It should come as no surprise that magazine ads aimed at men sometimes glorify violence, sexism, and/or general boorishness. But researchers decided to study exactly how boorish different magazines’ ad pages were, and they found that in some magazines, over 90% of the ads endorsed beating people up, treating women badly, or other so-called “hyper-masculine” activities.
For a study published in the journal Sex Roles, Megan Vokey and her coauthors went through the ads in eight magazines, subjecting each ad to a checklist of questions. These included:
• “Are any weapons present/discussed and/or being used (e.g., fists, guns, bombs?)”
• “Does it appear that having/obtaining heterosexual intercourse is portrayed as an integral part of being a man (e.g., to be a ‘stud’)?”
• “Does it appear that fast, dangerous driving is fun/exciting?”
Over half the ads they surveyed included at least one of what they called “hyper-masculine beliefs,” with the most common being “toughness as emotional self-control” (in 36% of ads) and “danger as exciting” (28%). The eight magazines, ranked in order of highest to lowest percentage of hyper-masculine ads:
2. Playboy: 95%
Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly all of the ads in Playboy endorsed some sort of hyper-masculine belief. Fifty-two percent convey a “callous attitude toward women and sex.”
3. Game Informer: 94%
Runner-up Game Informer actually beat out Playboy for the highest number of hyper-masculine beliefs endorsed per ad — each of its ads contained an average of 3.6 macho messages of some kind. It also had the most ads glorifying violence of any magazine studied.
4. Maxim: 84%
The lad mag trails its older brother Playboy, but is still high on the list. Thirty-one percent of its ads promoted a callous attitude toward women.
5. Esquire: 67%
Compared to Playboy and Maxim, this men’s title is relatively well-behaved.
6. Wired: 49%
It’s not on top, but nearly half of the tech mag’s ads contain some sort of macho message.
7. Field & Stream: 49%
Field & Stream ties with Wired, though it has a significantly higher percentage of violent ads (presumably having to do with hunting).
8. Golf Digest: 22%
Golf Digest had an extremely low percentage of ads glorifying violence or danger, which makes sense, because it is about golf.
9. Fortune: 20%
The finance and business publication was the least hyper-masculine of all, with zero ads that emphasized violence or callous treatment of women.
In general, the study authors found that “the vast majority of advertisements targeting young, less educated, and less affluent men depicted hyper-masculine beliefs, whereas only a minority of advertisements targeting older, more educated, and more affluent men did so.” They speculate that for younger, less-wealthy men, “behaviours such as acting tough and fighting may be viewed as acceptable, alternative ways of gaining power, respect, and desired resources,” and that advertisers know this and exploit it. For those unhappy with ads that heavily feature sexism and “fists, guns, bombs,” the authors suggest, “perhaps the most effective influence on advertisers would be consumers declining to purchase products advertised in this way.”