Designing for “Dudes”

22 Apr

The Volkswagon Beetle is getting a makeover for 2012, and according to its designers and a number of magazine and newspaper articles, the model has a new market: “dudes.”

Here’s what “macho” changes we can expect to see:

  • “Enlarged”/”bigger body”, “less ‘cute'”, “more sporty.”
  • “A sleek rounded-off top.”
  • “Fierce-looking LED headlights.”
  • “Stretched the car slightly to give it a ‘powerful appearance with muscular tension'”
  • “Most masculine of all are the Beetle’s wheels. It rolls on eye-catching 10-spoke wheels that span 19 inches.”
  • “A row of analog instrumentation”…”perhaps most indicative of the Beetle’s personality shift”
  • “Clean, self-confident and dominant”
  • “Ambient lighting to set the mood” (Geeksugar.com)
  • No more “plain Jane details,” like “circular tail lights” and the “flower vase on the dash.”

The wording used to portray the car’s new features parallel our socially gendered notions of masculinity and the dominance of the gender binary system. Fierce, powerful, sleek, 21st century, dynamic“more power, less flower.” They dichotomize men and women by painting a vision of masculinity that is ultimately harmful to us all, reinforcing our vision of men as intellectually and physically superior to women. In a spirit typical of journalism, the article titles – Ditching the Daisy: Will the New VW Beetle Rev Men’s Engines? and 2012 Volkswagon Beetle: A Bug With a Rampaging Y Chromosome – employ no less aggressive verbage.

When I first saw the Time article, I felt angry at the hypermasculinization of this car and the intense langauge being used to de-feminize it. When I saw the photo of the car, however, the thought flashed in my mind: it does look masculine…it looks like a Porche, or a sexy little sports car. Reflecting on these thoughts – I’m disappointed at myself for being manipulated by the publicists and the marketers, the sensationalism of journalism and how deeply I have internalized this notion of masculinity.

Addressing this issue has also opened my eyes to the notion that male stereotyping does not fall under the definition of sexist. In all likelihood, it’s upper class men that created this marketing campaign. Can men be sexist against men? Certainly, where other domains of oppression are involved (race, sexual orientation, age, etc.). But in this case, we see none of that. We see men living in a world of competition, in which our socialized version of masculinity is the gold standard of worth. Yet as discussed, this hypermasculine vision is harmful to us all – if men are measured by their masculine features or behaviors, then women are judged in opposite. By measuring men’s masculinity by their strength, we measure women’s femininity by their weakness. Men drive Hummers, while women drive Beetles.

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