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Masculinity As A Construction Of Identity

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5399 words Published: 18th May 2017

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This thesis seeks to investigate the understanding of masculinity as a construction of identity. This study explores developing identities, and how this may relate to wider constructions of masculinity in the media, with particular reference to lifestyle magazines aimed at men.


This Study focuses on 'For Him Magazine' known now as FHM, one of the leading men's magazines that is published in 27 countries.

The methodology that will be used to carry out this study will be a content analysis.

Through a content analysis, 6 issues of FHM in from the years 2005 through to 2010 will be examined, in order to examine if there has been any shifts in the portrayal of men or what is meant by the term masculinity.

Bibliography from year two

Benwell Bethan, (2003) Masculinity and men's lifestyle magazines: chapter 6; Published by Wiley-Blackwell)

Bignell, Jonathan (1997), Media Semiotics, an introduction. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Edwards Tim, (2006) Cultures of Masculinity; men masculinity and feminism, chapter 1 (Routledge)

Jackson Peter, Stevenson Nick, Brooks Kate (2001) making sense of men's magazines; chapter four (Wiley-Blackwell).

Galician Mary-Lou, L. Merskin Debra (2007) Critical thinking about sex, love and romance in mass media: media; chapter three (Routledge)

Gaunlett David, (2002) Media, gender, and identity: an introduction, Men's magazines and modern male identities; chapter eight (Routledge)

Gunter Barrie (2002) Media sex: what are the issues? chapter 6 (Published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates)

Itzin Catherine, Newman Janet (1995) Gender, culture and organizational change: putting theory into practice chapter fourteen (Routledge)

Litosseliti Lia, Sunderland Jane (2002) Gender, Identity and discourse analysis. (John Benjamins Publishing Company)

The Construction of the Male Identity in the UK Men's Lifestyle Magazine FHM


This thesis seeks to explore how masculinity is represented and constructed within the pages of FHM (UK) magazine of the modern male identity. Through a content analysis of the branding of masculinity in the UK's leading man's magazine, the study explores the trends and the portrayal of men but also the types of products advertised in men's magazines. It will examine the rationale of FHM in constructing the portrayals of men and masculinity and the role that FHM plays in shaping attitudes about masculinity.

The central research question is: Exactly what ideas does FHM generate or convey about masculinity? More specifically, in the magazine's construction of masculinity, what is emphasised and what is ignored?

Considering gender and sexuality to explore and address the stereotypical representations and attitudes that are likely to be reinforced to its readers.

The first chapter of this thesis demonstrates a detailed depiction of the UK's FHM position and role in the men's lifestyle magazine market, from its inception from 'For Him Magazine' through its incredible development to its contemporary brand expansions. It also discusses FHM's influence on the men's magazine market as well as on broader industry concerns related to the young male market, particularly advertising. Essentially, this chapter offers a rationale for why FHM is an important site for investigation.

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Chapter 1

The men's magazine market is a moderately new phenomenon. Men's magazines today have become sites of significant inquiry that offer alternative views on the representation of the modern man. Men have purchased and read magazines in the past, though previously, the term 'men's magazine' referred to publications structured around 'masculine' themes to designed to interest men, such as cars, fishing, DIY and pornography. However, as sociologist Tim Edwards (1997) notes, "It is, to put it simply, that they weren't called men's magazines and this is what constitutes the key difference: the self-conscious targeting of men as consumers of magazines designed to interest men if not necessarily to be about men" (p.72, emphasis in the original). Since contemporary men's magazines are embedded in the rise of a new lifestyle genre, they are considered men's lifestyle titles as opposed to simply men's interest magazines (Edwards, 2006).1 The growth of the men's magazine market in the UK, which saw an invasion of lifestyle titles in the 1980s, commencing with the launch of Arena in 1986.

