‘A (Sensitive New Age Guy) with difference’

Gendered performances in online personal advertisements


  • Kesumawati A. Bakar Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. University of Sydney, Australia




Femininity, Masculinity, Systemic Functional Linguistics, attitude, Social Actor Categorization


This paper explores the representations of gender identities in the discourse of 200 online personal advertisements by Malaysian men and women. Using a combination of discourse analytical tools and corpus linguistic techniques this study demonstrates the construal of identity as a complex interaction of identity categorization and attitudinal resources. I-statements and nominal groups (Halliday, 1994; Halliday and Mattheissen, 2004) form my points of entry and linguistic patterns are semantically classified according to attitude (Martin and White, 2005) and Social Actor categorization (Van Leeuwen, 1996, 2008). General patterns construing typical and atypical representations of gender identities were observed by comparing the types of structure, semantics and collocates the data revealed. Results showed that advertisers appear to orient to what is expected in the context of courtship initiation in this particular genre, and are found to produce socially specific verbal practices that correspond to what is sought by men and women in general – e.g. ‘the slim and attractive woman’ and ‘the successful man’. Additionally, findings are also found to challenge hegemonic gender practices, construing counter-stereotypes such as ‘the sensitive man’. More significant however, is the construal of a Malaysian identity type – i.e. ‘the simple person’ – that cuts across gender lines.

Author Biography

Kesumawati A. Bakar, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. University of Sydney, Australia

Kesumawati A. Bakar is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, at the School of Language Studies and Linguistics, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi 43600, Selangor.


Alexander, S. (2003) Stylish hard bodies: Branded masculinity in men’s health magazine. Sociological Perspectives 46 (4): 535–554. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sop.2003.46.4.535

Bahiyah, A. H. and Kesumawati, A. B. (2007) Glocalisation of personal ads – gender identity construction of Malaysia adolescents. Jurnal Komunikasi, 23: 41–56.

Bahiyah, A. H. and Kesumawati, A. B. (2011) Articulating male and female adolescent identities via the language of personal advertisements: A Malaysian perspective. In A. Duszak and U. Okulska (eds), Language, Culture and the Dynamics of Age, 191–220. Berlin/New York: Mouton Gruyter.

Baker, P. (2003) No effeminates please: A corpus-based analysis of masculinity via personal adverts in Gay News/Times 1973–2000. In B. Benwell (ed.) Masculinity and Men’s Lifestyle Magazines, 243–260. Oxford: Blackwell.

Baker, P. (2006) Using Corpora in Discourse Analysis. London: Continuum.

Bartholome, A., Richard, T. and Alex, B. (2000) ‘I Want a Man’: Patterns of attraction in all-male personal ads. Journal of Men’s Studies 8 (3): 309–321. http://dx.doi.org/10.3149/jms.0803.309

Benwell, B. and Stokoe, E. (2006) Discourse and Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Blossfeld, H. P., Skopek, J. and Florian, S. (2010) Who contacts whom? Educational homophily in online mate selection. European Sociological Review 27 (2): 180–195.

Bordo, S. (1993) Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Bordo, S. (1999) The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and Private. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Breen, M. S., Blumenfeld, W. J., Baer, S., Brookey, R. A., Hall, L. and Kirby, V. (2001) Introduction: ‘There is a person here’: An interview with Judith Butler. International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies 6 (1): 7–23. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1010133821926

Buunk, B. P., Dijkstra, P., Fetchenhauer, D. and Kenrick, D. T. (2002) Age and gender differences in mate selection criteria for various involvement levels. Personal Relationships, 9 (3): 271–278. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1475-6811.00018

Buss, D. M. (1989) Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12 (1): 1–49. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X00023992

Buss, D. M. (2006) Strategies of human mating. Psychological Topics 15 (2): 239–260. Buss, D. M. et al. [54 coauthors] (1990) International preferences in selecting mates: A study of 37 cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 21 (1): 5–47. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0022022190211001

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1996) Gender as performance. In P. Osborne (ed), A Critical Sense: Interviews with Intellectuals, 108–125. London: Routledge.

