Gendering Health: The Reinforcement of Gender Stereotypes in Prescription Pharmaceutical Advertisements

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Warden, Elizabeth Marie
Singh, Jennifer
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The media has the power to influence what gender norms people internalize. When prescription direct-to-consumer advertisements (DTCA) use gender stereotypes to market and sell drugs, dominant gender notions of what is appropriate are reinforced. While previous studies analyzed prescription DTCA and media reinforcements of gender stereotypes separately, this study added to the literature by addressing the intersection of these two fields. This study was content analysis of 152 prescription product advertisements in four magazines whose readership is highly gendered, Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, WIRED, and Popular Mechanics, from January 2014 to December 2014. Based on the theory of social constructionism and medicalization, this paper analyzed the types of prescription products being advertised to women as compared to men and how these advertisements portrayed gender stereotypes through the status positions of the characters displayed. The results of this study indicated that prescriptions directed to Cosmopolitan’s readers were predominately for preventing pregnancy, relegating women’s health to reproduction issues. Prescription advertisements in Family Circle were for a diverse range of products aimed at a diverse patient population, which implies that women have the primary responsibility over not only their own health but also the health of other family members, including their children and even family pets. Only the magazines with predominantly female readership included mental health advertisements, which points towards the tendency of associating women with emotional problems. This bias may also reinforce stigmas associated with men seeking psychiatric help. Prescription drugs marketed directly to men had a higher percentage of lifestyle products than any other type of prescription for both male-targeted magazines analyzed in this study. The findings indicate that the types of prescription drugs advertised to men reinforce stereotypical notions of masculinity through assertions that the medical maintenance of sexual prowess should be valued over treatments for other types of diseases. While 75% of the men in WIRED were in paid professional status positions, women’s status positions more frequently portrayed them as multiple status positions, with a substantial number of advertisements associating women with motherhood.
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