A Critical Analysis of Katharina Lindner

Using sociologist Erving Goffman’s technique of frame analysis and a further development of the original coding scheme, Katharina Lindner conducted a study to examine the portrayal of women in advertisements in a general interest magazine (Time) and a women’s fashion magazine (Vogue). The study reveals that advertisements in Vogue portrayed women more stereotypically than did advertisements in Time. The results agreed with the prediction since Lindner considered Time a magazine intended for a broader audience containing more sophisticated content compared to Vogue’s focus on beauty and fashion.

To the extent that this research is explanatory with results providing further and updated insight regarding women stereotypes in print advertisement, there are several limitations that should be considered when interpreting the study findings. The study that Lindner conducted was triggered by the idea that the visual advertisement is constantly bombarding people with images that “act as socializing agents in influencing our attitudes, values, behaviour” and ultimately validating the stereotyped gender roles. (Lindner 2004:409) Lindner’s study can be seen as a further development of Goffman’s earlier study on the same topic.

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Lindner believed that Goffman’s study had faults in credibility due to biased samples, in that he “deliberately chose advertisements from newspaper and magazines that showed gender differences that represented his preconceptions”. (Lindner 2004:411) To improve upon this, Lindner collected a more randomized sample consisting of issues from Time and Vogue in the first 4 weeks of January and June for the same 6 years. She also created a clear and concise coding system of nine different categories (four more categories than Goffman).

After Lindner and a researching assistant had coded a total of 1,374 advertisements, statistics were published on their findings. The results showed that “78% of the magazine advertisements portrayed women stereotypically with regard to at least one of the coding categories”. (Lindner 2004:419) However, an interesting difference was that Time reinforced stereotypical gender roles that showed women as smaller, inferior, and as dependent on men, whereas Vogue portrayed women in more sexualized ways and in positions of low social power.

As stated in the footnotes of the article, Katharina Lindner attended the School of Communications at University of Hartford. She was an Honours graduate of 2003 and a year later in 2004, she published this article. There may be new research surrounding this topic considering it has been seven years since the study has been published. However, because this is a longitudinal study consisting of a sample pool of advertisements from a 50 year time span, it is most likely there will not be drastic change in findings, but research methodology may be improved upon.

Using the method of content analysis, Lindner’s study successfully showed the cause of gender stereotypes in the media. However, it provided little insight as to relating the effects of print advertisements on socialization. The coding scheme provided detailed analysis and confirmed suggestions of gender stereotypes in advertisements, but without audience research we cannot see the effects of exposure to stereotypical gender roles and its influence on people’s attitudes and behaviours. Ultimately, we cannot identify it as a socializing agent, which is what sociologist may be most interested in.

Perhaps this is because the author Katharina Lindner is a major in communications rather than sociology. In the introduction of the article, Lindner briefly mentioned evidence from a study done in 1991 by Jones that suggest gender stereotypes in advertisements have an effect on people’s psychosocial well-being. But now with the new data from Lindner’s study, a sociologist could apply the findings to show the effects of exposure to stereotypes in print advertisements. It would be interesting to question whether frequent exposure increases susceptibility of the negative effects of the media on socialization.

When examining the methodology of Lindner’s content analysis study there are several limitations to take into consideration. Despite attempts to eliminate bias in the selection of advertisements such as choosing a larger randomized sample and extracting advertisements from both January and June to “avoid bias based on the time of the year the advertisements were published (summer months may contain more instances of “body display”)” (Lindner 2004:413) there still exists a few faults in credibility.

In Table I there appears to be relatively more advertisements from Vogue that were selected to be coded. With more advertisements appearing in Vogue in each month, the results are unclear about whether the amount of gender stereotypes in ads is caused by greater number of ads or heavier concentration of gender stereotypes in the magazine. Also, some of the coding categories, for example, “objectification” which was defined as “The woman is portrayed in such a way as to suggest that being looked at is er major purpose or function in the advertisement” (Lindner 2004: 414) is relatively subjective. The gender of the research assistant may influence the coding decision and the article does not reveal the gender of the research assistant. Moreover, the article stated that the ads were coded by the researcher and the assistant separately and then their codes were brought together to test for reliability. However, only testing for reliability between two variations may not prove the reliability of the codes successfully.

Also consider the fact that both individuals worked in the same field, therefore they are more likely to hold the same views. Further studies must be undertaken and better measures must be developed to improve our understanding concerning the exact relationship between gender stereotypes and socialization. Despite a few deficiencies in methodology, the study has provided some initial insight surrounding gender stereotypes in print advertisements and its likelihood of socializing gender roles.

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