The Focus

The aim of this study is to investigate and analyse the different representations of masculinity in the modern day 21st century. The endeavour of this is to answer the research question, which is; has the definition of masculinity and or the portrayal of men changed over time, in particular in print advertisements in men's lifestyle magazine FHM (For Him Magazine). Although this may sound like a popular research case study, very little academic research has been performed in the field of men's magazines and even less on the construction and representation of masculinity. This study therefore aims to firstly, classify the term 'masculinity,' to conclude a definition, of what is means to be a men?, which is often used to ascribed to males in today's society. This study will also explore sex roles and common stereotypes that men are regularly being labelled with. This study will further examine if the characteristic that what once associated with traditional masculinity is dying out, or if there is more than one masculine identity. Thirdly, this study will examine the presentation of male images and products in advertising exploring the emerging trends of men's images where the predominately female female-orientated markets of body enhancements, cosmetics, and personal grooming products are being aimed at male consumers.

Through a context analysis, this study addresses male images in advertisements in For Him Magazine (FHM) from 2005 to 2010. Examining the changing trends in the portrayal of men and the types of products advertised in men's magazines. Furthermore, this study will argue, that masculinity makes more sense in relation to individual 'performances' of identity than it does in terms of any measurement of gender or sexuality, a notion which is often disregarded in both popular and academic discourses about gender identity.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Over the last few decades the role of men in British society has changed considerably. Traditional notions of masculine images, such as males being the sole breadwinner or provider has come under attack, undermining traditional images of the masculine identity. Males have also faced a changing Image in advertising. Traditionally, females were the ones that have been associated with sex in advertising, but today males are also being used to connote or imply sexual situations in advertisements. Modern day advertisements feature provocative images of men and women in reveal outfits and postures selling a variety of products, most of which have no association with sex. There has too been an increase in product advertisements in men's magazine, most popular out of these is beauty and accessions. Suggesting that men today, have developed a conscious self-awareness of the way they look. Men in are taking great pride in their appearance, replacing beer or health supplements and abs tonners. Men now have a keen eye for fashion, and indulge in grooming/beauty products- this identity has today been coined as metrosexual. Adapting the characteristics of men, this new man has blurred the distinction of masculinity. Traditional masculinity referred to heterosexual men, interesting in extreme sports, cars and DIY. This request the question is the term masculinity (means to be macho) changing? Or is there more then one masculine identity?

Metrosexuality was first developed by Mark Simpson in his book 'Male Impersonators'. According to Simpson (2003), metrosexuality is a 'new, narcissistic, self-conscious kind of masculinity produced by film, advertising, and glossy magazines to replace traditional repressed, unmoisturised, unreflexive, unmediated masculinity.' However, this term has become widely used in the United States media and in the advertising industry in the late 1990's, referring to straight men who posses feminine traits and care about fashion, grooming, cleaning and using beauty products (Mereditch and Wells; 2003). However, very little academic research exists on the meaning of metrosexuality for masculinity. This study examines modern masculinity and metrosexuality of men in the 21st century men's lifestyle magazines, within the UK, drawing particular attention FHM.

However, there are limited studies on masculinity and men's images (Windholz, 1999/2000; gates 2001; Tincknell and Chambers, 2002). Although media across the globe are widely discussing the newly emerged phenomenon- 'metrosexuality'- there is almost no academic research on this phenomenon. Since metrosexuality and masculinity are so closely related to each other, this study aims to explore both issues within men's lifestyle magazines.

Chapter 2: Definitions of Masculinity

Whilst, we have identified the main attributes that can be grouped under the term 'traditional masculinity,' we still do not have an recognized definition of what masculinity itself might be. Craig contests that 'masculinity is what a culture expects of its men' (1992:3). This description suggests that masculinity exists only in a cultural context, as something that stems from traditions, codes and in particular expectations commonly held by society. Similarly, Mosse's definition of masculinity as 'the way men assert what they believe to be their manhood' (1996:3) insinuates that masculinity is widely understood as a way of behaving in accordance with one's sex-defined characteristics, either as a manifestation of one's sexual identity, or by the way of a responsibility towards the 'general order' provided by understanding of gender. Gilmore (1990; 1) defines manhood as the approved way of being an adult as 'the approved way of being an adult male in any given society.' Within the cultures, where value is attracted to a notion of 'manhood,' Gilmore further claims that there is three particular criteria's that are repeatedly associated with the masculine role, firstly, to impregnate women and secondly, to protect dependents from danger (1990; 223).

