Images of Hegemonic Masculinity Hegemonic Femininity and Sexuality on Magazine Covers

Through class discussions and readings we learned that hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic femininity are institutionalized through every aspect of our society (Smith 2009).  One way that we form a perception of hegemonic masculinity and femininity in our culture is through magazines.  Throughout women’s and men’s magazines there are images that whether we realize it or not shape and mold our ideas of gender and sexuality.  Advertisements, articles, and every other page in each magazine in gendered in some way but I will be focusing on the cover pages.


The differences between men and women’s magazines are incredible.  Every aspect of the cover page on the women’s magazine “Cosmopolitan” portrays how women should think, look and interact with others.  One thing that stood out to me in the ‘Cosmopolitan” was that on the cover it says “Bad Girl Issue For Sexy Bitches Only.”  This stood out to me because even in a women’s magazine they use the term bitches to refer to women (Cosmopolitan Nov. 2009:cover).  I feel like the term bitch is a big enough problem in pop culture, the music industry, and hegemonic masculinity but when women start referring to themselves that way it just seems wrong.  In Beneke’s article “Men On Rape” (1982) he says that one metaphor that men use for women is that “women are like animals… What a bitch” (Beneke 1982:543).  I believe that we can never make progress with sexual and gender inequality and redefining hegemonic masculinity and femininity if degrading terms such as “bitch” remain to be so institutionalized that they aren’t even noticed.


There were a couple of texts on the “Maxim” cover that really emphasized hegemonic masculinity.  First off “I am the luckiest tiny type ever” was placed in very mall letters between the legs of the two models on the cover (Maxim Nov. 2009:cover).  The text is completely pointless in the sense of advertising, the only reason it is there is to show the hegemonic masculine view of what heterosexual men should want. The other text that stood out was “Auto Erotica Five Cars You’ll Never Have” (Maxim Nov. 2009:cover).  This is a perfect example of how “sex sells” in our society, the media can sexualized anything and everything in the name of capitalism.  What made this headline stand out even more was that after that headline they say, “Our Usual Erotica Five Girls You’ll Never Have Either.”  To me this just shows them relating cars to women, portraying them both as sex objects. Another example of how sex sells is in the show “Mad Men” in season two, episode one.   Video

This clip does a good job of showing how sex sells because Don is trying to advertise the airline company to businessmen and Peggy quickly responds that sex sells when he points out the girl in the short skirt.  She knows what hegemonic masculinity is and that hegemonic femininity requires that girl to be wearing a dress to better appeal to men’s interests.  “Sex sells” isn’t the only concept displayed; male privilege is also shown in this clip.  I noticed how before Don even listened to Peggy he asked where Dale was and why he wasn’t there too.  This shows that a male’s perspective is held at a higher value in the business and advertising world then a female’s.  “Power from unearned privilege can look like strength when it is, in fact, permission to escape or to dominate.” (McIntosh 1995:83)  Peggy is held at a lower value because of this even though she is perfectly capable of doing the job her work is less valuable then a man’s.

Another observation I made was that on the “Cosmopolitan” cover page almost every topic has to do with sex (Cosmopolitan Nov. 2009:cover). The headlines imply many ways that reading the articles inside could help make sex better for men and help women better understand what men think. “In addition to communicating messages about femininity, contemporary women’s magazines present specific scripts about sexual roles and relationships” (Kim and Ward 2004:49). The cover page’s headlines imply that it’s a women’s job to try harder and work on their sexual skills to please a man instead of it being a mutual effort. On the other hand “Maxim” the popular men’s magazine also has a majority of its headlines related to sex but none of them suggest anything about making sex better for women (Maxim Nov. 2009:cover).  Instead they refer to women as objects of sexual desire by saying that a woman is something that you can “want” or “have.”  These magazine covers portray the “dominate cultural script for ideal sexual encounters” that sexual intercourse or other activities is about pleasing the man and ends with the male orgasm (Smith 2009).  The way they advertize sex differently in men and women’s magazines prove how our ideas of sexuality, femininity, and masculinity are institutionalized in our culture.  All of the sexual topics also imply heterosexuality and that a woman needs a man to be happy.  “One of the most tenacious ideas about sex is that there is one best way to do it, and everyone should do it that way” (Rubin 1984:103). Rubin (1984) uses that quote to describe the lack of a concept of benign variation but this also explains why magazine covers are directed towards heterosexuals rather than homo, bi, or transsexuals (Rubin 1984).


Words and texts aren’t the only way the magazine covers represent hegemonic masculinity and femininity, they show these cultural ideals through imagery.  It I done slightly different from men’s to women’s magazines but it creates the same effect, socially constructing what a man and a woman should look like.  In the women’s magazine “Cosmopolitan” and “Elle” a women is on the front cover that looks completely flawless (Cosmopolitan Nov. 2009:cover; Elle Nov. 2009:cover). She has the perfect body structure and appearance for what hegemonic femininity calls for the only problem is that these super models are completely fake and are digitally enhanced.  The “perfect women” isn’t a natural one because our perception of what looks good or sexy is socially constructed through mass media.    Even on the back cover of “Elle” another flawless women is shown but this time she is looking at her reflection (Elle Nov. 2009:cover). “… men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (Berger 1972:47).  This quote accurately describe how advertising works and what images they use to sell items or to attract attention.  In men’s magazines such as “Maxim” unblemished women are also pasted across the cover sheets (Maxim Nov. 2009:cover).  However in “Maxim” they are trying to appeal to the heterosexual desires of men by having the women dressed very provocatively.  “…for a buck, they can be stripped down, placed in alluring poses and purchased by any teen who wishes to own them” (Davis 2005:1016).  Davis’s quote exemplifies how women are turned into objects,  and than sold for the purpose of fulfilling hegemonic masculinity sexual desires.  The use of multiple women on “Maxim’s” front cover corresponds to the double standard we have for male and female homosexuality (Maxim Nov. 2009:cover).  Somehow homosexuality for women has become acceptable and even celebrated while homosexuality for men is still looked down upon.  Pascoe discussed in “Dude, You’re a Fag” how Homophobia is a large problem in society especially with our youth, and she describes how homophobia has affected what it means to be masculine in high schools (Pascoe 2005).  Other than the “Maxim” example other magazine covers imply “compulsory heterosexuality” or “the assumption that everyone is and should be heterosexual” (Smith 2009).

All together I feel as though it is easy to see how hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic femininity are socially constructed and institutionalized through the media specifically in magazine covers.  If the covers alone portray so many aspects of masculinity and femininity you can only imagine how every page and every advertisement is directed towards different genders and use subliminal messages to dictate how we interact with others.

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