photographer of topless models, painted him as a kind and gentle family man.

Overview of the results

On the whole the male gender was represented in a more positive way than that of the females. Men appeared to be more active, involved and concerned about the world around them. The overall result showed that the representations of women were set in a fantasy context. With few exceptions women appeared as passive or neutral, detached from the real world.

My own conclusion

The results of the study surprised me. I had expected to find traditional, modern, middle class stereotypes of women. For example; housewife, mother, career woman, superwoman (juggling career and motherhood). I had even hoped to find some more positive female representations which would relate to my own feelings and experiences. For example women as activists, feminists and with interests outside of home, family and career. Instead I found objectification that seemed to me anchored in associations with fifties pin-up magazines. I was reminded of 1970's Cosmopolitan and centuries old archetypes of women on pedestals like goddesses.

I felt that the representations of men were a complete contrast to the women. Men were represented as comfortable with themselves, not overtly concerned with their appearance (but smart and clean none-the-less). Some fitted a 50's tough guy image, but even this appeared to be a tough veneer over a soft and caring interior. Men did not appear as sexually aggressive but as loving and sexual and in touch with the 'caring nineties'.

In a larger study across a broader range of titles a different conclusion may have been drawn. However on the evidence of this small study it is shocking to think that young men and women may be influenced by these strongly biased representations of women. I hope it does not mean that the fight for a woman's right to choose has been forgotten.

"Most of the women I know ... unblock their own drains"

On the positive side it is nice to think that such positive and more rounded images of men may be influencing future generations of young men.

Who were the magazines representing?

Most of the women I know work, raise children, do gardening, unblock their own drains, offer support to others and come from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I also know many that are disabled. I don't know many women who have the time or the money to live the lifestyle represented in this study.

Most of the men that I know, that are as sensitive, caring and concerned as the men described in the magazine articles, are rare, work as I do, in community care or are gay, bisexual, or are trannies.

My tranny partner, believes that one of the many contributory factors to transvestism is a desire to escape the pressures of a traditional masculine life for the a more 'romantic and glamorous' world of femininity.

The magazines certainly appear to feed the illusion of this dreamy femininity and of course this temporary escape is valuable and should be available to any gender. However we both know women’s lives are not like this all the time. I trust that other caring sharing trannies understand this too.

Further suggested reading: Forever Feminine: women's magazines Ferguson M (1984) and The Cult of Femininity, London, Gower.