The paradox: masculinity is strength, power, and dominance… but femininity is terrifying. Gender rules insist that men must avoid association with the feminine at all costs because, if they do not, they are weak. They are pussies, bitches, women, girls. Femininity is weakness and yet, oddly, it has the power to strip men of their manliness. It is as if, as sociologist Gwen Sharp once put it, “masculinity is so fragile that apparently even the slightest brush with the feminine destroys it.”
Behold the best example of this phenomenon ever:
Let’s be clear. The reason he’s afraid of femininity is because it’s reviled. It makes you a woman, which makes you worthless. Which is fine for the ladies, but dudes are advised to avoid personal denigration if at all possible.
Last month I wrote about how the revival in the popularity of beards was hurting razor sales, causing companies like Proctor & Gamble to ramp up advertising encouraging “manscaping” below the neck. Here’s another response to the trend: hair plugs for your face.
According to a facial plastic surgeon interviewed for an article at DNAinfo New York, the rate at which he is asked to do facial hair transplants has skyrocketed from “ just a handful of beard transplants each year a decade ago” to about three a week. The surgeons mention the hipster beard trend as one cause of the rise in interest, but also cite a wide array of people who might be interested in fuller facial hair:
…clients include men who have struggled since adolescence to grow a beard, those undergoing a gender transition from female to male, men with with facial scarring and Hasidic Jews who hope to achieve denser payot, or sidelocks.
Expense for the procedure ranges from $3,o00 for partial transplants to $7,000 for a full beard.
What a fascinating example of the intersection of race, gender, religion, technology, and capitalism. Which men’s faces have more power to determine appearance norms for men? Or, what does masculinity look like? Men with Asian, American Indian, and African backgrounds are less likely to be able to grow full beards, but a society centered on whiteness can make their faces seem inadequate. If the situation were reversed, would we see white men, disproportionately, going in for laser hair removal? Would transmen feel less pressure to be able to grow a beard to feel fully masculine? Would they feel more if they were part of a Hasidic Jewish community?
Also, is this really about hipsters? How much power does a young, monied demographic have to set fashion trends? To send a wide range of people to surgeons — for goodness sake — in the hopes of living up to a more or less fleeting trend? How do such trends gain purchase across such a wide range of people? What other forces are at work here?
I always love a good behind-the-scenes marketing story and last month NPR reported that Proctor & Gamble is facing falling men’s razor sales as beards have become more fashionable. Their response? To put more pressure on men to shave other parts of their bodies.
Always a glutton for punishment, I set out to discover just how they were going to try to convince men to do this… and I was not disappointed.
Gillette has hired models to convince men to shave, well, their whole body. A slightly longer ad featuring three of them begins with the question, “What do you say to a guy who grooms everything?” To which they answer, “Yaaaaaaay!” No really.
This is the sexual objectification of male bodies. The use of threats like “you’ll be disgusting to women if you don’t do what we say” is a form of social control. One point for capitalism over its long-enduring opponent in the male hygiene and grooming market: gender ideology.
Francesca Cancian, who writes on love, calls this the feminization of love. It makes love seem like its for women and girls only. This is a problem for at least two reasons. First, because men are supposed to avoid girly things in our culture, they are pressured to pretend like they’re not into love and love-related things. That’s why men are offered the alternative Steak and a Blow Job Day.
Second, it makes other ways of expressing love less visible. Maybe he shows love by always changing the oil in the car or making sure the computer is updated with anti-virus software. These can be mis-recognized as not about love because they aren’t the proper socially constructed symbols. So, if he doesn’t also show up with flowers or candy once in a while, maybe she doesn’t feel loved.
The flip side of this is the masculinization of sex. The rather new idea that what men are really interested in is sex and that this is secondary or, even, obligatory for women.
The feminization of love and masculinization of sex manifests itself in a myriad of ways across our culture, causing all sorts of problems. In the case of Valentine’s Day, it makes it seem as if the (assumed heterosexual) holiday is for women but, if he does it right, he’ll get sex as a reward. How romantic.
