Tag Archives: men

“Say It Without Saying It”

20 Feb

Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” became famous for her concept of “the problem that has no name” as characterizing the experience of post-World War II women (arguably of a specific, college-educated class).

“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?”

I argue that not only has this mystique maintained itself through new forms beleaguering American women today, but that the essential “silence” now (and perhaps always) plagues American men as well. The kind of communication and acquired voice that this and other works helped women develop, men have yet to (in my opinion) experience.

Gender, for men, is assumed not constructed but inherent; natural. Call it into question and identity politics quickly show their importance. I believe that women have, in recent years, been able to perform gender in more elastic (yet still restrictive) ways. Masculine identities are held to more stark, cemented definitions (to different, but equally oppressive ends).

For example, while women are still held to a double standard in terms of sexual quantity of encounters, they are often afforded more diversity and freedom of experience within those encounters whereas men are expected to live to an ever-competitive quota of partners but are discouraged from experimentation within them. For example, women are more easily accepted as having “experimented” with other women (though for who’s enjoyment we may consider a male-dominated perspective) while for a heterosexual-identified man to do so can result in harsh social consequences. The homophobic policing, though strongest from other men, also comes from women as well. Though there are undoubtedly many heterosexual-identified men who have experimented with men, they dare not discuss it with other men and often women as well. In fact, in many social circles to express that another man is attractive often marks a social (though in varying degrees of severity from group to group) transgression. These admissions are often joked about or addressed in a way that reassures the listeners “I’m not serious. I would never do anything with a man”. To have sex with a woman as a women does not necessarily threaten your feminine identity and in fact, from a male-gaze perspective it merely heightens it as you perpetuate the sexual ideal for a man and are thus defined by that. But as man having sex with a man, you are stripped of your fundamental man-identity as being a lover of women and only women.

The social policing does not begin or end there. Men must often choke down moments of vulnerability women would feel comfortable expressing to maintain a stoic, inhumanly insensitive facade. Quips and insults must not only be taken in stride by the subject, often the subject must indulge the joke on himself in order to seem un-offended. A joke on someone’s body weight must be taken without the slightest reflection of hurt or else “you can’t take a joke”.

This brings me to my latest fascination of NYC subway ads. Once again we seen alcoholic beverages gendered for men but this time with a general theme: “Dear Men, Continue to hide your emotions. Here, we’ll help.”

Johnnie Walker: “Say It Without Saying It.”

The ad is aimed at men through cultural markers (markers, I would argue, that are distinct to an assumed “white” masculinity of “fishing, “taking a mulligan”, “mullets”, “mixtapes”). The sentences adorning the subway ads have varying phrases meant to typify a man’s experience. The silence is a re-ocurring theme throughout: “I’d rather streak across a packed stadium than tell you this”, “Say it without saying it”, “Some gifts don’t need a card”. Lack of communication is key. These ads epitomize the capitalist notion that through material objects we purchase we can be productive or successful in some aspect of social life. Here a man need not risk his masculine identity with communication, in fact he can emphasize it through a safe/masculine item given (removed from emotion) to another man.

Sarah Haskins discusses this appeal of capitalism to masculine silence through jewelry ads:         

Also within the whiskey ads are implications of homophobia and heterosexuality: “Never have to say ‘I love you, Man’ again” and “Thanks for introducing me to Katie in D.C.” While the second phrase seems inocuous enough, it appears on a list of phrases meant to express pinnacle experiences of a man’s life and there are also no “Thanks for introducing me to Bill in Philly” phrases.

Equally interesting are the sizes of the fonts. All the phrases are repeated in different sizes, however the ones most prominently displayed in larger fonts include “Thanks for always giving me Hell” and “Actions speak louder than words” where as the smaller font phrases include “Thanks for always being there”. The positive, vulnerable sentiments seem minimized (literally and figuratively) whereas the “tough skin” sentiments and discouragement of verbal communication are emphasized. If this were one ad, isolated and rare we could dismiss these meanings but taken into the larger context of American social life, they seem to echo masculine ideals we see and hear all the time. They are part of the bigger, more complex and interlocking conception of masculinity as that of actors (not talkers). (Sociological Images has discussed this numerous times, one example being: Gendering Toys)

Other than exploiting masculine ideals that already exist for profit (I don’t expect profit-focused businesses to act ethically) these ads have (perhaps) the unintended consequence of reinforcing these ideals and shaping them for each subsequent generation. I don’t seek to blame one company but to examine and question the social world these ideals exist in and to determine whether the consequences are oppressive or not.

