Masculinity and Advertising

Advertising is a major source of stereotyped representations of masculinity.

A 2019 report from the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority called for a ban on gender stereotypes in advertising because they lead to “unequal gender outcomes in public and private aspects of people’s lives.”[1]

In his analysis of gender in advertising, author and University of North Texas professor Steve Craig argues that women tend to be presented as “rewards” for men who choose the right product. He describes such commercials as “narratives of playful escapades away from home and family.” They operate, he says, at the level of fantasy—presenting idealized portrayals of men and women in which men are invariably “virile, slim and white” and women always “eager for male companionship.”[2]

These critics and others suggest that just as traditional advertising has for decades sexually objectified women and their bodies, today’s marketing campaigns are objectifying men in the same way. Research and anecdotal reports from doctors suggest that this new focus on fit and muscled male bodies is causing men the same anxiety and personal insecurity that women have felt for decades.[3]

In ads aimed at children, boys are more likely to be portrayed in major roles and as being more adventurous and active than girls. On the rare occasion that male characters are portrayed in a domestic versus an outdoor setting, they commonly appear “hilariously inept” at any household chore they try to do.[4]

Advertising also contributes to the narrow range of roles for men through the aggressive gender-coding of toy packaging. Despite boys’ interest in cooking and the popularity of shows such as Iron Chef among young boys, for instance, few makers of cooking toys have made any attempts to offer their products in gender-neutral packaging.[5] This is important because once boys and girls reach school age, they begin to prefer toys they see as being “right” for their gender, and to reject toys associated with the other gender – even if they had previously played happily with those same toys.[6] 

Masculine stereotyping in ads can even have a direct impact on boys’ health, targeting them with “manly” food that are typically high in fat, heavily processed and short on fibre and vitamins and bearing loaded names such as the Manwich or Canada’s own Mr. Big chocolate bar. Like other effects of stereotypes, this is caused not just by a desire to seem masculine but to avoid seeming feminine, as men feel that ordering healthful food might make them seem unmanly.[7]


[1] Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: A Report on Gender Stereotypes in Advertising. (Rep.) (2017) Advertising Standards Authority.

[2] Craig, Steven. Men’s Men and Women’s Women: How TV Commercials Portray Gender to Different Audiences. In Robert E Kemper (Ed): Issues and Effects of Mass Communication: Contemporary Voices. San Diego, CA: Capstone Publishers pp. 89-99

[3] Cafri, Guy et al. Pursuit of the muscular ideal: Physical and psychological consequences and putative risk factors. Clinical Psychology Review 25, 2005.

[4] Common Sense Media (2017) Watching Gender: How stereotypes in Movies and on TV Impact Kids’ Development. Retrieved from

[5] Newman, Andrew Adam. Toy Pitches Half-Baked. Adweek, March 14 2010.

[6] Gold, Marta. Gender and the toybox. Postmedia News, October 26 2011.

[7] Sax, David. “How Years of Macho Food Marketing is Killing Men.” New York, June 15 2016. Retrieved from <>