Television advertisements often portray men and women in very different roles, engaging in behavior that is often “safe” to perform in regards to one’s gender. Women are usually seen as domestic, marveling over the wonders of detergent, or as gentle nurturers and housewives who love preparing dinner for the family. They are also often depicted as sex objects of men’s desires. Men, on the other hand, are often depicted as workers, as engaging in masculine hobbies and leisurely activities, as sexually active, and on the prowl. Gender stereotypical advertisements can sometimes be subtle and go by unnoticed by many of us. Recently, however, it appears increasingly popular to produce explicit gender stereotypical advertisements that are neither subtle nor do they go by unnoticed. These advertisements not only make a distinct divide between the masculine and the feminine, but also set “rules” and “police” what they deem proper behavior, and in this context, what is deemed proper behavior for men. In other words, these advertisements tell men how not to act like women, suggesting that women act silly and irrational, while telling men how to stay away from feminine mannerisms and behaviors.
Recent television ads by Slim Jim seem to have jumped the bandwagon and are heading for what has been described as a move back to a “lost brotherhood” or a “reactionary backlash” in which “hypermasculinity” is now preferred in popular culture. This notion of “hypermasculinity” is believed to be a reaction to the increasing (or imagined, depending on how you feel about it) behavioral leeway for women in which women are “allowed” to be strong and independent without facing social punishment. We need only to mention television programs such as “Man vs. food”, “MANswers”, “Man vs. Wild”, “Mancations” and “Man Caves” (to name a few programs) in order to find evidence of this “hypermasculinity”. Research on the topic suggests that popular culture has become an outlet for “hypermasculinity” that encourages and supports men to reclaim their masculinity, which has been diminished by women’s social, political, and economic advances.
In regards to these stereotypes we will start by describing advertisements for the newest creation of Slim Jim, which is called “Slim Jim Dare”. We meet men in the hospital or in the “manbulance” (a play on words that immediately informs us of who the advertisement is aimed at) who are temporarily unconscious due to “less-than-masculine” behavior and who are woken up by smelling or tasting one of the new Slim Jim flavors. These men typically ask: “What happened?” The two men who provide the Slim Jims, the paramedics or nurses, then answer, and the answer goes something like this: “You ordered just a salad for lunch” in which the emasculated man answers: “Just a salad, ahh idiot”. In a similar Slim Jim advertisement, a second man was caught ironing his jeans, while a third man traded his sports car for a family friendly one, and a fourth man went to his ex-girlfriend’s engagement party stating: “Sarah, it’s not too late!” The underlying message is that these men were engaging in activities that women might engage in (according to the advertisement, since “unmanly” behavior means that you are not a man and if you are not a man you are a woman). The advertisement ends with the manly narrator voice stating: “Slim Jim Dare – Made from stuff guys need”. (The advertisements can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcFtataJDrA and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKa-RuciNvQ&feature=related.)
Another Slim Jim commercial is called “Slim Jim waiting room” in which a male nurse is going to treat “unmanly” behavior and “male spice loss” by handing out different Slim Jim flavors. The first poor demasculinized victim is “tantric yoga guy” who is pictured as weak, pale and nerdy. Second is “matchy match”, a man who is clearly controlled by his wife/girlfriend since they are wearing matching clothes. The third man, “recumbent bike guy” is kept over night for observation due to his ambiguously gendered behavior that needs to be figured out before the “recumbent bike guy” can be diagnosed and cured. The authority of the registered male nurse in the advertisement is evident through him wearing army pants as part of his scrubs, something that real men probably wear. (The advertisement can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0voB5VZLyE.)
Are television programs and television advertisements moving even further towards increasing gender stereotypical behaviors and actions, while being exceptionally occupied with conservative and normative gender roles, and simultaneously extremely encouraging of this gendered divide? The “policing” of men and adherence to certain masculine roles and portrayals is tiring. We are used to being bombarded with images where women are being portrayed in highly sexualized roles, but we are also witnessing overt attempts to control men’s masculinity by stating how they are failing as men and how they can improve. It is mind blowing that advertisers decide to produce such stereotypical depictions of men and women. By just looking at these advertisements we know that “manly men” do not eat salad (a steak dinner would probably have saved him from the “manbulance”), drive family cars, fuss over their looks (like ironing their jeans) and cry over former partners who have moved on.
Other advertisements, not as thoroughly described here, are just as restrictive in their appropriation of gender, and less than discrete about it. The catch phrase for Dr. Pepper 10 is “So you can keep your romantic comedies and lady drinks. We’re good.” The advertisement also states: “Dr Pepper 10, it’s not for women.” Similar evidence of gender policing is evident in one Miller Lite advertisement in which after ordering the “wrong beer” one man tells the other: “That’s the second unmanly thing you’ve done today.” The first unmanly thing was screaming on a roller coaster. Not only does this advertisement police and control the emotional reactions of men, it also conforms to homosocial and hegemonic ideals of masculinity. You should know you gender. To finish off the thirty-second lesson on gender prescribed by Miller Lite the narrator states: “Man up!”
We believe that these types of advertisements are not “just silly” or “just a bit of fun” but instead are an expectation of normative masculinity and the behavior that is supposed to accompany masculinity. Furthermore, these advertisements are not the least bit implicit in their messages, nor are they open for interpretation. They do not suggest, but more demand that “unmanly” behavior by men is corrected if one wants to fit in to the societal expectations of what it means to be a man (in opposition to what it means to be a woman).
Academic research has found that young men’s favorite advertisements are beer advertisements because these conjure up feelings of belonging and familiarity, not unlike this “brotherhood” mentioned above. How influential these advertisements are is difficult to answer but what we do know for sure is that they marginalize and demasculinize men who engage in behavior that is regarded feminine or not manly enough. The gender boundaries depicted in such advertisements put up not only a divide between men and women, but rather a massive concrete wall not to be climbed over or torn down.
Hennie Weiss is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sociology. Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Their interests include feminism, gender stereotypes, the sexualization of women and the portrayal of women and men in media.