Critical media analysis of female soldier representation from magazines to Instagram : a cultural studies perspective
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The purpose of this work is to explore the gendered cultural meanings surrounding female soldier representations found in official print and online military recruiting materials during Global War on Terror (GWOT) period (2001-2014). Using recruitment advertisements found in three popular women’s magazines and on the official Instagram accounts of the U.S. military, three research questions are addressed: 1) What visual and/or textual codes found in female soldier representations are used to construct gendered cultural meanings around women in the military?; 2) How do print and online recruiting materials encourage audiences to co-construct, produce, and distribute these gendered cultural meanings?; and 3) What is the significance of these gendered cultural meanings and audience interactivity/participation in female soldier representations during the GWOT era? A visual analysis of the data was performed using critical media guidelines provided by Luke & Iyer (2011) and Kellner (2015, 2013). The findings of this study suggest that there continue to be underlying, embedded notions of essentialized femininity found in contemporary representations of female soldiers. These findings and military recruiting materials are discussed in relation to broader public discourse around female soldiers and civilian women in society, particularly within important cultural moments of rising fourth-wave feminism and changing patterns of media consumption. In addition, a discussion around the growing need to conceptualize and study audiences as hybridized producers/consumers and as active interpreters of media messages in the digital age is provided. In doing so, this work seeks to understand and recognize the incredible power mass media (particularly social media) audiences have in constructing popular representations of all women. Finally, important implications related to the overwhelming lack of critical gender, media, and military studies in American school-contexts, key sites for military recruiters, are discussed.