A lot has been written about the media’s effect on the collective female self esteem. The constant onslaught of being “not enough” or “too much” has made generations of women uncomfortable in their own bodies, all just to sell more stuff.
Of late, there has been an effort to change from destructive marketing campaigns for women and move towards ones that celebrate diversity and beauty at any size. I don’t know how effective Dove’s real beauty campaign has been (or those like it.) But marketing to men has been equally monolithic and destructive.
All you need to do is look at pickup truck ads, or men’s cleaning product ads and you’ll see what I mean. It’s condescending to all but one type of masculinity. Oh you like art and theatre and don’t like hunting and killing? What are you? Some kind of gay?
Cleaning product ads, like soap and razors are sold to us like they’re telling us a secret about getting laid. They basically say “Look guys, I know it sucks to shower and shave, but girls like it, so throw them a bone huh?”.
There is this common narrative that says, if you’re not a sports obsessed pussy hound who hates washing his asshole and thinks drinking water and using alternative energy is for gay dudes, then you’re literally not a man. You don’t deserve nice things because only bearded alcoholic misogynists get the best things in life.
Look, there is nothing excusable about they way things are marketed towards women. And I’m not making the case they’re worse for men. I’m making the argument that it’s different, and also bad. Marketing towards women tells women they’re gross and ugly and will never be loved.
Marketing towards men tells them if they don’t conform to this extremely narrow definition of masculinity, then they’re literally not allowed to be men. They’re more like children or boys. They’re barely even people. They’re useless genderless bodies unworthy of respect.
The Marvel movies are a good example of narrow baskets of masculinity. You have the stoic altar-boy who lives by a strict code of ethics in Captain America. You have the bearded, beer-guzzling super jock in Thor. You have the rich, metrosexual, fuccboi in Iron Man.
These are archetypes and the lines between them are very stark (pardon my pun). The frustrating part is, anything outside of these archetypes are usually portrayed as villains or for comic relief. Since we’re talking about comic books, my favorite Marvel character (who will never show up in a film or TV show and thus will never be important) is Speedball.
Essentially Speedball was Steve Ditko’s re-imagining of Spider-Man without all the Stan Lee garbage. Here was a kid, who also got his special powers from a lab accident. But instead of all the angsty melodrama that went along with Spider-Man and his dead uncle, Speedball was having a blast with his powers.
The whole plot of his early comics was him just bouncing around (oh yeah, he had bouncing powers, that’s it) and not really knowing how to control it. But he just told jokes and goofed around and wore bright blue and yellow spandex and flirted with all the girls.
But he still jumped in to help. He was still a hero. He still fought just as hard as everyone else. And yet, he was portrayed as a joke. As the member of the team that the others barely tolerated. He was seen as an annoying weirdo. But you know who’s weird? Fucking Batman. Or Captain America. Or Tony Stark.
But it wasn’t always this way. And we have proof of this. While homophobia and toxic masculinity has always been present in American culture, men did have more options, once upon a time. Somewhere along the way, giving a shit about anything became feminine or gay. I know I’ve said this a couple times in this article so I should clarify this point.
Somewhere along the way, anything non-conforming in masculinity became to be seen as gay. And when you’re young and trying to figure out your identity, the worst thing other males can think to call you is gay. It became this weird thing where giving a shit about the environment, fashion, art, theatre, kindness or, yes, interior design became synonymous with homosexuality.
So any level of enthusiasm above begrudging reluctance is seen as gay. In the early 2000s, caring about your clothes and hygiene became labeled “Metrosexual”. Now, does that mean you want to have sex with city buses? No. It meant that you were otherwise straight, but you looked “gay”. What the actual fuck? And people embraced that and laughed with it and identified with it. People made an entire sexual identity out of “Takes a shower and buys new clothes sometimes.”
Essentially, people were so intimidated by David Beckham being handsome and well dressed, but since he fucked Posh Spice all the time, they knew he wasn’t gay, so they had to classify him somehow.
It gets so bad. It gets to this point where we have people who brag about eating more meat because some people choose to not. These men seek to invalidate vegetarians and vegans because they view caring about animals as an affront to their masculinity. There are people who spend thousands of dollars modifying their F-150s to spew out soot and pollution to thumb their nose at people who drive Prius’.
But I think there is room in masculinity for kindness and care. I think there is room in masculinity for humor and sexuality and art and fashion. I think it’s manly as fucking hell to know the back stories of obscure comic book characters and care about how you look. I think expressing your love for your friends and hugging them is masculine. I think caring about recycling and solar power and water conservation is masculine.
Look at Teddy Roosevelt. He cared a lot about conservation and the environment and he wasn’t seen as “gay” because of it. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby weren’t seen as effeminate cuz they wrote about musclemen in spandex all day. Ben Franklin wasn’t seen as a homosexual because he liked to learn and loved theatre and the arts. Frank Lloyd Wright wasn’t seen as a homosexual because he built and designed beautiful houses. He was seen as a homosexual cuz he loved to fuck dudes.
There has to be more room for different kinds of masculinity. There has to be a way to embrace all aspects of being a man without being reduced to a gun-toting, gay-bashing, truck driving environmental holocaust. There has to be a way to gain back what we lost. It takes all kinds in this world and I want to let the dudes who read this blog know that it’s okay to care. It’s okay to love your friends. It’s okay to hug men. It’s okay to compliment each other without caveat. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to learn and grow and laugh and joke. It’s okay to like color and want a beautiful home.
The most masculine thing you can be is yourself.
Let’s have a good week guys.