Still A Virgin?

3 Sep

Saw this ad at the Court House and 23rd and Ely Avenue 7  train station tonight and it made me think about the paradox of sexual expression in this society and who get’s addressed in sanctioning messages.

First of all, as a gendered “woman” I didn’t feel targetted by this ad. There are no obvious markers of gender in this ad at all. There are no references to masculinity and yet my initial reaction was to disregard the ad with the distinct feeling that it was intended toward “men”. Why is that?It seems that “men” are prescribed a different set of social pressures which include expectations about sexual experience whereas “women” are expected to be chaste, virginal. This isn’t to say that “women” don’t feel pressures to have sex, I just think the social policing functions in a different way.

Whereas “men” can be socially berated for being virgins or not having sex “regularly”, to do so to “women” would be considered morally wrong. “Men” are so regularly expected to live up to social quotas of sex, women are rarely publicly (or via the media) pressured in this way. Because I know it’s politically incorrect to put an ad up pressuring a “woman” to have sex, I almost immediately dismiss the ad as intended for another audience.

This topic touches on what I intend to write for my Phd application; about the social mass rape of gendered “men” within American society. My main point being that because masculine identity is so tied to heterosexual vitality, men are socially pressured into having sex not merely for enjoyment but for identity maintenance. That is, a “man” who knowing he can take a “woman” home will likely bring her home, regardless of his current sexual appetite, and ever aware that he “should’nt pass this up”.

Anyway, I came home and went to the site the ad referenced and watched the trailer which reveals that the ad was for a movie about “four guys, one camera and their hilarious experience chronicling the exhilarating and terrifying rite of passage: losing your virginity. As these guys help their buddy get laid, they’ll have to survive friends with benefits, internet hookups, even porn stars during an adventure that proves you will always remember your first.”

Here the story is told from the perspective of men. I haven’t seen the movie but based on the trailer and the description, this doesn’t seem to be an account of a woman’s losing her virginity (imagine if the description above was reference four girls…it would probably be a porn) but of “four guys” and their “rite of passage”. But how often is the “rite of passage” concept used for talking about “women” losing their virginity? It seems to me that masculinity is much more attached to this idea of unlocking one’s true potential; awakening one’s realization of the self through the first act of intercourse.

To further evidence this implied tie between social pressure to lose one’s virginity and “men”, look at the tabs on the page: One says “Epic Fails” and the next says “Male Animal”. The page also makes comparisons between this movie and “American Pie”; another film in which a group of men are pressuring each other to lose their virginity. When was the last time we saw a film in which women do the same?

This consideration of gender targeting also made me consider the placement of the ad. This ad was on the subway platform of what is considered one of the most liberal cities in America. Would this ad appear somewhere that is conceptualized as conservative? Would devout Muslim, Christian, Jewish (etc) American women and men feel equally targeted or repulsed by this ad? Would the gender dynamic prevalent in a more secular society endure? And how does this ad fit into context of a society that remains conservative in it’s expressions of sexuality in the media? Is this the mark of a new age of sexual rambunctiousness or yet another example of our struggle as Americans to address the issue of sexual expression?

P.S. Check out the complexion of those in the movie. It’s another “white middle class teens” represent everyone’s experiences movie.


Hegans and guys named Rip

16 Aug

So there’s a long list of things we expect of the (assumed) dual genders. Some of the gender lines are so rigidly constructed and staunch that a particular topic will be gendered without any reference to women or men. For example, veganism is often considered a “feminine” movement without having any historical connection to women or having been started by women.

Something about caring for animals is considered feminine; perhaps it’s emotion in general. As I’ve discussed in a past entry, men are associated with killers and violence. To seek peace is gendered as feminine. It’s considered passive and inactive to want peace.

In thinking about this though, while masculinity is associated with violence it can also be associated with saving someone’s life (heroism) if it relates to activity, especially if it also involves violence (the military, the police).

Veganism also poses a threat to masculinity in that it involves removing meat from the diet. Meat is associated with protein, protein is associated with muscle strength, muscle strength is associated with activity. Masculinity is associated with action and therefore men are expected to eat a lot of meat to support that action.

