The one where I get a bit feminist.

3 Jul

About five years back, I thought it would be awesome to start some kind of campaign to help the common man relocate his place in society. To find a modern definition for masculinity that on one hand didn’t merely equate to ‘how many babes you’ve boned’, but didn’t subscribe to the (at the time) prolific trend termed metrosexuality (the idea that a sexy man was a man who waxed his body and owned a blow dryer to use on the parts of his body that were not waxed but faux-hawked).

To boil it down, its inspiration shared some things with modern feminism: namely, that men should not be told to conform to an unnatural ideal, and certainly not by a corporate world intent on wriggling into the slightest crevice of human insecurity. But where it departed from feminism was that (again, at the time) men seemed to be increasingly disconnected from their traditional roles. No longer were we bread-winners, we were eyebrow-pluckers. We weren’t wood-choppers, we were interior-decorators.

For some men, a penchant for personal grooming might have been a lifelong ambition. But what infuriated me was the trend itself. Suddenly men who had previously pursued masculine tastes and hobbies were feeling the pressure to participate in this societal pegging.

Suddenly their heroes waxed their butt cracks, and the pressure was on to hit the salon. It had all the symptoms of a subject you could have a lot of fun with. Primarily because the men themselves were uncomfortable with it. They just sort of… went along with it. Simply by trying to embrace their sensitivity, and dare I say, femininity, they succeeded only in proving why men should never wear eye make-up: because unless you’re in an awesome band, or are a fashion brand in your own right, people will correctly assume you are an attention-seeker with a poor sense of judgement.

But I needn’t have worried.

Cue, of course, a man-sized wave of manvertising that matched my sentiment exactly. Job done. Crisis averted. Metaphorical penis reclaimed. Congratulations to the male-dominated world of media and advertising for bringing back the beard, the flannel shirt and the alcohol addiction. Short of championing the tobacco pipe, I’m pretty sure the spirit of masculinity has, by now, fully recovered from its brief foray into the feminine. And while one day I would like to write a book that examines masculinity through the ages, the state of emergency that once surrounded the subject has subsided.

A few things have happened this week.

  1. I read this Nextness article on feminism by the talented Hila Shachar
  2. I listened to a whole lot of Placebo
  3. Someone sent me this:


Before anyone gets a rush of estrogen to the bicep, it’s a piece of shit.

I am mortified to think that the resurgence of masculinity I discussed above has found its natural apex in women-hating. It is not remotely funny. Yet it is imbued with the same tone, and that same critical, cynical objective eye, that made a lot of the early manvertising so witty and (worryingly) so popular.

It scares me that young men might endorse messages like this one as a result of a conversation that we in media and advertising are responsible for sustaining. We were just having a bit of fun, but today’s teenagers have come of age to the sonorous voice of the Old Spice Guy. And they were groomed by the onslaught of manvertising that followed.

With the benefit of hindsight, let’s take a look back at these three commercials from the 2010 Super Bowl. Stripped from the context of 2010, and considered alongside this discussion, these ads suddenly look like works of Satan himself.

Remember, these are mainstream commercials, for mainstream brands, in the most mainstream ad break there is.

As an industry, we often underestimate our power of influence. It’s okay to delve into the dark, it’s good to start conversations about ideas from all over the political and social spectrum – but it’s never useful to take the message to a place of hate. Unfortunately, it’s hardest to know where that line is when everyone else is taking stabs in a similar territory. I should know – I am the unchallenged king of gnawing on my own feet at dinner parties.

So what can we conclude about the poster above, which seems to take what manvertising created and push it unflinchingly off the cliff?

Obviously, it’s hateful. Potentially, it’s hurtful. But the fact that it even exists betrays its own message (i.e. If the Prince was so cool, why did he stay up all night making this stupid poster).

Besides all that, what it may have cemented for me is my personal outlook on feminism (i.e. If this type poster had been made by a woman it would have looked way better).

I appreciate the implicit irony in my obsession with the masculine throughout a post that aimed to tackle the thorny subject of feminism. But maybe that’s just another thing that women are much, much better at.


One Response to “The one where I get a bit feminist.”

  1. Panama July 7, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    What are these feminized young men doing with their lives, these guys that stay in these institutions where they’re vastly outnumbered by a bunch of feminized women who are trying to become men — that’s where feminism went wrong, when they said women gotta be more like men. I think what’s happening is that most — ’cause it’s been going on a long time — feminism (interruption) Dawn is shouting, “Feminism is dying!” Certain elements of feminism are dying, the radical, Gloria Steinem, burn the bra, but feminism is not dying in the sense that men are predators, that men don’t get their kids in a divorce, it’s not dying. There’s a legacy here, even though the ancient fossilized founders of the movement may have passed on — well, not literally passed on, but they’re past their prime, they were when they started which was the whole problem in the first place, but nevertheless, there’s a legacy that still impacts people. I think what happens, these feminized voices, you know, I’ve often said, who do liberals consider real men? Michael Kinsley, Alan Alda, the guy that played Frank Burns, the character Frank Burns on M*A*S*H, you know, look how long ago that was, and this guy was practically a pet on a leash for “Hot Lips” Houlihan. And I think they’ve become Democrats. Some Republicans, too. But I think they’ve run for office, and they have become Democrats.

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