The following is a special guest post by Glenda Jordan. It was written as a paper for her Spring 2012 Gender and Society class at UT, where she is a senior majoring in Art.
“You write sociology papers like a girl!”
One of the worst insults a man can receive is to be called a woman. If a man is caught doing any ‘female’ activity or exhibiting ‘feminine’ behavior, he is condemned to the highest degree.
This is such a reality that advertising companies will do everything in their power to make sure that their manly product is not just masculine, but outright insulting to the very idea of femininity in general. In no way can a man consume a product that’s made or marketed for women. Not only is this incredibly sexist towards women, but profoundly sexist against men as well.
This concept of gendered advertising reaches into every product imaginable, including but not limited to: food, hygiene products, cars, household products, tools, fitness plans, and beverages. Gender-biased advertising is pervasive in TV, print, and radio, and seriously affects society’s perception of gender.
Beverages and food seem particularly affected by gender messages. For instance, although diet soda has been around for quite a while, soft drink companies came up with a new version of a low calorie drink they could market towards men, because ‘diet’ is seen as a feminine word and concept. Society says it is much less acceptable for a woman to be overweight than a man, so ‘diet’ and ‘woman’ go hand in hand. Media, advertising, and society tells us women must have perfect bodies.
An example of two major companies that already produced a diet soda, but have made a new low-calorie drink that excludes the word ‘diet’ include Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper.
The original diet drink was straightforwardly named, with Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper being the plain alternative to their sugary counterparts. Coca-Cola introduced Coke Zero in 2005. The design of the can featured black coloring and stocky, bold fonts in an attempt to make the can more masculine.
But perhaps the most audacious attempt at marketing a diet drink to men came in 2011 when Dr. Pepper introduced Dr. Pepper TEN. The can aesthetics featured a masculine gunmetal gray color scheme with rivets, a design strategy that evokes imagery reminiscent of weapons and power tools. The commercial advertising for the soda depicts an over-the-top jungle action faux-film sequence, with a muscular man claiming, “Hey ladies! Enjoying the film? Of course not! Because this is our movie! And Dr. Pepper TEN is our soda. It’s only ten manly calories, but with all 23 flavors of Dr. Pepper. It’s what guys want! ….So you can keep the romantic comedies and lady drinks, we’re good. Dr. Pepper TEN – IT’S NOT FOR WOMEN!” This is actual commercial on real television. The company would tell offended audiences that it’s simply satire, and of course it’s a joke. However, how acceptable would this advertisement be if it implied that the drink was for Caucasians, and not African-Americans? Would they be able to get away with saying it’s simply a joke, that of course black people can drink Dr. Pepper TEN? In the backlash against the Dr. Pepper TEN commercial, women have been trying to contact the company for an answer to the sexist advertisement. The response is nearly as condescending and patronizing as the commercial itself, with customer relations response emails being ‘written by women’ saying that they aren’t offended by Dr. Pepper TEN commercial. To use the ‘well I’m the same minority and I’m not offended’ reasoning is incredibly myopic and derogatory.
Yogurt presents another gendered food phenomenon, with commercials for yogurt being specifically aimed towards women. Perhaps because the food itself is pastel and soft, therefore men couldn’t possibly consume it, that companies feel they couldn’t market it towards men. In one commercial for Yoplait, two women, who are a very politically correct duo of a black and white woman spending time together in a spa (implying that all women can enjoy yogurt, regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic status! How progressive!), talk about how their yogurt is so good, that the next greatest thing they could compare it to is shopping for chocolate covered high heels. Once again, this is an actual commercial. On real television.
Advertising also tells us that women are the only people who have digestive problems and need assistance with their bowel movements. Activia is a yogurt that claims to help with the body’s digestion, and once again only women are the consumers. After the Activia campaign was launched, more digestive-aiding yogurt was created like Fiber One, and Yo-plus (all of which are created by Yoplait). There is such a feminine stigma to yogurt in today’s society, that some men, even if they want to eat yogurt, will avoid buying it. I personally know of several men who have requested their girlfriends or wives to buy them Activia because they want some, but are just as embarrassed to buy it as they would be having to buy tampons for their partners. It is also significant to note that the only other major consumers of yogurt, according to advertising, are children. Trix yogurt and Gogurt are major brands and sit right beside all the lady yogurt. In fashion advertising and media, women are constantly being portrayed as childlike or juvenile.
