I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that J is a car guy.
I’d even call him a car savant if he wasn’t also good at and knowledgeable about a whole bunch of other stuff, but I’ll say that when any kind of machine breaks, J is really resourceful and quick-thinking and he is lightning fast and pinpoint accurate with diagnosis. He likes working on cars. He likes driving. He can remember the cars people in his life drove way back into his childhood to right now (I honestly don’t know what kind of car my best friend drives…really). And he can identify cars by their parts…and not just obvious ones like headlights…I’m talking door handles…instrument panels. I’m saying…my man digs cars.
And J doesn’t watch much TV. We have a few shows we watch as a family…like Mythbusters and some cartoons…but normally, The Boy and I control the television because J’s mostly disinterested.
He does watch car shows on weekends though. There is a Motor Trend channel. And to me, that’s fine. Just like my cooking shows are mostly white noise to J, his car shows are mostly white noise to me.
But there are several commercials that repeatedly run on these shows that I can’t benignly ignore. They’re for ‘supplements’ for men, and the ads are a lesson in toxic masculinity. Some of them are just basic subtle digs at men for not performing up to masculinity standards, the same way the make-up and diet and fashion industries tend to needle at women for not performing up to femininity standards. Annoying and aggravating, and something men are used to in other ads…for trucks, for beer, for razors. EXCEPT for that Gillette ad a little while back…more on that in a bit.
But one of these supplement ads in particular is just gross.
It openly shames men for crying and taking care of themselves and being peaceful.
It openly states that they are ‘less than’ men of previous generations.
It openly claims women find them less attractive because of these made up assertions, which they imply are ‘scientific.’
It tells men not to ‘fall victim’ to the ‘masculinity epidemic’ in America. (???)
All of these ads (and the products themselves) prey on men’s insecurities with body image and masculinity manufactured by a society obsessed with both arbitrary physical perfection and violence and stoicism, but this one particular one…that mocks men showing their emotions and practicing self care and being kind and gentle…REALLY bothers me. I’ve more than once asked J to change the channel after seeing that ad run one too many times.
So I’m going to take this ad apart. Because as someone who loves a lot of men in her life…J…my son…my best friend from high school…many other friends and family members…all of these notions disturb me.
So, first…it’s totally inaccurate.
I know men of past generations, and I have had close relationships with them. My grandfather came of age between the two World Wars, was a fireman for 30 years, raised a family during the Depression and WWII through the 1960s. I have two uncles who fought in Korea…one in the Army and one in the Navy. One of them became an engineer and the other a fireman like my grandfather when they left the service. The fireman fathered 12 children. These are the men this commercial claims to be glorifying and venerating, but it’s not. It’s insulting them. Sure…these were ‘masculine’ men. They did brave things. They were responsible and got important objectives accomplished. They protected people. But these men were also the best examples for me of caring and nurturing and kindness. These men cried, and not just when someone close to them died…when they were moved by media…when their children accomplished something great or were in great pain. They felt and showed emotions. They cared about and took care of other people. And yes…they were particular about how they looked. This ad seems to forget that these men came from generations that shaved every day and dressed for church and travel and special occasions and just to ‘go out’ to a store or a movie or a baseball game.
Frankly, something that attracted me to J when we met was that he exuded the same energy as these men in my life from previous generations…not because he displayed such potent performed masculinity, but because he was so courteous and gentlemanly and kind and thoughtful. And we are raising our boy to be like J…like these men from our pasts (J has an uncle who served in WWII and came home to own his own business and an uncle who became an engineer that he admired and was inspired by)…and so far, we’re succeeding. So young men now and men J’s age, and those young men and men everywhere somewhere in between 12 and 55…are not ‘less than’ men from the Greatest Generation or Boomers or other men of the past. They are actually pretty much the same. Except that now they are bombarded by television ads about how they aren’t real men without taking supplements to make them stop taking care of themselves and caring about other people and crying when they are emotionally moved. Sigh.
It’s not weak or feminine to cry or care for oneself and others. Those are HUMAN qualities. Men are allowed to be and should be encouraged to be human. Men shouldn’t have to perform masculinity, any more than women should have to perform femininity, particularly when those standards are harmful to men and potentially everyone around them.
Which brings me to the Gillette ad. That one, to me, (a person who generally tries to avoid ads…how wonderful are ad blockers and ad-free streaming services, am I right?) was refreshing. It was trying to give men license to NOT perform masculinity and pointed out some ways this was harmful. Like…harassing women or turning immediately to violence to solve problems or stifling emotions. (The glorification of violence and the emphasis on men denying their own emotions and self care contribute to men committing *suicide* at 4 times the rate of women…particularly middle aged men…the very men these horrible ads are aimed at). And there was a lot of backlash to that ad (look it up on Google if you haven’t seen it). Almost making the arguments of the goofy ‘supplement’ advertisers: that really, we want men to be stoic and violent and dangerous and cold…that really, we want men to beat each other up and be bullies and harass and assault women and make crude jokes about everything.
I’m not sure how many of my readers are men, but I know there was a particularly persistent man who subscribed to the ‘real man’ shit that I’m sure would like to debate me on this topic, but I’m not here for debate. I’m just here to promote what I love. I love men who aren’t afraid of vulnerability and crying and caring for and about themselves and other people. I don’t think the men of today are ‘less than’ men of the past in any way. In fact, in some ways, I think they are better. Emotional availability is not a weakness. Self awareness and care and empathy and the instinct to care for and about and protect other people are not weaknesses. Those are strengths all humans possess. Men shouldn’t be shamed for showing that strength. They definitely shouldn’t spend money on products that promise to take it away.
Men: You’re allowed to be who you are. If you cry when you’re emotionally moved…that’s just fine. If you like getting a pedicure every once in a while…that’s just fine. If you can’t bench 250 or take your own car apart…that’s okay too. You can wear pink if you want. If you’ve put on some weight or gotten a bit ‘soft’ since your high school and college days…guess what? You’re a NORMAL American human being. And kind, thoughtful women don’t care about any of this. All of the women I know don’t want a man who performs masculinity in specific, stereotypical ways. They want authenticity. They really want emotional availability. They want men who care. And if the women you’re meeting DON’T want those things and DO want you to take the supplements these ads hawk to be ‘more of’ a man? Maybe they aren’t the kind of women you want to associate with anyway.