Berger, Wallis and Watson (1995) states that 'masculinity, the asymmetrical pendant to more critically investigated femininity, is a vexed term, variously inflected, multiply defined, not limited to straightforward descriptions of maleness'. Masculinity takes a variety of forms for men and it differs according to sexuality, race, class and age. It is noticed the society and media hold very distinct stereotypes towards different ethnic and race groups. For Caucasians, the most common dominate ideology of masculinity represents ideals of 'strength, toughness, coolness, attractiveness, heterosexuality and whiteness' (O'Shaughnessy 2003). However, these ideals are very difficult for men to attain in reality. With the increased attention given to men's bodies and the resurgence of their imagery with the media, men nowadays pay more attention to the media and work to improve their physical appearance (Wienke, 1998; Shilling, 1993). These effects are further pushed forward with the new 'ideal' - metrosexual, which simply suggests that men who possess feminine traits are ideal. As men are now facing so many 'identities,' so what makes a man? A closer investigation is presented next.

Chapter 3: Gender and Masculinity

In general, the characteristics associated with men are grouped under the term 'traditional masculinity' by many writers. Three of its main character traits are strength, command and ambition- all useful in 'getting ahead,' and more often than not viewed in a positive light. Even the less positive attributes associated with traditional masculinity such as competitiveness, aggression and stubbornness - maintain an air of respectability in that they remain symptomatic of power and control rather than weakness. Theorists in the field of gender studies have sought to understand how these 'masculine traits' came to be associated with the male role first and foremost, and why they continue to permeate society and popular discourse as 'common sense' notions of gender roles.

Consequently, gender as a concept is open to much greater debate than sex, and it is clear that masculinity, as one aspect of gender identity, can take on an entire range of potential meanings. Mort observes that 'we are not dealing with masculinity, but with a series of masculinities' (1988; 195; his emphasis). As well as recognizing that class, race and sexual orientation, and several other factors all enter the equation at the level of identity, the term 'masculinities' refers to the fact that no two people's performance of so-called masculine characteristics will ever be exactly the same. As Horrocks states, 'there is clearly not a homogenous monolithic identity possessed by all men in all contexts' (1994:3).

Byne suggests that, as human beings, we are motivated to create an identity for ourselves that allows us to make sense of our position in the apparent world. In order to be understandable, this must accord with the already existing conventions, as we perceive them; no matter how we seek to position ourselves in relation to these, we still accept that they exist. Conversely, men must strive to meet an extremely demanding stereotype of the male role as provider, achiever and conqueror- a task that is, in its self unattainable, and which causes men much self-doubt and anguish. This, Kaufman conclude, also 'inspires fear for it means not being a man, which means, in a society confusing gender and sex, not being a male…losing power and ungluing basic building blocks of our personalities'' (p.149) Together, these two behaviours are more destructive than either on its own, combining to both cause the problem and make it impossible to escape from.

Chapter 4: Masculinity in the United Kingdom - British Men

According to Benynon (2002), there are three ideal versions of contemporary masculinities in the United Kingdom.

The 'old man' is relatively uninterested in fashion, is married and holding down a regular job, and remains somewhat sexist and homophobic in outlook.

The 'new man' is narcissistic, progressive and ambivalent in his sexuality, yuppie- influenced and generally anti-sexist. When he first emerged he was viewed variously as the same as the same old wolf, but in designer clothing, a revolutionary in his relations with women and his willingness to display the emotional side of his nature, and a marketing opportunity, for new visual codes.