Hygiene products are incredibly gendered. Some of them are understandably so, like conditioner meant for longer hair or soap meant to remove makeup. However, men cannot just be marketed soap. It cannot be flowery, girly, or gentle in any way. Men must have manly soap, and advertising companies are adamant to make sure that both men and women believe this. As with the infamous lady-yogurt, there is such a stigma attached to tools that women use to clean themselves that men couldn’t bear to wash in the same way that a woman would get clean (or that’s what AXE tells us.)
AXE came out with the Detailer Shower Tool. It’s basically the guy’s version of a scrub pouf or loofah. It’s just another way to lather up soap, and that’s a difficult task with just your hands. A shower pouf works very effectively, but that’s what girls use, so AXE solved that problem by created something that looks like a car part/spare tire. In the commercial for it, no less than eight supermodel women clean the man’s body with it in a industrial car assembly style setting. Judging by the design graphic and aesthetic layout of men’s hygiene products, men also abhor any and all color other than gray, navy blue, and black. I have often seen products use the advertising scheme of saying things like “it’s none of that girly stuff” or “this product isn’t for girls/women”.
The extreme absurdity of this type of advertising lies with the reality of the products themselves. It. Is. Soap. It’s not for power tools hardcore enough that someone of small stature or strength couldn’t safely use them, it is literally slimy goo that you rub on your body to clean yourself. To claim that any product is just too hardcore for women to go near it is a marketing ploy trying to convince men that what they’re using is not feminized in any way, and that their masculinity is safe. Remember, nothing is more insulting or degrading than for a man than to be called a woman.
Advertising, media, and society tell us that women are born with the ability to use household appliances. Although men are usually praised for their competence at life in general, commercials portray them in another way when is comes to domesticity. Obviously only women do housework, but that not only because they’re women. It’s because the house would collapse if a man even attempted it. Commercials portray husbands and fathers as blundering idiots that have no idea of how to cook, clean, or take care of children. Exasperated wives and mothers roll their eyes and smile sympathetically as they take over what is a simple and ‘traditional’ task for them.
Advertising tells us that men can barbecue like a pro, but once the cooking and preparing food for the family is inside the house, it’s a disaster. Jif’s peanut butter slogan is ‘Choosy Moms Choose Jif!’, and KIX cereal’s is, ‘Kid-Tested, Mother Approved!’. In a commercial for Combos cheese snacks, the real mother is replaced with a ‘Man Mom’, in which the father is playing the mother role. Because he has absolutely no idea of how to provide nutritious sustenance for his children, he feeds them solely on cheese pretzel snacks.
The portrayal of domestic life in these commercials are just as sexist towards men as they are to women. Men are incapable of housework and childrearing, while women fly through it with ease because it’s what they were born to do. Companies even create household appliances specifically for men so that if men must do a domestic chore, they at least don’t look like a woman using it.
In 2010 Philips introduced an clothing iron designed for men. Looking more like a power tool than the average clothing iron, Philips claimed it offered ‘more power, more steam, more performance’. Apparently Philips feels if a man has to submit himself to the infamously domestic female task of ironing clothes, the tool he uses at least needs to be better than what women use, as well as looking more rugged.
The irony about common household objects, tools, or products that already exist but then companies make ‘masculine’ versions, is that it negates the reason for creating the masculine object in the first place. Companies create male version of female products because men do not want to feel emasculated when using something. It is very important that the product avoids colors like pink and purple, and cannot look feminine, because it is degrading for men to look like women, because how are women described? Shallow, materialistic, and frivolous. The irony is that products like these prove that men are actually the ones that possess all the qualities they claim women have, because they will go out of their way to buy something simply based on its aesthetics rather than its performance.
It’s important to note that the blithering idiot men in the domestic commercials are what men are supposed to be like when they turn into husbands and fathers. Before they settle down into married life, however, they are portrayed as overly-muscular, attractive, and domineering men capable of attracting any woman they want (as long as she looks like a supermodel). However, the domesticated men still want to be the sex-fueled violent beast their instinct tells them to be.
