Masculinity in families and ads

Zoe Halpert

In Boys and Men in Families, Adams and Coltrane discuss how we are gendered even before we are born; “Once the baby arrives, new parents advertise the sex of their infant so that no mistake can be made as to its traits or prospects for success: Is it a future president or a future wife and mother?” The contrast between these two futures is shocking. Is this true? Do we really raise our girls to be successful at home and boys to be successful in the “real” world? Certainly it does seem that what is considered boyish is seen as better. It is actually fairly common for girls to be encouraged to do “boyish” activities, to climb trees and play sports and to like toys such as Legos. For example, one ad that stood out to me from the Super Bowl was the Goldie Blocks ad. It depicts young girls ditching their dolls and all things pink in purple, and turning them into a rocket. Oddly, the ad barely showed the product it was supposed to be selling. While I appreciate the company’s attempt to encourage girls to play with other kinds of toys, I was disappointed by the message that girly toys are inferior, and girls should play with toys that tend to be gendered male (suggesting that masculinity=superiority). However, it is unlikely for boys to be encouraged to participate in more feminine activities.

A major idea that I took away from Guyland is that masculinity is  “homosocial.” It is done by men for other men. Women come into “Guyland” as a way to prove and be rewarded for masculinity, but they are merely part of impressing other men. In Guyland, Kimmel mentions how he asked people how they can tell when a man is gay. The responses were problematic in that they relied on stereotypes. However, these stereotypes were odd because they were all very positive, such as having good taste and being a good listener. In any case, a stereotypically gay man sounds significantly more appealing than the stereotyped “manly man” that aggressive and aspires to have the emotional capacity of an inanimate object. Why, then, would guys go to such lengths to make sure that no one mistakes them for being gay?

Reading “The Male Consumer as Loser” made me really frustrated and really angry. Perhaps what bothered me most about the ads that were studied is what Messner and Montez de Oca call the Bitch/Whore dichotomy. In these ads, women are portrayed as either nagging, annoying, and overemotional beings that men want to get rid of, or as hyper sexualized, sex fantasy creatures that are objectified and only good for voyeurism and/or sex. Instead of presenting a problem and showing how a solution can be found through a product, these ads sell a lifestyle that becomes associated with a product. However, in doing this the ads tell men that this is the ultimate lifestyle that all men should want. This lifestyle is one of leisure, camaraderie between men, and either the sexualizing or diminution of women. Women play a minor role in these ads. They are there as sex objects, annoyances that supposedly lead to alcoholism, or in order to prove men’s heterosexuality. Men could be shown with their arms around each other and showing affection and it is acceptable, because the legs of a stripper in the foreground prove that they are straight. Women are also portrayed as the intangible; alcohol is sold as consolation for not being able to obtain hot women. As the reading says, “First they arouse men, and then they inevitably make them feel like losers.” Apparently, men these days can no longer relate to the suburban breadwinner of the 50s, nor the hardworking man’s man of the 70s and 80s. Instead, these ads suggest that the modern middle class white man can relate to “losers.” According to Messner and Montez de Oca, this idea is based in insecurities brought by a combination of deindustrialization and cultural shifts brought by “challenges to white male supremacy.” At the end of the day, however, men can still have their friends and beer. Losers seem less loserish when they have friends, and drinking is cool. Problem solved.


7 thoughts on “Masculinity in families and ads

  1. Gracie Hall:

    I think that one thing you are pointing to in your analysis of the socialization of boys and girls play is the idea that masculinity, as Kimmel suggests, is a fragile concept. Masculinity is defined as being NOT feminine; it has no defining characteristics in itself. Therefore, men have to constantly prove their masculinity to other men by being not feminine. Therefore, boys are less inclined to cross gender norms in play style or toys, because they learn that this is a high stakes situation, whereas for girls it is more acceptable to partake in “boy” play style or toys.

  2. I really appreciated Zoe’s comment about the GoldieBlox advertisement that aired during the Super Bowl. After I watched this ad online I watched an interview with the owner of GoldieBlox. She was discussing this commercial as a kind of revolution. Although the premise behind the product is one of power and strength for girls, this commercial almost goes against this idea, as Zoe said. In some ways these young girls are ditching rejecting their overly-feminine, pink toys, but on their other hand their are using these toys in a creative way to prove their skills as engineers. There has to be a happy medium somewhere. It is in no way helpful to teach girls that in order to be successful they need to reject all things feminine, so we need to find some way to change the ideas about masculinity and femininity to incorporate different value for young girls and boys.