The 'new lad' is defensive about fashion, ambivalent in his attitude towards women (he has pornographic notions of them rather than relationship with them) and he believes life should be one huge alcoholic and drug induced festival. (Beynon, 2002, p.118)

Among the above three ideals, the 'new man' seems to be the most popular ideal in the United Kingdom. These ideals can be illustrated by the most influential British celebrity football player, David Beckham. David Beckham defines a new trend of men in the United Kingdom. In a recent study reported in The Observer (Campbell 2003), One David Beckham: Celebrity, and the Soccerati, co-authored by Andrew Parker of Warwick University and Ellis Cashmore of Staffordshire University, highlights how Beckham successfully combines a mixture of traditional and modern values to create an inspirational healthy role model. The study praises Beckham's different public personae including the national ambassador, aggressive competitor, loving husband, doting father, fashion model and gay icon. This study further concludes that Beckham's massive popularity could influence young males, encourage greater tolerance and acceptance of a new concept of masculinity. As suggested by the author of the study, Beckham has helped create a complex new concept of masculinity by defying expectations in areas such as what clothes men should wear or how men should style their hair. Indeed, Beckham fits all of the contemporary masculinity ideals - he is a combination of 'new man' (nurturer and compassionate partner), 'new lad' (football legend, fashionable father, conspicuous consumer) and 'old man'(loyal dedicated, bread- winning) (Cambell, 2003).

Chapter 5: Gender Representation in Advertising

Research has revealed that advertising does not exist in a vacuum but instead is very much interrelated with the existing social relationships within society (Duffy, 1994).

Goldman (1992) suggested that we tend to take for granted the deep social assumptions embedded within advertisements as we are so used to the quantity of advertisements around us and the routine ways in which we read them. More importantly, we do not see or recognise advertising as a sphere of ideology. In a consumer society, advertising acts as a magnet, luring individuals into embracing a consumption culture that is part of an economic and social institution that helps to perpetuate what Goldman called the supremacy of commodity relations. Interactions between individuals are now greatly being defined by the material possession of commodities.

The consumer society is primarily about contentment and pleasure, but there are broad complications beyond the realm of Contentment and pleasure. One of the most important implications is the area of gender identity. Sex-role stereotype, like any other stereotype, allows us to make sense of the world that we live in. Gender, of course, is one of the most important forms of systematised behaviour in all societies, and every culture has accepted 'routine' forms for communicating gender identity (Leiss, Kline & Jhally, 1990, p. 215). Our everyday environment is articulated mostly by what we see in the media and the task of advertising is crucial. The target audience's self-identification with the gender images is a basic requirement for an advertisement's effectiveness, and the meanings encoded in the images are persuasive cultural symbols for societal behaviour. The earliest research into the portrayal of men in sex roles in advertisements was carried out in the 1970s by many researchers and drew many conclusions: men were portrayed as more self-governing than women. They were portrayed in different occupations in comparison to women who were usually shown as housewives, cleaning, cooking and caring for children. Specific products such as Alcohol and cigarettes were most frequently portrayed by men, while women were mostly depicted in advertisements for household products (Dominick & Rauch, 1972; Schneider & Schneider, 1979; McArthur & Resko, 1975; Courtney & Whipple, 1974). According to Fejes (1992), the results from these researchers carried out in the early 1970s, did not fluctuate much from those conducted in the late 70s and early 80s.

In the last few decades, the role of men in the UK has changed considerably there has been an increasing visibility of the male body in the media and popular culture. Men are getting increased exposure not just of their bodies, but of their lifestyles, consumption preferences and emotional needs. Men are gradually gaining on women in the display of their bodies on billboards, fashion photography and magazines. Moreover, it is not just the number of images of men that has increased; it is the emergence of a new representation in popular culture where male bodies are depicted in an idealized and erotized manner (Moore 1988; Simpson, 1994). Furthermore, in the consumer markets around the world-the predominantly female-oriented market like cosmetics, personal grooming and even body enhancements are attracting seeing more male consumers. Through a content analysis of advertisements over six years in a magazine for men, this paper studies the trends in the representation of images, products and sexual portrayal of men.