During the 2010 Superbowl, Dodge released a commercial about the Charger that depicted men standing still with grim faces while an inner monologue narrates their feelings. Parts of this monologue include, “I will eat some fruit for breakfast. I will shave. I will clean the sink after I shave. I will say yes when you want me to say yes. I will be quiet when you don’t want to hear me say no. I will take your call. I will listen to your opinion about my friends. I will listen to your friends’ opinions of my friends. I will be civil to your mother. I will put the seat down. I will separate the recycling. I will carry your lip balm. I will watch your vampire TV shows with you. I will take my socks off before getting into bed. I will put my underwear in the basket. And because I do this – I will drive the car that I want to drive.” The actual tagline and title for this commercial is ‘Man’s Last Stand’. Not having this car is the proverbial line drawn in the sand of all the crap that a man has to put up with in domesticated, civilized, and most significantly – feminized life. This commercial implies that men (regardless of socio-economic status or ethnicity), all detest the same things such as maintaining their personal and household hygiene, remaining non-violent, attempting to be sensitive and attentive, and being in a domestic partnership with a female. It also implies that men are literally desperate to resort back to hairy, filthy, violent man-beasts with no concept of civility.
Commercials tell us that that’s what all men want deep down, to return to the neanderthal roots of violence and power. In this Dodge ad, there is a powerful message being said: men don’t want to do any of the things listed and they resent the fact that they must do so anyway. Who is forcing them to live like this? The implication is clear. Although I am sure society is implied to have a role in forcing men to be civilized, in this ad the gross perpetrator is woman, and all she represents. In the monologue, the female’s friends, as with her mother, are nearly unbearable, but the fast car makes it worthwhile. The statement about the lip balm is particularly representative of the idea that for men to be associated with anything feminine is a societal crime. Man cannot bear to hold the female’s lip balm, but will do it if he can drive the fast car he deserves. Women suffer from silly female problems like having chapped lips and cannot hold their own lip balm (their purses are probably too full of chocolate covered high heels, tampons, makeup, and yogurt to fit chapstick), so the man must do it for her. To him, it probably is the most degrading thing on the planet, but as the commercial states, if you have the car, it’ll all be tolerable.
In the same way that traditionalists would argue that women want to be housewives and child-bearing home makers, so all the ads and hype and media are just satisfying women’s desire to be the way they are meant to be, the advertisers for all the hyper-masculine media would argue that the absurd man-beast is indeed men’s natural state. There is this pervasive stereotyping idea that men just desperately desire to be as cave-men like as possible. They hate shaving, bathing, wearing clean and/or proper clothes, keeping house, putting up with women in any context that doesn’t involve having sex with them, eating anything other than meat, working, and pretty much being ‘civilized’ in any context. The misogyny present in advertising that tries to sell products to males is disgustingly overt.
In 2006, Burger King launched the ‘Manthem’ commercial, which depicts a man eating lunch with his girlfriend at a fancy restaurant. Disgusted with both the content and proportions of his meal, the man can’t take it anymore and gets up to burst into song. Some of the song lyrics include “I am man, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore, and I’m way too hungry to settle for chick food! [….] Oh, yes, I’m a guy! I’ll admit I’ve been fed quiche! Wave tofu bye-bye!” At one point during the ad, a man strips off his underwear, flips a minivan off of a bridge, and unfurls a banner that reads ‘EAT THIS MEAT’.
As with the yogurt advertisements, food plays a large role in the way gender differences are portrayed by advertising. Men are condemned for eating healthy food, and are pussy-whipped if their girlfriend made them. And small portions? Forget about it. But the worst, the most unforgivable crime of the man-food code is to eat vegetarian. Only weak, spineless men would consider not eating meat. I’ve been a vegetarian for eight years now, and I can tell you that people certainly feel it is incredibly wimpy and pathetic to consider not tearing into animal flesh. Caring about the welfare of lesser creatures makes you a coward and a pansy, and you deserve to be ridiculed for it! (or so Burger King says).
Commercials and advertising imply that you are not a real man if every meal you consume doesn’t consist of industrial quantities of meat and any other type of food that will cause early onset cardiac arrest and obesity. Another lyric in the song was “I will eat this meat until my innie turns into an outie!”. It seems that food advertising has polar opposition for gender: women must eat as little as possible or feel guilty for consuming anything with more than 5 calories, and men must be proud of the massive amounts of fatty foods they consume (or at least want to consume). Yogurt is again a perpetuator of this idea, with its commercials trying to convince women that they have to avoid any type of desert food, but it’s all alright because the magical Yoplait has come up with tiny cups of flavored dairy alternatives to their favorite and selfish splurges like cake, pie, and ice cream. It’s just like the real thing! Right?
