By Sophie Sharps
I remember very distinctly reading Michael Kimmel’s Guyland last year in Intro to Sociology, because this reading opened my eyes to the rigid and unforgiving definition of manhood that pervades the lives of boys and men, from even before they are born. Due to extreme gender inequities and the nature of our patriarchal society, I had never previously recognized the challenges boys and men face on a daily basis. After reading Kimmel’s article, I went on Facebook and my eyes immediately spotted a commentary on the early release of Budweiser’s commercial “Puppy Love.” These comments did not even come from people I was friends with, but they were so popular they came up on my newsfeed anyway. One man wrote: “Budweiser is tugging on the heartstrings with their new Superbowl commercial…Do you like it?” while another wrote: “Be careful watching this one…it could put your man card at risk…Remedy, grab an onion and knife just in case!” Men have been so socialized to follow this rigid guy code that they know Kimmel’s mantras of “Boys Don’t Cry” and “It’s All Good.” Men know that they cannot cry or show any emotion, because this would make them be perceived as weak or effeminate and thus would go against the first basic rule of masculinity, “No Sissy Stuff.” Instead, to hide all emotions regarding a touching commercial hoping to evoke strong emotions, this man suggested pretending you are crying because you are cutting an onion, as justification. Men in our society go through such great measures just to mask the slightest bit of emotions they may feel. Kimmel’s discussion on the culture of silence stands out to me as one key factor explaining why men ascribe to these masculine norms. It is hard to know that others feel the same way if no one says anything, and it is even harder to change a system when you think everyone else firmly believes in it. Kimmel explains the dangerous consequences of remaining silent in events where a simple report to an outsider could have solved the problem. Boys and men remain silent out of fear that they will then become an outcast. Interestingly, Kimmel also explains scenarios in which girls also keep silent and perpetuate the Guy code. Kimmel’s discussion of bystanders makes me think of Darcie Folsom’s Green Dot training and Bystander Intervention Program. This program is amazing because while most view bystanders as innocent witnesses, she clarifies that “doing nothing” is actually a form of participating in wrongful actions. We need more programs like this to encourage speaking up rather than engaging in the culture of silence.
Just as Martin discussed in reference to the way society socializes girls being potentially harmful to girls who find themselves in situations where they should assert themselves or speak loudly or be aggressive, the way society socializes boys also has harmful implications. Adams and Coltrane discuss the fragile definition and valorization of masculinity and the encouragement boys receive to behave a certain way as key factors in the prevalence of learning disabilities and diagnoses such as attention deficit disorder, as well as violence against women, against men and against themselves (237). Additionally, the behaviors boys learn regarding separate spheres later “cripple men emotionally and create husbands and fathers who are destined to be outsiders or despots in their own families” (233). It amazes me that our society perpetuates such harmful ideals (of both masculinity and femininity). However, Adams and Coltrane’s last few pages clarify the benefits of these rigid ideals and the reasons they are so institutionally perpetuated. Adams and Coltrane link wars and masculinity, claiming that it is in the interests of the state because they need men who are “aggressive, prone to violence, unemotional, patriotic, competitive, and somewhat distanced from family” (239). This absolutely sickens me, because it means that the government and many other powerful institutions will continue to perpetuate this false definition of masculinity so that they can use men in their international military conquests.
After reading “The Male Consumer as Loser,” and as an avid SuperBowl commercial watcher, I expected to see many more commercials such as the ones Messner and Montez de Orca referred to as “losers and buddies, hotties and bitches” (1886). From my past experiences, and from my experiences with television media in general, I am very used to seeing male voyeurism and females (or female body parts) objectified for the male gaze. I agree with these authors that the media very frequently portrays two different types of women; there are the hypersexualized yet unavailable “hotties” and the real “bitches,” otherwise known as the committed wives and girlfriends that are constraining the freedom of their men. However, after watching the million dollar SuperBowl advertisements, I noticed a few common themes that deviated from the typical masculine male rhetoric. First and foremost, I noticed that many commercials involved children and their fathers. The famous Cheerios commercial is a great commercial that reflects and normalizes a non-traditional notion of family and portrays a father deeply engaged in his daughter’s life. Similarly, the Volkswagen “100,000 Miles” commercial displays a father talking to his teenage daughter as he drives her. Quite a few commercials were about men and animals, displaying deep friendships (similar to the friendships Messner and Montez de Orca refer to when discussing “buddies” and the safety, solidarity and primacy of male friendships). Budweiser’s “Hero’s Welcome” definitely played on the heartstrings of Americans and appealed to military buffs and extreme patriots who idealize war heroes and the traditional masculine violence and heroism Kimmel refers to.