gender: masculinity

In an interesting article at Slate, Libby Copeland observes that Ron Paul has disproportionate support from young people and men.  Why?  She cites political scientists explaining that young people, on average, think in more black-and-white terms than older people:

…age and newness to politics predispose young voters to a less nuanced view of the political world. They’re less likely to take the long view, less likely to have patience, less likely to spin out the implications of their political theories.

Ron Paul does, indeed, articulate a straightforward ideology, especially compared to the other candidates.

Copeland doesn’t do as good of a job of explaining why men tend to like him more than women.  I wonder, though, if it maybe has something, just a little bit, to do with his branding.  Consider this ad:

This ad is a clear adoption of masculinity and a strong rejection of femininity (symbolized by the Shih-Tsu and its supposed weakness).  In this sense, his ad is centrally in the genre of ads designed to associate products with MEN, partly by the deliberate exclusion of women and mocking of anything feminine.

It seems to me that Paul has decided to double down on his appeal, focusing on the market that he thinks is most likely to support him, and throwing everyone else out along with the social programs.

Thanks to Letta and Alex for sending along the article and commercials!

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Ms.

I thought it would be fun to have a round-up of examples of masculinizing the feminine — that is, attempts to sell items to men through repackaging and renaming, drawing on ridiculous stereotypes of masculinity to assure men that they can use these products without becoming girly.

To start off, how might you sell nail polish to men? Call the brand Alphanail and associate the product with sex and warfare, of course, with, as submitter Gabriella says, “women as props and men as warriors”:

Clémentine C. noticed that Canova, a British company that sells candles, has a line of candles specifically for men, identifiable by the manly images and scents. While the other candles are given names like sweet pea or watermelon, the men’s versions have more detailed names, with allusions to “bringing out the dog in you,” “the sweet smell of success,” and “a splash of motor oil.” The Cassis & Fig with Added Danger candle  includes a silhouette of a woman behind a martini glass, reminiscent of a stripper pole:

Jennifer W., Kirstie McC., Savannah G., Kristina K., Dmitriy T.M., and Scott C. informed us that CIL Paints, a Canadian company, is trying to masculinize paint colors. The website provides men with a range of colors for their “ultimate man caves.” Scott saw this ad for the line in Toronto’s Metro back in September:

What makes these colors masculine? A simple name change. The website helpfully translates the “real” names of their paints into man-speak:

According to a video created as part of the ad campaign, a quick name change instantaneously changes men’s perceptions, making them compliant with women’s wishes (“The colour she wants with a name he’ll agree to”):

Indeed, the central message is that men are incredibly stupid and easily duped; women just have to manipulate them a bit:

Now we’ve got the house painted; it’s time for some chores! Anjan G. let us know that appliance company Philips designed an iron just for men:

The man-friendly features on this “robust” iron “power tool for ironing,” described on the Philips website as the “Anodilium soleplate man iron,” include “more power, more steam, more performance” to give you “an endless excellent gliding experience.”

Now, let’s say that you’ve just ironed all your clothes with your ironing power tool, and now you want a little rest. Hmmm, you might think, I’d like a nice warm beverage, but I don’t want to appear girly. Thanks to Elisabeth M., we discovered that Man Teas has an answer for you, with their goal of making tea safe for men:

…most of the specialty teas out there have stuff like rosehips and lemon zest in them (what the hell is “zest” anyway?) and they are packaged and merchandised to appeal to women. What guy is going to pick up a box of Cozy Sleepytime Tea with a pajama’d teddy bear on it? Not this guy.

At least three different varieties of their teas are bacon-flavored. And to make sure every element of your tea-consuming experience is sufficiently manly, you can steep your tea is this manly T-Baggin Tea Bag:

And finally, along with your tea, perhaps you’d like some healthy cereal, but you’re worried that health foods are associated with women. Well, don’t worry; Tesco sells Chunky Muesli, a “cereal for men.” It’s made safe for men with construction-zone packaging:

Thanks to Sophie K. for sending us the photo!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Christie W. sent in an idea that inspired me to revive our pointlessly gendered products post.  It’s  a fun one.  I’ve added Christie’s submission — a super-pink for-her version of a continuous positive airway pressure machine for people with sleep apnea.


At this point, the gendering of things like phones doesn’t surprise me, such as this set, sent in by Ben C.:

But really…pink ear plugs?

We seriously need our own earplugs that are “silky soft”? Starchy G., who sent them in, says:

I’ve been told that these things have the extra-feminine side effect of dying one’s earwax pink.