So with all of these commercials, products, and advertising ploys, we’re still left with the reality that society endlessly and relentlessly tries to convince us that it is not ok to be female. When did this insult begin? With the dawn of patriarchy eons ago? It is reasonable to assume that as long as women were and are considered the weaker sex, it would be an insult to men to be compared to one. What are the qualities that society and media tell us women possess? They tell us that women are frivolous, vapid, shallow, self-centered, nagging, bitchy, unreasonable, materialistic, and child-like. Both advertising for women and men propagate this idea. Average, everyday jibes perpetuate the female-accusatory insult. How many times have you heard men say to each other, “You’ve been whining all day. Do you need a tampon” or “Are you on your period?”. I can recall several films, mainly action or military, when a strong male authority figure shouts at a group of men, “This isn’t girl scouts!”.
In the Sandlot, the local rag-tag baseball group is having an insult match with the uniformed official team. The final blow that causes everyone’s jaw to drop and for an epic revenge match to be declared is when the rag-rag team member who’s representing his side shouts, “You play ball like a girl!” This rhetoric states that it is so incredibly easy to be a woman, and that the tasks and activities that women participate in are so shallow and purposeless and simple that to be accused of being associated with anything of the like is horrifying and insulting to the nth degree.
How do we combat this disparity? I have personally made people stop and stare when, after they utter a female-accusatory insult, I look straight at them and say, “That’s offensive to my gender.” I find it catches people up a bit, it’s like they don’t quite know what to do with what I said. I feel that this reaction is due in part to the reality that nobody seems to be addressing this issue in all seriousness. The female-accusatory insult prevails, day in and day out, in every level of society. When I pointed the offensiveness out to my brother, I was pleasantly surprised when he simply said, “Yeah. Actually, you’re right.”
I feel that the first step to try and dispel this type of language is to just get people to acknowledge what they’re saying. I also think it’s incredibly important to point out the sexism towards men in media and advertising that perpetuates the female-accusatory insult. Of course men are capable of child-rearing and domestic tasks. The insult degrades the mere existence of women and condemns men of expressing anything not ‘masculine’. For instance, if during a scene in a military film, a soldier cannot perform a task due to physical or emotional strain, a savage general could yell, “Suck it up, soldier! This isn’t girl scouts!” and it would be commonplace and acceptable for him to say that. This would imply that men who struggle with any physically or emotionally draining task is weak and pathetic for suffering, and that it’s not acceptable to feel that way.
This is why this rhetoric is damaging for both genders, not just women. Even the extremely common expression, “man up!” or the command to “grow a pair!” promotes the same sexism. One must be as masculine as possible or grow a pair of testicles to accomplish difficult tasks. “Ballsy” is a word used to describe someone of considerable courage and daring, while “pussy” is used to describe a weakling. “Pussy” having the obvious double usage of being both a descriptive term for a sissy and a coward, as well as the slang for a woman’s genitalia.
In an episode of South Park, the boys (Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny) are horrified to learn the truth of the veal industry, and steal calves from the butcher so that they can keep them safe in their room. Stan is so convicted of his passion for animal rights that he becomes a vegetarian. As the episode progresses, he becomes very sick and lesions appear all over his body. At the end of the episode, his doctor diagnoses him with a condition where the lesions are actually tiny vaginas that appear all over his body.
With the way that women are portrayed be society, I would almost agree that yes, actually, it is that horrible to be a woman. But only because we are treated as such by advertising, men, society, and even other women.
The point to keep in mind here, over all this discussion of these gendered ads and commercials, is to really see what the companies are selling, and the consequences of how they sell it. Soap. Shower poufs. Soda. Yogurt. Cars. All these are seemingly so important and critical to a functioning society, that advertising companies will jeopardize the healthy perception of gender in society because they feel it will make them wealthier. The companies seem to forget human decency and respect all together for the sake of the almighty dollar. If human beings feel that these commercials and the attitudes they perpetuate are harmful, then they must make a stand and voice their opinions against these companies and their advertisements.
When those attitudes extend beyond the commercials and advertisements into everyday life, when you hear people saying anything that suggests that being a female is inherently negative, it is vital that you voice your disapproval.
It should not be acceptable to have the accusation that a man is feminine be the most offensive insult he can endure.
It should not be acceptable that a man who is a husband or father is expected to have no competency when it comes to household work and childrearing.
These attitudes are ridiculous, infinitely absurd, and incredibly detrimental to both genders. So man up, grow a uterus, and fight like a human being: with passion, reason, and equality.
Thanks for reading.
April 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm
Great paper, great perspective. I spent a great deal of time once studying how everything is geared to sell sex. There is a commercial I saw recently that was advertising a hamburger, but I’m pretty sure they were selling sex. Advertisers are pretty powerful, and the public is pretty easily led. Nice guest post, Glenda!