Chapter 6: Men in Advertising

Fejes (1992) noted that Skelly & Lundstrom (1981) conducted a study on print advertisements analysing a total of 660 magazine ads from 1959, 1969 and 1979 to establish whether there was any change in the portrayal of men in print advertisements over the two decades. They found that there was a small and gradual movement towards more non-sexist portrayal of men. Fejes (1992) also noted that Lysonski's study (1985) showed similar results. Kervin (1990) too carried out a research study on the ads, focussing particularly on Esquire magazine. He examined whether the representation of men and the definition of masculinity had changed or remained over time.

The study closely examined at ads from Esquire magazine for 50 years from the 1930s to the 1980s, and discovered that specific stereotypical representations of masculinity still remained after 50 years. What is fascinating, though, is her suggestion that these stereotypes exist because they complete certain needs and concerns of the men in society relating to their sense of powerlessness as individuals. She suggested that these stereotypes may be there to offer some form of compensation, in the form of admiration from others and possession of products for the men to define themselves adequately in society. She also discovered other new constructions of masculinity emerging over the years. The form of the male body is beginning to be portrayed as an erotic spectacle, suggesting that advertisers are adjusting to the changing attitude of consumers and exploiting it.

Marian Salzman, Director of Strategic Content, JWT Worldwide, in her new book, The Future of Men (2003), interestingly, notices an important gap of the young male demographic that marketers and advertisers often fail to notice. Salzman, who conversed about the rise of the metrosexuals in 2003, deems the days of the metrosexual are numbered as men want their manliness back, and they are tired of taking their behavioural and fashion cues from their female companions and from men's magazines. But this may not be true, as Kelton Research discovered in his research which was performed on 600 men, found that men can now be classified into men who value their personal style and appearance without sacrificing their masculinity, and "ubersexual" men who care about their appearance from head to toe.

Moreover, men may try to act laid-back when it comes to personal maintenance, but the reality is, nearly two out of three surveyed not only own a variety of grooming products, but use them again and again. More importantly, about 98% of these products- men have no qualms about strolling into a store to buy a grooming related product (Wellikoff, 2006).

Chapter 7: The Macho & The Metrosexual

Lee (2003) noted that men of all sexualities are taking a wider interest in their appearance. Hairdresser is where they go for a haircut instead of the barber shop and they are turning to other form of cleanser as soap is too harsh on their skin. More men are going to the gym instead of engaging in outdoor activities such as sports and some of them are even indecisive when it comes to choosing something to wear. These men are called the "metrosexual" and David Beckham who has been credited as the man who is changing male behaviour is classified as the ultimate metrosexual. A few years ago, concern over weight and diet regimes was strictly women's issue and having a pot belly was accepted for a man. But now, it is completely acceptable for men to watch their weight too and follow diet plans. This new breed of man blurs gender lines. In the 'Future Man'(Salzman, 2003) concludes that British men are becoming metrosexuals who 'have embraced customs and attitudes once deemed by women.'

Salzman further connotes that men today are confident in their masculinity and in their sense of self. In addition, they look and feel good and are knowledgeable about fashion and accessories 'regardless of what people might consider these things unmanly.' This new breed of man does oppose the traditional male role.

ABC news reported that Leo Burnett, a Chicago advertising firm, conducted a global study of masculinity in 2005 and half of the men in their sample say that their role in society is unclear than in previous decades. More than seventy percent of them said that advertising is out of touch with men's reality. Reports seem to indicate there is a new form of manliness emerging that is both macho and sexual at the same time. Stephen Perrine, editor in chief of Best Life magazine in the United States, mentioned on ABC news, "The new manliness is about being competent and of value. It's less of men looking into their own navels." He also listed actors like Huge Jackman and Brad Pitt as the role models for this new manliness (ABC news, 2006).