Feminist Philosophers found this delightfully marketed pair of earplugs for, um, I’m gonna guess working class men:


Gendered tape, also from Feminist Philosophers:


Lee D.-T. found these sandwich bags for sale at a Safeway store in Melbourne, Australia. Sandwich bags, people!


Original Will sent in this image of pink computer cables, found at boing boing:


NEW! (Mar. ’10): Marjolaine N. found pink and blue chocolate Easter bunnies:


Michelle at The Red Pill Survival Guide took this photograph of gendered lollipops.  But not just any lollies: “Girls Enchanted” and “Boys Adventure” mixes.  Sigh:

Em wanted to download Style XP to customize Windows XP, but had to decide between men’s and ladies’ versions:


Em says,

The Man theme “gem” and the Lady theme “gucci” look pretty much the same. Still I’m glad it’s called “gucci” so I know it’s for me. Me and my lady friends are going to giggle about it then go online shoe shopping together. I just hope they’ve added extra-easy installation instructions to that version.

Christie W. sent in a pink version of a continuous positive airway pressure machine, and related items, for people, er women, with sleep apnea:

Over a dozen more ridiculous examples, after the jump.


Quite some time ago, Laura McD. sent us a link to an NPR story about a new ad campaign for baby carrots (which, if you didn’t know, aren’t actually immature carrots; they’re just regular carrots peeled and cut into small pieces). In an effort to appeal to teens, these ads openly satirize marketing tropes used to sell lots of snacks, especially the effort to market junk food as totally extreme! The website self-consciously makes the link to junk food, winking at the audience about the absurdity of EXTREEEEEME!!!!! marketing, yet hoping that rebranding carrots as similar to junk food, and using the marketing tactics they’re laughing at, actually increases sales. So, for instance, they have new packaging that looks like bags of chips:

The ads serve as a great primer on extreme food marketing cliches, complete with associations with violence (and stupidity), the sexualization of women, and the constant reminder via voiceovers and pounding music that this food is freakin’ extreme, ok?!?!


This one parodies ads that sexualize both women and food and present eating as an indulgence for women:

The ad campaign presents all this with a tongue-in-cheek tone of “isn’t this ridiculous?” But they’re also genuinely trying to rebrand a food product to increase sales, and clearly see the way to do that as downplaying any claims about health and instead using — if mockingly — the same marketing messages advertisers use to sell soda, chips, energy drinks, and other foods aimed at teens (particularly, though not only, teen boys).

As such, they provide a great summary of these marketing techniques and the jesting “Ha ha! We get it! We’re not like the other marketers who try to sell stuff to you! We know this is silly! (Please buy our product, though)” ironic marketing technique.

And now, I highly recommend you go watch the satire of energy drink commercials Lisa posted way back in 2007. It never gets old.

Over the past few months, a number of readers have sent in examples of college-related advertising with a distinctly sexual theme.  There’s something interesting here. College pursuit, preparation, and achievement are being conflated with sexual prowess (the size of one’s dick, no less).  I suppose it was never was really about smarts.  Still, the overt conflation of (masculine) sexual superiority with academic achievement seems new to me. Am I wrong?

Scott M. and Ed A-N. sent in which penis size is used as a proxy for preparedness for the LSAT:

Stephanie A. sent in this ad for MyEdu, a college management site (whatever that is) that makes an obvious reference to Viagra (the little blue pill that makes for not-so-little erections):

Last but not least, Becky E. and Monica Y. sent in this facebook ad encouraging women to apply to a school loan by suggesting that very-sexy-ladies do the same:

See also our post: using sex to sell the most unlikely things (like organ donation!).

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Alli, YetAnotherGirl, Molly W., and Laurence D. all sent in links (via The Mary Sue and Feminist Law Professors) to a post at The Achilles Effect on gendered language in children’s toy commercials. Crystal Smith created word clouds based on 658 words in 27 TV commercials generally aimed at boys (products included “Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Kung Zhu, Nerf, Transformers, Beyblades, and Bakugan”) and 432 words from 32 TV commercials generally aimed at girls (products: “Zhu Zhu Pets, Zhu Zhu Babies, Bratz Dolls, Barbie, Moxie Girls, Easy Bake Ovens, Monster High Dolls, My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop, Polly Pocket, and FURREAL Friends”).