[I]t can’t be denied that the female ideal in America is nonaggressive and nonthreatening, to the point of caricature. Take for example the film personality of the much-idolized Marilyn Monroe: docile, accommodating, brainless, defenseless, totally uncentered, incapable of taking up for herself or knowing what she wants or needs. A sexual encounter with such a woman in real life would border on rape – the idea of “consenting adults” wouldn’t even apply. The term “perversion” seems more appropriate for this kind of yearning than for homosexuality or bestiality, since it isn’t directed toward a complete being. The Marilyn Monroe image was the ideal sex object for the sexually crippled and anxious male: a bland erotic pudding that would never upset his delicate stomach.
It’s important to realize that this Playboy ideal is a sign of low, rather than high, sexual energy. It suggests that the sexual flame is so faint and wavering that a whole person would overwhelm and extinguish it. Only a vapid, compliant ninny-fantasy can keep it alive. It’s designed for men who don’t really like sex but need it for tension-release – men whose libido is wrapped up in achievement or dreams of glory.
Slater wrote this passage in 1970, hence the reference to Marilyn Monroe. I would have to think hard about whether I think it still applies broadly, but I think it’s fair to say that the “bland erotic pudding” is still part of the repertoire of essentially every female celebrity who is successful in part because of her appearance. I did a search for some of the most high-profile female actresses and singers today, looking specifically for images that might fit Slater’s description. I invite your thoughts.
Let’s watch and see what issues this K-Y lube campaign raises:
You see, it’s funny because the “warming” lube is so effective, the chubby old slob is irresistible to his more put-together wife. Here’s another:
While I think mature men like me can take the hit on our egos, there is another angle to consider here. In an AdWeek post on “Hunkvertising,” my social media friend David Gianatasio interviewed Lisa Wade, about what the trendy treatment of men as sex objects in advertising actually says about women.
Many ad experts and social critics see the whole thing as a harmless turning of the tables following decades of bikini-clad babes in beer commercials. Double entendres abound when dissecting the trend, the overriding feeling being that it can’t be taken all that seriously because, after all, we are just talking about guys here. “We’re all in on the gender-reversal joke,” explains Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology at Occidental College. “It’s funny to us to think of women being lustful.”
When the lust is treated even more ironically, as with these men who are not exactly Isaiah Mustafa, both the woman’s lust and the man’s sexual desirability are the gag.
As Dr. Wade added in her post about the post she was interviewed for, “the joke affirms the gender order because the humor depends on us knowing that we don’t really objectify men this way and we don’t really believe that women are the way we imagine men to be.”
And here, the men aren’t either. It’s good for a laugh, but over the long term is it good for men and women?
Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at workthatmatters.blogspot.com.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This granted women the right to have a credit card in her own name. This translated into an unprecedented degree of independence for women. Feminists and their allies fought for this new world and it’s a good thing because we love to buy things with our credit cards sooooooo muuuuuuuuch!
And, thankfully, credit card companies like Banif know just how to make us comfortable, by combining feminism and infantilization and kissing our asses because We. Are. So. Special. “Every day is women’s day!” Wheeeee!
The husband in this ad, though, likely thinks he would have been better off if his wife wasn’t allowed to make financial decisions without his approval. Stupid women and their stupid financial decisions. Ruining everything.
It’s okay though because we are multiracial and credit is love.
Of course, sometimes the men still pay. Amirite, ladies!?
In this excellent 6 minute video, CJ Pascoe discusses some of the findings of her widely acclaimed book, Dude, You’re a Fag. She points out that, while being called “fag” and other terms for people with same sex desires are the most common and most cutting of insults between boys in school, they rarely mean to actually suggest that the target is gay. Instead, the terms are used to suggest that boys are failing at masculinity.
This, she points out, is not “unique to childhood.” For this reason, calling it bullying it is probably a distraction from the fact that this doesn’t just happen among kids. She includes, as an example, a bomb destined for Afghanistan with the phrase “highjack this, fags” written on it by American soldiers.
Kids, then, aren’t in a particularly nasty stage. They’re “repeating, affirming, investing in all of these norms and expectations that we as adults are handing down.” If we used more adult language, Pascoe argues, we might do a better job of thinking how we’re teaching boys how to be this way.