Caldas-Coulthard, C. R. and Moon, R. (2010). ‘Curvy, hunky, kinky’: Using corpora as tools for critical analysis. Discourse & Society 21 (2): 99–133. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0957926509353843

Cameron, C., Oskamp, S. and Sparks, W. (1977) Courtship American style: Newspaper ads. Family Coordinator 26 (1): 27–30. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/581857

Cobuild, C. (2003) Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary. London: Harper Collins.

Connell, R. W. (1995) Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press

Connell, R. W. and Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005) Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender and Society 19 (6), 829–859. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0891243205278639

Coombs, R. H. (1961) A value theory of mate selection. The Family Life Coordinator. 10 (3): 51–54. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/581477

Coupland, J. (1996) Dating advertisements: Discourses of the commodified self, Discourse and Society 7 (2): 187–207. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0957926596007002003

Dowd. M. (2005) What’s a Modern Girl to Do? New York: New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 20 2010, from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/30/magazine/30feminism.html

Fejes, F. J. (1992) Masculinity as fact: A review of empirical mass communication research on masculinity. In S. Craig (ed.), Men, Masculinity and the Media, 9–22. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Gama e Silva, B. (2007) The Object of Virtual Desire: Seducing on the Internet. http://www.unigranrio.br

Gibbs, J. L., Ellison, N. B. and Heino, R. D. (2006) Self-presentation in online personals: The role of anticipated future interaction, self-disclosure, and perceived success in Internet dating. Communication Research, 33 (2): 1–26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0093650205285368

Goldman, R., Heath D. and Smith, S. L. (1991) Commodity feminism. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 8 (3): 333–351. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15295039109366801

Halliday, M. A. K. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1996) On grammar and grammatics. In R. Hasan, C. Cloran and D. G. Butt (eds), Functional Descriptions: Theory in Practice, 1–38. Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Halliday, M. A. K. and Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2004) Introduction to Functional Grammar (3rd edn). London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. and Webster, J. J. (eds) (2009) Continuum Companion to Systemic Functional Linguistics. London: Continuum.

Holland, J., Ramazanoglu, C. and Sharpe, S. (1993) Wimp or Gladiator: Contradictions in Acquiring Masculine Sexuality. London: Tufnell Press.

Hogben, S. and Coupland, J. (2000) Egg seeks sperm. End of story?: Articulating gay parenting in small ads for reproductive partners. Discourse and Society 11 (4): 459–486. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0957926500011004002

Hunston, S. (2002) Corpora in Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139524773

Ismail, Z. A. (2010). Malaysian masculinity identity representation through men's editorial. Education and Management Technology (ICEMT) International Conference.

Jerome, C. (2008a) Men and masculinity in Men’s stylish lifestyle magazine. A Biannual Publication on the Study of Language and Literature 10 (2).

Jerome, C. (2008b) Being and performing the masculinity in Karim Raslan's Go East. A Biannual Publication on the Study of Language and Literature 10 (1): 1–15.

Jones, R. (2000) Potato seeking rice: Language, culture and identity in gay personal ads in Hong Kong. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 143: 33–61. http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/ijsl.2000.143.33

Jones, R. (2009) Technology and sites of display. In C. Jewitt (ed.). The Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis, 114–126. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kenrick, D. T., Keefe, R. C., Bryan, A., Barr, A. and Brown, A. (1995) Age preferences and mate choices among homosexuals and heterosexuals: A case for modular psychological mechanisms. Journal of Personality and Social Psycholog, 69 (6): 1166–1172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.69.6.1166

Kesumawati, A. B., Bahiyah, A. H and Tan, K. H. (2006) Identity construction in personal ads. In L. Siew Chin and T. Kim Hua (eds) Composing Meanings: Media Text and Language, 143–158. Bangi, Malaysia: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Press.