Additionally, veganism is associated with healthy living and men are taught not to be concerned with that. Men are assumed to be able to handle anything, including indigestion from over eating and/or eating unhealthy things.

So if veganism is so foreign to masculinity, how do we talk about men involved with veganism? With action words of course! recently posted an interview with Rip Esselstyn who wrote a book about the benefits of the vegan diet from a firefighter’s perspective. The following is not to diminish what Rip is doing; in fact I truly admire his efforts to bring healthy eating and also veganism to America. I want veganism to be accessible to any and all genders and perhaps his efforts are helping to bring this goal to reality.

But I thought it was important to discuss the ways he’s making veganism “safe” to men.

The first description of Rip is that he’s an “Ironman triathlete and former firefighter”. So immediately we are seeing this qualification of Rip as a “real man”; as active, “iron” and a firefighter (by far one of the most masculinized occupations: an occupation involving “a man” overcoming the elements).

The interviewer points to the use of “hegan” as the term for a man who is a vegan. But there is no vegan term for a woman. There is no “shegan”.

Rip: Well, I want you to know up front that you’re talking to the ultimate hegan!”

There is also the discussion of Rip’s term “plant-strong” to overcome the taboo that those who don’t eat meat are weak.

“You know, eat plant-strong, meaning eat more plants, and also, I’m plant-strong—I’m eating plants, and I’m strong. Real men eat plants.”

And no test of masculinity (for veganism) would be complete without a reference to testicles as strength:

“Rip: Somebody e-mailed me the other day saying that they love Engine 2, and when people ask them what it is, they say it’s a vegan diet with balls—a vegan diet with cojones.”

“Master of the Universe”

15 Jun

I receive emails from Daily Candy and in the latest one was a feature of “Fifteen Gifts For Dad”. The first of the series I thought made telling commentary on how subconscious gender conceptions are still upheld by tradition.

Here’s the description:

“Master of the Universe

For Mom, it’s flowers. For Dad, it’s a desktop carnivorous plant set ($25). Everything but the water is included. And after a few weeks of care, seven killers (Venus flytraps, Cobra Lilies) emerge.”

So here we see some associations. Women like flowers, men like killers. Flowers are often delivered cut, or dead. Inactive, ornamental.

Carnivorous plants are alive, active, practical, violent. I say violent because the term “killer” connotes a certain amount of intention and human quality. To say it’s a carnivorous plant is, to my mind, not problematic in that it eats non-vegetation. To say it is a killer implies intention.

Additionally, the ad refers to the gift as for the desktop; implying that the father a. works and b. works at a desk job. Not that this is an ad for a mother’s gift but the “flowers for mom” are not “desk flowers for mom”. And the first google search for “mother’s day gifts” shows no  work-related gifts and very few activity related gifts (the exception being for yoga).

What’s more, the dad gift is on a website called “Think Geek” and at top there is a banner with a headless (white) man with forearm tattoos, hands in pockets (to suggest laid back comfort) and a button up shirt and tie. So here we see associations between whiteness and Geekdom as well as gender and class. None of the gadgets below the banner are ornamental, all serve some purpose or make some action.

It’s not to say that because of just this ad or ads like it that we have constraining gender roles but that they play a part (as do many other factors) in maintaining and reinforcing our ideas about proper gender roles.

And so as little boys are still mostly taught to be active and little girls still mostly taught to be ornamental there remains this conception of men that I suppose is best worded in the title of the email I was sent:

Master of the Universe”

“Who’s that guy?” “Oh it’s my non-hot agent Rich.”

6 Jun

Ah so the other day I was wondering if I, as a white person, found black men attractive. While my thoughts started drifting to Taye Diggs…

The following commercial came on and I remembered that I only find white men attractive and that black men are just here to file my insurance claims and stand in the background.

All snark aside, I didn’t understand why the agent wasn’t a sex object.