Research Questions

Advertising is an incorporated part of any economy in the world. And where there is rapid growth and changes in the economic profile of a society, there is a parallel increase in consumption patterns. This study aims to examine the portrayal of men in advertising as the emerging trends indicate that the predominantly female-oriented markets like cosmetics, body enhancements and personal grooming, are being directed at more male consumers. By studying the changes taking place in the portrayal of gender roles in advertising, it would allow us to get an insight into the changes that are taking place in society at given times and trends over periods of time.

RQ1: What are the changes in the images (as per the categories) of men in FHM Magazine from 1998 to 2005?

RQ2: What is the classified level of dressing (as per the categories) of the male models in FHM magazines used for the various categories of pictures?

RQ3: What are the differences in the race of male models in FHM magazines in the categories of photographs/illustrations?

RQ4: What are the differences in the types of products advertised in FHM magazines from 2000 to 2010?

RQ5: What is the classified level of dressing (as per the categories) of the male models for the various categories of products?

RQ6: Has the portrayal of men in Print advertisements changed in any way over the last six years?


For the purpose of this study a content analysis was chosen and deemed appropriate as it will provide an overview on the coverage and frequency of use of male models in the advertisements selected. This quantitative research method is also useful for evaluating empirically the changing trends in society, while allowing us to summarize results and report findings in accurate, quantitative manner. The unit of analysis enables replication of the study over periods of time, thus providing an opportunity for comparison and review.

Sampling Selection and Sample Size

Six years (72 issues) of FHM magazine, from the United Kingdom were selected for this study. These magazines were published over a six year period from 2005 through to 2010. Through a systematic random sampling method of these 72 issues, one was selected from each year making it a total of 6 issues in the sample size. The unit of analysis is all full and half page advertisements or posters that have male or female models. Those advertisements without any models were excluded from the categorization.

Categorization System

The advertisements and posters from each year were systematically coded by placing them in pre-defined categories.

Category of dressing Description

Demure dress Everyday, casual clothing,

including walking shorts and

sports outfits.

Suggestive dress Excluding evening gowns, which

expose cleavage.

Mini skirts, 'short' shorts,

'muscle' shirts, hiked skirts that

expose thighs

Partially clad Models in bathing suits, wearing

undergarments and three-quarter

length or shorter lingerie.

'close- up' shots of models bare

shoulders. Models in nothing

except a towel.

Nudity Unclothed Models,

including; translucent lingerie/

undergarments and silhouettes.

Extent of Contact Description

No contact Positioned side by side. Not


Tame contact Holding hands. Hands on shoulders

or around waist.

Intimate contact Kissing.

Very intimate contact Depiction and suggestion of

sexual behaviour.

Category of Race Description

Caucasian of European or North American Origin

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Others Races that does not fit into the above

category or race can not be established.

Category of product Description

Clothing All cosmetics, skin care, hair care, oral

care products.

Beauty Clothing manufactures, department

stores and fashion houses

Transport All cars, motorcycles and airlines.

Technology-related All electrical products, cameras,

phones and websites.

Food-and food related All food and equipment, drinks,

health- supplements, cooking oils,

cutleries and utensils.

Accessory All watches, sunglasses, jewellery,

footwear and bags.

Tourism- related All holiday packages and hotels.

Other All products that do not fit in the above


Category of Content Description

Family man Fatherly role depicted with wife and

Children. Can be seen wearing a

Wedding band.

Working man Depicting an occupational role,

e.g. at work.

Man's man/ Engaging in conservative men's

Classic man activities. Drinking beer, smoking,

football etc. Can be portrayed as

overcoming physical challenges e.g.

mountain climbing.

Carefree man Portrayed with unbridled laughter and

enjoying the moment with a woman or

a group of friends.

The gentleman Alone or in the company with just one


Playboy Depicted in the company with one or

more women. Women are shown to be

objects of desire.


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