gender: masculinity

…there’s Kleenex for men:


In case you don’t know that brown, black, and gray = men, it says so right on the box!


Apparently these are on sale in the U.K.  I haven’t seen them in the U.S.

In looking this up, I discovered that gendered Kleenex marketing is nothing new.  This ad, from Life magazine, is from December 1964:


Images found here, here, here, and here.

Also in gendered products: tv dinners, uniforms, candy bars, ear plugs ‘n stuff, deodorant, Pepsi, and mosquito repellent.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cross-posted at Montclair Socioblog.

Claude the brand consultant was consulting with me – i.e., he was picking up the cappuccino tab at Starbuck’s. He was about to start teaching a course called something like “Communications and Public Affairs,” and not being an academic (though he’s a really good teacher), he wanted some advice on the syllabus.

We finally got around to the idea that Messages about Issues had to be tailored for specific Audiences or Publics, particularly their Interests and Values. (Those capitalized words were possible major headings in the syllabus.)

I immediately thought of the example of Texas and litter. How could you convince Texans to be more respectful of public places and not toss all that crap out onto the roads they drove on? The Ladybird Johnson approach – “Highway Beautification”?


Wrong audience. The people who were littering obviously didn’t care about highway beauty.

The guy you were trying to reach was Bubba, the classic red stater – fiercely individualistic, anti-government, macho. A slob, and probably proud of it. You couldn’t appeal to self-interest since it’s in Bubba’s self-interest to chuck his garbage out the window. Even hefty fines (and they are hefty) would work only if you could catch litterers often enough – unlikely on the Texas highways.

The best way in was Values. But how? “Don’t be a Litterbug, Keep Your Community Clean” would be noo nice, too feminine or babyish, and, like “Pitch In” too collectivist. Instead, Roy Spence and Tim McClure at the Austin ad agency GSD&M had the Texas DOT go with chauvinism – Texas chauvinism. The idea they played on was not that littering was ugly or wrong or costly, but that it hurt Texas. And thus in 1985 was born one of the most famous and effective campaigns in the history of advertising.


With its double meaning of “mess,” it captured Bubba’s patriotism and pugnacity. The bumper stickers were soon everywhere. The TV ads featured famous proud Texans. One of the early ones (so early, I can’t find it on YouTube) featured Too-Tall Jones and Randy White, two of the toughest dudes on the Cowboys defense, picking up roadside trash.

JONES: You see the guy who threw this out the window, you tell him I got a message for him.

WHITE: (picks up a beer can): I got a message for him too.

OFF-CAMERA VOICE: What’s that?

WHITE: (Crushes the beer can with one fist). Well, I kinda need to see him to deliver it.

JONES: Don’t mess with Texas.

Litter in Texas has been reduced by 72%, the campaign is still going strong a quarter-century later, and McLure and Spence have a book about it. My source was Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers (no, jazzers, not thoseHeath brothers), Chip and Dan.

We’ve posted in the past about how cigarettes have been marketed to women: as ways to lose weight, a form of personal liberation (more examples of this marketing theme here and here) as a way to calm down stressed moms, and doctor-approved methods of clearing up skin problems.

A while back Emily M. sent us a link to an article at the Onion A.V. Club that shows how men have been portrayed in cigarette ads. They provide a nice comparison to female-oriented marketing campaigns.

A recurring theme is that of a men as rugged individualists who go out and explore wild, remote, presumably dangerous places on their own. The Marlboro Man is the most familiar example, but Camel’s “where a man belongs” campaign also stressed this image:


Another major theme we see is cigarettes as facilitators of male bonding:



Other times we see men smoking as they do Really Intense Work:


Also see our post on Tiparillo cigarettes as a way to get hot women and Skoal use as male bonding that will get you out of a speeding ticket.

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

Tracey at Unapologetically Female reminisces about how some of the gadgets from her youth had the words “man” and “boy” in them (via Feministing). She writes:

Ever notice how gadgets can have the word “boy” or “man” right in the name and they’re still considered universal, but we all know that if they had been given more feminine names, no self-respecting boy would ever use them? A few too many of my favorite pastimes as a kid involved such masculine-named devices.

The Gameboy:


The Discman:


The Walkman:


I’m too tied up with summer projects to go searching for current examples, but if you think of any and post in the comments, I’ll add them.


Abby mentions The Virtual Boy and The Talk Boy:



Tyson mentions Pacman:


Anonymous commenters mentioned the La-Z-boy and Manwich:



Maria, Cycles, and Julie mentioned Craftsman tools, the Ironman Triathlon, and Yardman respectively:




Ryan mentioned Burning Man:


Jo mentioned Hangman:


And Reanimated Horse mentioned The Running Man:


There is also some conversation about product mascots named Mr. and Mrs., but I’ll leave that for another post.  I’ll plan another post for products named “girl” and “woman,” too.

If ya’ll think of more, I’ll keep adding them!


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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.