Lazar, M. (2006) ‘Discover the power of femininity!’: Analysing global ‘Power femininity’ in local advertising. Feminist Media Studies 6(4): 505–517. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14680770600990002

Li, N. P., Griskevicius, V., Durante, K. M., Jonason, P. K., Pasisz, D. J. and Aumer, K. (2009) An evolutionary perspective on humor: Sexual selection or interest indication? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35 (7): 923–938. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167209334786

Lippa, R. (2007) The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives of Sexual Behaviour 36 (2): 193–208. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9151-2

Marley, C. (2000) Beyond the usual: The modification of gender in a British dating ads column. Text-Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse 20 (3): 271–306.

Martin, J. R. (2000) Beyond exchange: Appraisal systems in English. In S. Hunston and G. Thompson (eds), Evaluation in Text: Authorial Stance and the Construction of Discourse, 142–175. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Martin, J. R. and Rose, D. (2007) Working with Discourse: Meaning Beyond the Clause (2nd edn). London and New York: Continuum.

Martin, J. R. and White, P. R. R. (2005) The Language of Evaluation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

McMahon, A. (1998). Blokus domesticus: The sensitive new age guy in Australia, Journal of Australian Studies 22 (56): 147–157. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14443059809387369

McRobbie, A. (1996). More!: New Sexualities in Girls’ and Women’s Magazines. In J. Curran, D. Morley and V. Walkerdine (eds.), Cultural Studies and Communications, 172–194. London: Arnold.

Miller, E., Smith, J. and Trembath, D. (2000) The 'skinny' on body size requests in personal ads. Sex Roles, 43 (1–2): 129–141. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1007047914166

Myers, P. N. and Biocca, F. A. (1992) The elastic body image: The effect of television advertising and programming on body image distortions in young women. Journal of Communication 42 (3): 108–133. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1992.tb00802.x

Ng, K., Loy, J. T., Gudmunson, L. G. and Cheong, W. (2008) Gender differences in marital and life satisfaction among Chinese Malaysians. Sex Roles 60: 33–43. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9503-6

O’Donnell, M. (2008) UAM Corpus Tool. Madrid. Okami, P. and Shackelford, T. K. (2001) Human sex differences in sexual psychology and behavior. Annual Review of Sex Research 12: 186–241.

O’Kelly, L. (1994) Kiss a few frogs, land a prince. Observer, 10, 23.

Rafiah, S. (1984) The Legal Status of Women in a Multi-Racial Malaysian Society? In A. Y. Hing, K. Nik Safiah and T. Rokiah (eds) Women in Malaysia, 187. Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk Publications.

Noraini, M. N. (1999) Roles and women’s well-being: some preliminary findings from Malaysia. Sex Roles 41 (314). 123–145.

Philip, S. (2010) Embodiment and the reconstruction of gender roles in Leow Puay Tin’s Family. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 45 (1): 75–95. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0021989409359855

Schmitt, D. P. and Boss, D. M. (1996) Strategic self-promotion and competitor derogation: Sex and context effects on perceived effectiveness of mate attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70 (6): 1185–1204. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.70.6.1185

Scott, M. (2004). WordSmith Tools version 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press Shalom, C. (1997) That great supermarket of desire: attributes of the desired other in personal advertisements. In K. Harvey and C. Shalom (eds) Language and Desire: Encoding Sex, Romance and Intimacy, 186–203. London: Routledge.

Silverstein, B., Perdue, L., Peterson B. and Kelly, E. (1986) The role of the mass media in promoting a thin standard of bodily attractiveness for women. Sex Roles 14 (9–10): 519–532. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF00287452

Smith, M. and Beal, B. (2007) So you can see how the other half lives: MTV Cribs’ use of ‘the other’ in framing successful athletic masculinities. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 31 (2): 103–127. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0193723507300483

Stets, J. E. and Burke, P. J. (2000) Femininity/masculinity. Encyclopedia of Sociology, Revised Edition, 997–1005. New York: Macmillan.

Van Leeuwen, T. (1996) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. New York: Routledge.



How to Cite

Bakar, K. (2014). ‘A (Sensitive New Age Guy) with difference’: Gendered performances in online personal advertisements. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 9(1), 5–34. https://doi.org/10.1558/lhs.v9i1.5