BRUTal

11 Apr

Many of the advertisements that I’ve featured on this blog are examples that have captured the attention and ire of the public, having appeared on various blogs, non-profit/advocacy organization websites, the Huffington Post, or other online sources. Today’s example arrived on my own stoop two days ago, along with the weekly Target, C-Town, and JCPenny ads, and various coupons. It is an advertisement-coupon combination from the cologne brand Brut, which is owned by Unilever.

Image: man with cucumber facial mask. Text: “Some men just need to be slapped.” Coupon: Save $1.00 on any Brut product.

My initial reaction: funny. This is funny. First off, they may be cucumbers, but they kind of look like pickles. Also, anyone who’s ever seen any of the other milion cucumber facial ads knows, the pickles are placed in ridiculous places – his cheeks, nose, forehead. Part of me also thought about the text as related to domestic violence and gender inequality; women suffer abuse and violence at significantly higher rates than men. In that sense, the ad and its message that men also may “need to be slapped” sometimes can be viewed as a poke at men, and a sort of leveling of the playing field. The audience for this ad is very clear: all around it are ads for women’s deodorant and cleaning materials, and the only breathing creatures featured in the pictures are White women and dogs, aside from our masked man.

After my initial chuckle, I saw the ad as falling into line with so many other examples I’ve brought to this blog, for it places men into a box. If the man “needs to be slapped,” it’s because he’s doing something wrong. But wrong by who’s standards? The implication of this ad is: men should not be interested in looking “pretty.” Also, they should be smart. With little more extrapolation, we see the classic gender roles ascribed to men: men should be strong, physical, and intelligent, not sensitive, emotional, and ignorant/dumb. Because it perpetuates these gender norms, the ad hurts men by spreading the aforementioned notions.

I repeat – the ad is funny! But without a conscious evaluation of its implication, the ad hurts women, too. If men are not supposed to wear cucumber facial masks, then by default (within the gender binary system), this is the domain of women. And yet to expect that all women should be concerned with their appearance is tremendously sexist. The ad hurts women because it indirectly forces these stereotypes on the reader, who will then either internalize or externalize the message and continue to spread it to his/her children, students, and peers. Is this ad sexist? Covertly, I say yes. It combines prejudices (the aforementioned attitudes) with institutional power – the power of capitalism. We don’t know if this ad was created by a man or a woman, but regardless it spreads a message of inequity and stereotypes that hurts both men and women.

I began this post with my initial reaction because I think it’s important to place this ad within the context of our daily lives. The ad is funny. It’s funny because it pokes fun at men, who hold institutional privilege and power in the world. It appears to “level the playing field” by giving women “the upper hand” in this very specific situation. And for that reason, very few people will speak out against this. In fact, I would bet that most men and women would defend the ad, claiming that the man does deserve to be slapped for his stupidity and sissiness. “Girls rule, boy drool,” as I heard daily in 1994. Yet beneath the shallow victory lies a much more sinister message: men and women are opposites and there are rules that they must follow. All others must be slapped.

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