This clearly isn’t a random sample of all toy commercials on all TV channels to all age groups; as Smith points out, it ignores toy companies that can’t afford TV ads, and it’s not a huge sample. However, given that these are popular toys that were being marketed during shows (such as cartoons) that are aimed at children, the word clouds provide a basic overview of gendered language in toy ads.

The word cloud for the boys’ list shows the emphasis on action and violence, with others depicted as opponents, a nemesis, or enemies:

For girls, the words are much more about appearance/fashion, relationships (friends, friendship, etc.), and playing mommy:

You can see larger versions at Wordle (girls and boys) and Smith says she has a reference list of all the commercials she a reference list of all the commercials available, which I requested. I’ll update the post with the list when I get it.

UPDATE: In response to my email, Crystal Smith cautioned, “This is a very small sample of brands that tend to appear frequently during kids’ cartoon blocks on TV. They are highly gendered toys, which explains the incredible contrast between the two lists.” She sent along the references; the girls’ list is available here, the boys’ list here.

In their article, The Male Consumer as Loser, Michael Messner and Jeffrey Montez de Oca try to explain the recent rash of advertising featuring mediocre men.   These ads, and their film and television counterparts, skip the hunky-manly-hunk-dude in favor of less hunky men: young, heterosexual, usually white males who are short on cash, low on maturity, and have a penchant for irresponsibility. They dominate Judd Apatow “bromances” (e.g., Knocked Up), frequent TV sitcoms (e.g., The Drew Carey Show), and are used to sell everything from Mike’s Hard Lemonade to Twix candy bars. These are not studs. They are moderately good-looking, but small, skinny, chubby, or otherwise uncool compared to real hunks.

On the face of it, the mediocre man is a self-deprecating character who undermines idealized masculinity by being likeable despite being decidedly non-ideal.  Messner and Montez de Oca, however, show that the mediocre man, nevertheless, reproduces notions of men’s superiority over women.  The women in these narratives tend to be of two types: “sexy fantasy women” and “real women.”  The men bond over the unattainability of the sexy fantasy women and the burden of maintaining relationships with real women, their girlfriends, wives, and mothers.  The “real women’ are usually portrayed as bitches, harpies, and nags, while the “sexy fantasy women,” upon interaction, often turn out to be just as bad.

The viewers are meant to identify with the mediocre men, who revel in each others’ company, happy to be dudes free from the clutches of the women in their lives, even if they aren’t sleeping with supermodels.  The mediocre man may be kind of a loser, indeed, but he can thank God he’s a man. P.S.: Women suck.

Dmitriy T.M. sent in an example of the “mediocre man” narrative, the trailer from the movie, Hall Pass:

(Probably in the end they realize they love their naggy wives, but whatevs.)

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

On today’s SportsCenter, ESPN closed out showing their “This is SportsCenter” commercials. As described on ESPN’s official YouTube, “This is SportsCenter” channel:

This is SportsCenter is the name of a series of comical television commercials run by ESPN to promote their SportsCenter sports news show. The ads are presented in a deadpan mockumentary style, lampooning various aspects of sports, and sports broadcasting. The commercials debuted in 1994.

As of tonight (December 24, 2010), ESPN’s YouTube channel profiles 77 of these short videos. Not every “This is SportsCenter” commercial is profiled, but I’m just going with what is up on this page now as the sample data set. I generally enjoy these commercials. Many of them are witty, and they are all short (around 30 seconds). Here are a few examples:

As can be seen, the commercials typically profile a famous athlete and/or a SportsCenter anchor, and on occasion a non-sports-related celebrity (e.g., Richard Simmons). In examining what athletes the commercials profile on ESPN’s YouTube page, a highly predictable trend emerges. Here are the individual athletes the commercials profile (note: when no athletes are profiled and only anchors, gender of anchors profiled noted instead):