Another thought these ads bring to mind (along with my beer post) is how these ads make alcoholism more permissible (even supposedly non-existent) for men. Men in American are often thrown into a binge-drinking culture in which their masculine prowess is judged by how drunk they can get without “wimping out”. Wimping out can consist of many things; falling asleep, being sad (alcohol is a depressant), vomiting and in general showing “weakness”. Whereas it is (in many ways rightfully) seen as dangerous when a woman binge drinks (the threat of rape or sexual abuse being ever present), men are not only treated less cautiously, they’re often encouraged to drink till “black out status”. Someone, in masculine drinking culture, is “the man” when they can out-drink their friends and do outrageous or “extreme” things while keeping the party going. Though women face these social pressures, I’d argue that they are not pressured nearly as much to out-drink men (the assumption is they cannot handle as much as a man can) or to perform the kind of acts men are praised for in drunken states (like pranks, sexual antics, tattoos, sports, violence). 

This is in no way to minimize the struggles of women (women face as many oppressive restrictions as men but in different ways) but to promote dialogue about the particular issues surrounding men’s oppression and how they differ from women’s.

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Manhood=Beer. Women, take note.

7 Sep

In the discourse over the nature of men and women there emerges a popular theme: Men and women are two different creatures.

We have various forms of media and social vehicles telling us this; movies , books (“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”), our friends (“ugh, men” and “women, who needs um?”), music, and of course, commercials. Commercials are great (from an analysist point of view) because they’re meant to convey a lot in a short time frame. They often employ social short-hand to this end that tells a sociological observer a lot about the target audience.

For me, there are few things as reflective of men’s cultural identity than beer commercials. Beer commercials reflect and reinforce men’s identity as men, their relationship to women, to other men and to the world around them. In this instance I’m talking about straight men as the assumed epitome of manhood but I believe that gay men are also influenced greatly by these images.

The fact that these beer commercials are almost all marketed to men reveals a certain sociological awareness on the part of beer marketing companies: they must realize the phallocentric lens women see themselves through and therefore market to men knowing that it will reach women as well. That is, they’re aware that women are taught to see themselves and other women through the eyes of men. Furthermore, the superior value attached to “manhood” rather than “femininity” in this culture results in a constant attempt to “be one of the guys”, to be “the cool girl” (the one that plays video games, watches football and drinks beer yet remains a “woman” in certain ways).

For example, in the following Miller Lite video women are warned not to be the party poopers who look down on objectification but to, taking a cue from Pam Anderson, join in on the bikini-clad pillow fight of life (for the sexual gaze of men, of course).

Then we have the “Man Up” commercials in which, in a rarely seen twist, women are policing men’s gender performance, encouraging them to reject signs of femininity and embrace their man-ness (the ideal) with beer and pants:

In this example we have a clear distinction between the joys/worlds of men and women (also notice the skin tones of those in the commercial)

(Edit: I read a comment about my post on a forum pointing out that the ad is not an American one and therefore should not have to reflect American demographics. This is fair and true. And I was sloppy in my analysis of this ad. But I do retain the same criticism for American ads that feature entirely white characters):

This one I found incredibly offensive.

I only sleep with someone if they claim to like Celine Dion, not Peter Cetera. Who the hell is Peter Cetera?

This commercial not only offends my musical tastes (as a ticket-to-Lillith-Fair-carrying woman, of course) but also marks women as trophies to be collected (or displayed demurely on someone’s wall) and as the ultimate object to obtain in order to be a true man or “the man”.

And finally this one is my favorite. How dare Heineken imply that women do not also have a telepathic connection to quality beer.

Throughout all the commercials you may notice that the racial make up of the majority of them are white. The few exceptions involve black men (perhaps referencing conceptions of black men as sexually potent) but never a woman of color as the sexual object. White, relatively skinny but large breasted women remain the ideal and white men remain the normative eyes through which we see the (commercial) world.

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!

Supervegan.com 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.”

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