Subordinated Stills: An Empirical Study of Sexist Print Advertising and Its Implications for Law

41 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2008

See all articles by Cheryl B. Preston

Cheryl B. Preston

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School

Date Written: July 3, 2008


The study reported here adds to the discussion of gender subordination, feminism, and women in all aspects of the legal system by providing empirical facts about gender depictions in contemporary print advertising. The study data support, at least in part, the conclusion that subtle but pervasive gender bias continues to exist. Such bias likely contributes significantly to the continually disappointing experiences of female legal professionals.

The study furthers the work begun in the 1970s by Erving Goffman of systematically analyzing gender depictions in magazine advertising. The study compares depictions of women and men, emphasizing discrepancies in apparent power and competence. It traces displays of powerlessness through traits such as immaturity, incompetence, childishness, triviality, and silliness. The data illustrates consistent gender disparity, with women substantially more likely to be depicted with negative childish traits and men substantially more likely to be depicted with positive adult traits.

The findings of the study reveal a significant pattern of gender associations in popular culture. Some element of childishness occurred in forty-five percent of the figures of women studied in representative print media over a three-month period. Both men and women in our culture are youth-obsessed, but the female models in this study are three times as likely as the males to appear very young, still teenaged. The hand-to-mouth pose that Goffman found particularly indicative of bewilderment and inability occurred only with women models. In addition, childish body language was ten times more common with female models than with male. Models shown as primarily interested in appearance were three times as likely to be women, and women in advertisements exhibit passivity twice as often as men. Perhaps the most important data from this study relates to the treatment of aging in popular culture.

After background and introduction, part two of this article sets out the context for this study. I briefly outline both the continued difficulties experienced by women in law and the extant literature on research about female images in print media and its window into social norms. Then, part three contains the Subordinated Stills study itself: the focus, method, and statistical results of the research. The final part provides observations about the connections between the data and the stereotypes that harm women, especially professionals. Four appendices provide supporting statistics.

Keywords: Female legal professionals, popular culture, print advertisements, feminism, stereotypes, gender depictions in advertising, media, perceptions, gender disparity

Suggested Citation

Preston, Cheryl B., Subordinated Stills: An Empirical Study of Sexist Print Advertising and Its Implications for Law (July 3, 2008). Texas Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 15, pp. 229-269, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Cheryl B. Preston (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School ( email )

430 JRCB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
United States

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