  1. Dwight Freeney (football; male)
  2. Derek Jeeter (baseball; male)
  3. Floyd Mayweather (boxing; male)
  4. Tim Lincecum (baseball; male)
  5. Wayne Gretzky (hockey; male)
  6. Dwight Howard (basketball; male)
  7. David St. Hubbins (musician; male)
  8. Arnold Palmer (golf; male)
  9. Oregon Duck (football; gender neutral)
  10. Usain Bolt (track & field; male)
  11. Larry Fitzgerald (football; male)
  12. Matt Ryan (football; male)
  13. Brett Favre (football; male)
  14. Adrian Peterson (football; male)
  15. Joe Mauer (baseball; male)
  16. Adrian Peterson (football; male)
  17. Manny Ramierz (baseball; male)
  18. Josh Hamilton (baseball; male)
  19. SportsCenter Anchors (all male)
  20. Jimmie Johnson (car racing; male)
  21. SportsCenter Anchors (all male)
  22. Manny Ramirez (baseball; male)
  23. David Ortiz & Jorge Posada (baseball; male)
  24. David Wright (baseball; male)
  25. Chad Ochocinco (football; male)
  26. Chad Ochocinco (football; male)
  27. Ladanian Tomlinson (football; male)
  28. Chad Ochocinco (football; male)
  29. Tony Romo (football; male)
  30. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, & Ray Allen (basketball; male)
  31. Michael Phelps (swimming; male)
  32. Ladanian Tomlinson (football; male)
  33. Jim Kelly (football; male)
  34. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (car racing; male)
  35. Chad Ochocinco (football; male)
  36. Stephen King (writer; male)
  37. Michael Phelps (swimming; male)
  38. Jimmy Rollins (baseball; male)
  39. Richard Simmons (fitness pro; male)
  40. Maria Sharapova (tennis; female)
  41. Steve Smith (football; male)
  42. Jose Reyes (baseball; male)
  43. Pat Summit (basketball; female)
  44. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (car racing; male)
  45. Carmelo Anthony (basketball; male)
  46. Chris Paul (basketball; male)
  47. Keyshawn Johnson (football; male) & Kobe Bryant (basketball; male)
  48. “Moving the Franchise” (all male anchors)
  49. “Yahtzee” (male anchors)
  50. Kerri Strug (gymnastics; female)
  51. “Talent Search” (male anchors)
  52. Globetrotters (basketball; male)
  53. Dan O’Brien (track & field; male)
  54. “Journalistic Integrity” (male anchors)
  55. “Sportscaster Celebrities” (male anchors)
  56. “Live on the Set” (predominantly male anchors; female anchor at end)
  57. Michael Andretti (car racing; male)
  58. Gordie Howe (hockey; male)
  59. “Reading Lips” (all male anchors)
  60. “Makeup Buddies” (all male anchors)
  61. “Athletes Bribing” (multiple male athletes from different sports)
  62. George Mikan (basketball; male)
  63. Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics; female)
  64. “Tour” (all male anchors)
  65. “One Track Mind” (predominanty male anchors; female anchor at start)
  66. “Shoot” (female anchor)
  67. “Paws” (all male anchors)
  68. “Serious Journalism” (all male anchors)
  69. “Write Your Own Stuff” (all male anchors)
  70. “Sweet Science” (predominantly male anchor; short appearances by a female anchor)
  71. “Potty Talk” (male anchor)
  72. “Memories” (all male anchors)
  73. Keshawn Johnson (football; male) & Kobe Bryant (basketball; male)
  74. Glenn Robinson (basketball; male)
  75. Barry Melrose (hockey; male)
  76. Landon Donovan (soccer; male)
  77. Jimmie Johnson (car racing; male)

When going through the data set, we find that out of the 77 commercials, women only appear 8 times (10.4%), in some cases in relatively peripheral roles. When looking specifically at athletes, only 3 female athletes are profiled, all 3 of whom represent historically “acceptibly feminine” sports: Mary Lou Retton and Kerri Strug (both gymnasts) and Maria Sharapova (tennis). One commercial profiles Pat Summit, the famous women’s basketball coach from the University of Tennessee. All other commercials featuring athletes have males.

Examining the content of the commercials is also important. For instance, the commercial with Sharapova clearly relies on Sharapova’s status as a femininized beauty figure in athletics. And while all the commercials are “presented in deadpan mockumentary style,” the humor clearly calls upon dominant notions of heterosexual masculinity — take for example the commercials that mock femininity among males, such as those in which the male anchors share makeup and mock Richard Simmons as a conditioning coach.

The trends shown here are highly predictable. It is hardly surprising that males are over-represented numerically in the commercials, both as athletes and anchors. Likewise, it is unsurprising that the humor utilized in these commercials so often mocks femininity among males in the sporting world or uses female athletes as sexualized figures.

What we see here in ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” commercials is the typical way that gender is constructed in sport — patriarchy is reified within an institution historically reserved for heterosexual males.


David Mayeda is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies at Hawaii Pacific University.  His recent book publications include Celluloid Dreams: How Film Shapes America and Fighting for Acceptance: Mixed Martial Artists and Violence in American Society.  He also blogs at The Grumpy Sociologist.

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