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Research Question

 

How does fashion advertising work to reinforce the expectations and values surrounding the gendered roles of both men and women as opposing entities? And how do these roles come into question through sexual orientation?

Intersecting Dimensions of Inequality

The dimensions of inequality that will be considered in this project are that of the gender binary (i.e., the classification of gender as dichotomous) and sexual orientation (i.e., our patterns of attraction and orientation towards things and others). Just as we find ourselves in space, we begin to see the ways in which we orient ourselves to things and people in life (Ahmed, 2006). Both as a way of inhabiting space and coming into relation to others, these orientations are both personal to our identity while also being socially constructed through our socialization. Gender is one such construct, indicating a way in which we learn to behave as well as identify ourselves within the pre-existing systems of society.

The gender binary gives that gender, of being male or female, is one way in which we establish and identify ourselves in relation to society; we are taught early on what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman, in our behaviours, actions, characteristics, and physical appearances. These standards or expectations have been long engrained, stemming through socialization – in the things we are taught by our parents, peers, teachers, communities, institutions, and as an ideological perspective – that continue to be reinforced purely by the practice and participation in these same expectations. In this, we see the well-trodden path of gender (Ahmed, 2006: 554) being the one in which individuals find themselves conforming to the normalized standards of the gender binary system; women being submissive to men, the relationship of the breadwinner and homemaker, and that men should strive for success, and women for family, and so on. By repeating these paths of being man or woman, masculine or feminine, we are reaffirming these standards and expectations, making the path of the gender binary more common than not.

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With this, I would like to highlight the essential nature of the endorsement that the gender binary has for the heteronormative space of society. Just as gender has been widely accepted as the classification between masculine and feminine, man and woman, so too has heteronormativity. Heterosexuality has been the widely accepted norm in sexual orientation, basing all perceptions of life around the idea that all will follow this heteronormative pathway, and how a man should be oriented to a woman and vice versa. But what happens when an individual does not fit within this set pathway, deviating from the steps that were laid before them?

 

It is here that I would like to call into question the essential relationship that the gender binary has in relation to the heteronormative space of society. In this, the gender binary and sexual orientation come together through the expectations and standards that have been set surrounding the ideals of masculinity and femininity. These standards and expectations are held as normal while anyone outside of them can be viewed as deviant or as an outsider to the commonly held belief. Here is where I lay the foundation of my discussion. In this, I will critique the commonly accepted norms as well as the way in which individuals have begun to undo gender altogether (Butler, 2004). As individuals begin to identify in their own ways of being and interacting within society, they also strengthen the other paths possible to walk.

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Unit of Analysis

The unit of analysis chosen for this project is the content of the images being considered. This will be based on the content of a variety of fashion campaign images, taking note of the gendered performance and displays being portrayed by models. The analysis will take place by considering the posturing (noting models' hands, head, and body), facial expressions, and clothing to which they are posed wearing. All of these function to highlight the different outward or aesthetic portrayals of gender, especially upheld within fashion advertising. By analyzing this content, I wish to shed light on the ways in which fashion imagery either upholds the gender binary system or disrupts it, by portraying alternative forms from the normative expectations upheld by the gender binary.

Data Source

I am proposing to use 2021/2022 fashion campaign images from three designer brands as my data source. A sample of 10-15 images will be drawn from a google search of three brands such as Dior, Versace, and Prada for their 2021 campaigns. The sample of images will be chosen based on those that are at the top of the search page that is officially designated as one of the brands' images (this is to ensure continuity with each image and its associated brand). From here, each image will be analyzed for its portrayals of assigned gender displays, considering the posturing used, expressions and overall balance portrayed in the images.

 

After this initial analysis, I will be conducting a corresponding visual response and critique, where I will be creating my own versions of campaign images using the assessed gendered displays, while also using differing gendered models than what is expected (for instance, using a male model for all female gender displays, and a female model for all male-gendered displays). This photographic critique is to highlight a breakaway and an undoing of the gender binary system as it functions within media, also giving note to what happens when these present roles are broken.

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Research Design

The research design of this project will be qualitative as it will examine various cases of gender display in fashion campaign images, keying in the gestures and appearances of models as their non-verbal cues of gender (Hoggart in Goffman, 1985: vii). This will be a qualitative content analysis that will look at 3 designer brands in their 2021/2022 campaign images, considering their differences and similarities in body position and expressions.  Within each case, I will be considering the gender portrayals of both male and female figures, and as they are portrayed in comparison to one another as well as in group dynamics. With this, I wish to highlight the possibility that fashion advertisement, even today, may still follow a formulaic method in displays of gender roles through things such as hand, head or body gestures, posturing, and physical appearance. This research design was chosen in order to analyze the methods used by fashion campaigns for the promotion of their newest trends, and how fashion as a whole plays a large impact on the reproduction of the gender binary and a heteronormative perspective as a whole.

 

After this initial analysis, I will present corresponding images (taken by myself) that work as a critique of these gendered displays and gestures by applying them in opposing ways. My hope is that these alternative images will work as disorientation from the common norm (Ahmed, 2006) by mixing the codes of gender between males and females. Here we will see what happens when these expectations are mixed and we step away from the well-trodden path of the heteronormative scope of gender and into a neutral or fluid place.

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Format

Lastly, the format of this project will be presented through this website as an addition to the information already here (i.e., the project outline and references). In this, I will be creating a website gallery/journal that will contain a page for each designer brand and its associated images and critiques. This format will be a good method for portraying this topic of research in three ways. First, it is a good method for the comparison of existing campaign images with my newly created campaign images as the textual analysis can be portrayed in and amongst the images in more creative ways. Second, This method will also allow for an interactive way that viewers can move through the information gathered on this topic. Finally, this method replicates that of those used for current designer brand campaigns, often done through designer brand websites through a combination of images and text. 

 

Because gender is performed by individuals every day, it is even more so important to give a visual reference to the impact of these portrayals and the reinforcement of these ideals and expectations on our everyday life. Images are a powerful thing, especially as it has to do with bodies. We see different displays of gender every day through all kinds of advertising, and so, it is important to recognize how these displays may be catered to certain ideals, ones such as those grounded in the gender binary and the heteronormative space.

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