  3. Cassie Walter

    I felt the same way you did while reading “The Male Consumer as Loser.” It was very frustrating to me that the two ways in which women are viewed in advertisements are either as a nagging bitch who is seen as an annoyance to the man in the ad or as a sexual object that the man desires. There never seems to be an opportunity for the women to be on equal footing with the man or to be considered something positive, such as a friend or respected companion. When ads are such a large part of our culture today it is disappointing that they portray women negatively so much of the time.

  4. Haris Kuljancic
    I very much agreed with your point about stereotypical gay men seeming more attractive than the stereotyped “manly man”! The societies people have participated in date back as far as records hold that it is important not to show weakness as a guy and to die with dignity! I am watching the tim “Gladiator” in my Hero Worship class and it perfectly personifies the stereotypical manly men. The gladiator was originally an army general that was sentenced to death. After escaping, he found out that his family was dead and now he is out to get revenge. Like that one college kid said in “Guyland”, “Don’t get mad— Get even”. This raises contradictory points in my mind. If someone killed my family and I did nothing about it, I would feel worse. I understand that someone can restart, rebuild, and start over but, if everything that you had built, loved, cherished and cared for was gone, what else is worth living for? Maybe I feel this way because of where I come from and how I was raised; a war torn country that experienced massacres, ethnic cleansing, rape, hunger and much more. Maybe these experiences instilled a sense of hate in me that needs revenge or “justice”.

  5. Carly Ozarowski

    I like the question you raise: “Why, then, would guys go to such lengths to make sure that no one mistakes them for being gay?”, after Kimmel and the people interviewed state good traits with being gay. Our current society overly, in my opinion, associates gender, sex and sexual orientation. Gay has become associated with feminine, and as Kimmel states the feminine needs to be rejected for a person to be seen as male. So that also means reject the positive perceived feminine traits, and in this case that would be any perceived gay characteristics.

  6. Male Consumer as Loser was eye-opening in that it shed a different light on the commercials I was used to seeing but never reacting to. For the most part I thought that many beer and liquor commercials that I would see while watching football games were just plain stupid and that all of the characters in these ads were completely unrealistic. Now after reading this article I have a new level of disgust towards them. Their simple and silly portrayal of men and women in a few categories to portray one message about the reliability of their product through the juxtaposition of that product against women is easy and incorrect. There now seems to be such a prevalent idea about the things men want and the things women want and they are completely different. Men are beings seeking alcohol, fun, and sex. While women are serious, relationship driven and boring. So many concepts for commercials, TV, and movies are built off of this view of society, and just because some men and women live up to this prediction doesn’t justify the promotion of it.

  7. Emma Weisberg

    I really like the discussion about the GoldieBlox commercials. I had seen another one of their commercials in the past (I’m attaching an article from slate magazine that includes the commercial I watched), and I had initially loved it. As the GoldieBlox site mentions, women only represent 13% of the world’s engineers. It’s crazy how even jobs are gendered. I forget which one, but a past reading mentioned the distinctive titles: “receptionist” and an “administrative assistant.” While these titles include the same job description, men get the title “administrative assistant,” giving them more power over the women doing the same tasks for the same amount of hours. And the men are probably getting paid more, too.

    However, not until I read Zoe’s post did I start to think about the negatives about these commercials. You’re right, Zoe. GoldiBlox is going further than just encouraging girls to become engineers. The company is telling girls that “girliness” isn’t good enough: that playing with dolls is not a cool activity to engage in with one’s friends. Personally, I attribute my interest in theatre to many many hours of playing with dolls, stuffed animals, horses, anything we had, with my friends. We’d make up these elaborate characters and plot lines, and then we’d act them out until we got too tired or had to go home for the night. Playing with dolls can definitely improve kids’ skills with creativity and language, and to say that dolls are less cool or less intellectual is almost saying that creativity is less important than other skills. I’d love to keep talking about this debate in class!

    (Also, here’s the link to the GoldieBlox site)

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