Elizabeth M. and Toban B. sent in a clip from the British TV show “That Mitchell and Webb Look” that has a humorous take on how advertisers target men and women:

Both Aani B. and Sarah F. sent in a link to a commercial for the new diet Pepsi (Pepsi Max, of course) being aimed at men. 

Also don’t miss this commercial (embedding disabled) in which they describe the ingredients of Pepsi Max as the crushed bones of a Viking, the spit of a rapid Wolverine, pepper spray, and scorpion venom.  The can? Made from the hull of a nuclear submarine.  The crushing of cans on heads ensues.

Over at I Blame the Patriarchy, a reader named Kate sent in a snapshot of some advertising for the product at the intersection of 6th and Anza in San Francisco:



“The first diet cola for men.”

“Save the calories for bacon.”

“0 calories. Great taste. Welded together.”

“No gut. All glory.”

This is, of course, all in jest. Yet is still re-affirms the idea that being this way is the epitome of manhood, if taken to a ridiculous extreme.  Eh, I’ll just let Twisty say it. As usual, she says it better than I:

What’s the big whoop? Well, you can’t have a “soda for men” unless “men” are considered a class unto themselves, defined in terms of the bacon-eating, welding, glorious nukular submarine-squashing aspirations that separate them from dainty vulnerable “women.” These ads are jokey, depicting average-looking dudes, but they tacitly allude to the noxious he-man/fragile damsel dichotomy that’s been chapping actual women’s hides lo these many millennia.

It also, of course, points to the fact that dieting really has been for women all along (see posts here and here for examples). In fact, it denies that diet-soda-for-men is about dieting at all: note the slogan “save the calories for bacon” and the name, Pepsi Max, which implies adding something to the beverage as opposed to taking something out.

See other examples of marketing for diet products aimed at men: Nutrisystem (“get ‘er done!”) and Weight Watchers.

Sport is socially constructed.  What counts as a “real” sport is determined by social convention, as any hard core cheerleader will tell you.  Sports are also gendered and the degree to which an athletic activity is feminized correlates pretty closely with whether or not we feel it is a “real” sport.  This translates into an interesting phenomenon in which excelling at athletic activities deemed feminine and not-really-sport includes obscuring the athleticism involved.  That is, part of what it means to be a good athlete in that sport is to be able to hide exactly how athletic you are.

Feder makes this point in her excellent article, “A Radiant Smile From A Lovely Lady.”  She explains that female figure skaters are required to perform femininity and hide their athleticism with costume, make-up, feminine gestures, and softened movements.   One coach was quoted as saying, “I always tell my girls: think like a man, but act and look like a woman.”

At the time her article was published (1995), the U.S. and International Skating Union still called them “ladies” and required them to wear skirts (after Debi Thomas wore a unitard at the Olympics, horror of horrors).  Women were only allowed to do one triple jump (while men were required to do at least two) and they were disqualified if they did a back flip.

Further, media coverage of women skaters tends to focus not on their physical prowess, but on their dreams, how beautiful they are, and their relationships… all drenched in soft lighting and pretty music.  Feder quoted commentators saying that when women jump they “float like a leaf”; their jumps are “less like stunts than whitecaps bubbling out of waves.”

What does Sasha Cohen have?  “Unstoppable” strength?  Oh.  No.  “Unstoppable charm.”


Because of ice skating’s reputation as a feminine not-sport, men who choose to figure skate are often subject to a lot of policing.  Their masculinity is fundamentally called into question by their proximity to so much femininity.  And, don’t forget, this is a bad thing… or so we are led to believe.

This, of course, is sexist, homophobic, and illogical (tell me again why the guy with his hands all over the girl is gay?).

I go over all of this because of a new campaign by Skate Canada to change ice skating’s image in response to the low participation of boys men in the sport.  Instead of, however, challenging the misogyny, rigid masculinity, and irrationality of the “male ice skaters are gay” attack, they have decided to endorse the attack and simply re-frame ice skating as hypermasculine.

In this clip from CBC sports, representatives of Skate Canada explain how they’ve been policed for their participation, and then explain how “tough” ice skating is and how they’re the ones “dealing with all the… pretty ladies.”  So ice skating is redeemed by reframing the  sport as (athletically and sexually) hypermasculine, instead of calling into question hypermasculinity itself.

Of course, it’s much easier to re-frame your object to fit cultural norms than it is to change cultural norms.  I get it.  It’s practical.  And that’s exactly the point.  When it comes down to it, most people will re-frame rather than fight and this is why social change is so difficult.

My student, Jacob G., just returned from a semester abroad in Australia. He reports that Foster’s beer is nearly nowhere to be found in Australia and, when it is, it is not considered centrally Australian, but instead, cheap and nasty. This is in dramatic contrast to Foster’s beer commercials. For example:

So, Foster’s beer is being marketing to the U.S. with the notion that it is essentially Australian. Australian-ness, if you watch many Foster’s beer commercials, includes hypermasculinity. This is troubling for Australians–many of whom, I suspect, are not particularly hypermasculine–but it also interesting in that it illustrates how a product can be marketed by branding it with a nation.