Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gender in Fashion Ads and Editorials

In the article “Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines “, Diane Crane studies the female interpretations of fashion photographs. Crane uses focus groups comprised of middle age and college age women from diverse backgrounds. She then examines how the women interpret a selection of fashion advertisements and editorials from the February, March and September issues of Vogue from the year 1997. Crane begins her article discussing key principles that must be understood in order to fully examine the women’s responses. Crane refers to the term hegemony, which is the way an institution remains in power due to the encouragement of conceptions that the public assumes as societal norms. Conflicted hegemony is dialectic between the dominant ideology and the oppositional ones. Crane claims that postmodern fashion contributes to conflicted hegemony as it provides women with “contradictory identities”. The media is also a key example of conflicted hegemony and by using fashion magazine images; Crane was able to observe that the women maintained part of the modernist viewpoint. They assumed traditional norms of how women should act and be portrayed even though they were observing something that was encouraging the opposite by expressing conflicted hegemony. While the focus group stated that they felt constrained from being influenced by fashion images, due to not being able to relate to some of the models or afford the clothing, their interpretations of the images clearly show that the media has influenced their ideas of how woman should be portrayed in the media.

Most of the women rejected the first photograph of the woman in a short dress and heels, because she appeared “slutty”, while a few thought she was empowering. This is an example that showed the conflicted hegemony that magazines and fashion perpetuates since the image provokes multiple ideas of the of the female identity. Almost all of the focus group rejected the photographs of androgynous looking woman. One example of this is the Chanel advertisement mentioned in the article. A woman is wearing an unbuttoned suit jacket without a blouse and with black jeans and her face is described as being extremely pale. This image is considered abnormal compared to the way women are usually photographed. In images with gender ambiguity, they didn’t like the portrayal of the models personality and because of this they claimed the image was non relatable. The women read the images based on their own identity, which was often constructed based on traditional norms and the dominant hegemony, which is why they rejected most images that opposed it. Crane’s article remains relevant in many ways, but there is an increasing use of extreme fashion photography to shock our senses and grab our attention. I don’t believe that gender ambiguity in fashion photographs would provoke the same reactions today. Women today seem to be more attracted to the extreme photographs rather then the characteristic portrayals of women, which don’t attract any attention and can be easily ignored and forgotten when reading a magazine.

The image on the left is similar to the images of androgynous women that are described in the article. The model is looking at the camera and in turn the viewer. The action is quite masculine looking and model appears very androgynous looking both in her physical features and her outfit. She is not smiling or appearing submissive in any way. The second image is in opposition to the first one as it portrays the more traditional image of a women in a fashion advertisement. Crane mentions Goffman’s book on gender studies and his idea of “ritualization of subordination” to describe characteristics of traditional images of women in magazines. His book is about the codes in an image that portray women as submissive. “Ritualization of subordination” refers in particular to the way the female is positioned in the image that demonstrates subordination. In this image she is hunched over, she is looking away from the camera and she isn’t fully clothed. All expressing the submissive way in which women are often portrayed.

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