He’s a tall, skinny black guy in a suit so there’s nothing immediately unappealing about him by American “traditional” standards. For example, if he had been what this society considers “fat” I could say “okay, fatness is coded as unattractive” and that would be just as sad but would mean that it wasn’t his skin tone that wasn’t hitting the ladies’ buttons.

Likewise, if he had been dressed in say, Bermuda shorts and/or some quirky outfit I could reason that the women found him unattractive for his less-than-sophisticated attire. State Farm Agent Rich’s age, clothing and physique all seem to be prime for finding him attractive.

But instead, when the friend on the left says “with a hot guy”, a “hot” white man magically appears and poor Rich is left in the background.

I don’t believe State Farm is in the business of telling white people who to date or that they’re intentionally being racist or anything. More, I believe the commercial unintentionally reflects conceptions of “hotness” from the dominant white female perspective.

The commercial operates on the assumed notion that when a white woman says “a hot guy” it means a white hot guy.

Additionally, the commercial also reflects what values women are taught to desire in men and what those virtues look like when visualized (hence, the hot white guy holding the bunny when the one girl asks for someone “sensitive” ).

The women themselves embody stereotypes about what a “sensitive”, or “dangerous” woman look like. The “sensitive” woman wears a layered boho dress with a loose hat, while the “danger”-desiring woman is a brunette (I think dangerous women are often brunettes in movies) with more “urban-chic” fashion.

Regardless of my analysis, I laugh when the “sensitive” version of the hot white guy is holding the bunny and says “He’s a rescue”. It’s a detail that humorously attempts to target the “sensitive” (“sensitive” means animal rights in this case) audience.

Alternative Images

16 May

So in all my criticism of media and society, the response to much of my ranting ends up being: then what is a “good” image? And/or “how can an image be entertaining if it doesn’t reference or mock “the way things are”?

So for a long time I’ve been really watchful for images that I think are “better” than the blatantly racist, gender reinforcing, ageist, (etc.) media we see all the time, mostly just to convince my friends that “better” images can exist (though I’m doubtful about actual “good” images…after all, they’re being used to sell something).

On the subway in New York City, during the winter, Halls put up what I thought was a brilliant, witty and less socially repugnant advertisement campaign to market it’s lozenges. The models included a South Asian man and one female model with different hair cuts as different women. There was also a white man in one. The models, were not wearing particularly “beauty”-enhancing makeup. Instead, they are all made to look sick and war-torn from their ailments.

I loved these ads because they captured in a look how I feel when I’m sick.

They also utilized a person of color in a non-stereotypical way. Nothing in the depiction of the South Asian man is on display in a way that separates him from the other models. There are none of the cultural cues that American media often utilize in depicting a South Asian man (such as a turban, a long beard, a desert background, a taxi, etc.). In fact, there are no cultural cues of any sort in any of the photos.

Also, the women in these ads are depicted, in my opinion, in far less sexualized, objectifying ways than women are normally depicted. They are not disembodied (like so many lipstick ads that just show lips), they are not “scantily clad” in “cleavage” revealing shirts or leg revealing skirts. And the illness make up strikes me as particularly rare to see on women when I’m so used to the heavy make up and photo-shopped faces of “flawless” women.

It seems that the ads are set in the 1960’s-1970’s and the captions feature “knightly” encouragements. I can see no reason to set them in another time period and the combination of this theme with the captions makes for a bizarre set of ads that are obnoxiously kitschy. And yet, I adore them.

Marketing Liberation and Empowerment

14 May

After seeing Kotex commercials:

and reading this:

I thought of other ways marketing has tried to capitalize on empowerment, revolutionary thinking, liberation and even radicalism.

Here’s a commercial for Miracle Whip that makes me uncomfortable:

The commercial uses punk-like background music, “diverse” (well, black and white) actors, college aged individuals with roof-kiddie pools and the leisure time and money to have a rooftop party (on top of their Brooklyn brownstone, I’m sure) with burgers and spinach artichoke dipped pita chips.

What I find particularly interesting and distressing about ad campaigns like these is that they blur the lines of genuine benevolence/real change-driven movements and concealed advertising.

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