Tag Archives: Stereotypes

“The Kitchen is the New Garage”

13 Apr

In my continued effort to move away from the advertisements, here’s a lovely article published on 4/11/11 on MSNBC: “Home Kitchens Heat Up as More Men Start Cooking.” According to the article, men spend thrice the amount of time in the kitchen today as they did 40 years ago, and are developing new interests in cooking. To meet men’s new cooking needs, some interesting new resources are popping up. The article features three:

  1. Food Republic‘s mission is to “[explore] the new culture of food through stories, interviews, global conversations, and experiences. This is the site for men who want to eat and drink well, and to live smart.” Its “philosophy” section claims: “men are underserved in today’s conversation about food,” “a good drink is as important as a great dinner,” and “entertaining will enrich your life.”
  2. Man Tested Recipes offers “grilling tips and recipes for all types of meaty, greasy goodness,” according to the article. Indeed, the site’s homepage is a smorgasbord of chili, ribs, chicken, pork, burgers, pastas, bacon, shrimp, tacos, and pancakes. Of the 61 “top tags” (categories/descriptors attached to recipes), 25 contain the word “easy” (e.g., “easy chicken recipe”), 4 contain the word “football,” and only 2 vegetables appear (corn and carrots). The word “family” appears once.
  3. Cook To Bang, new book and website, offers tips on cooking and seduction, linking the two in a symphony of misogyny. The author suggests, “Food and sex have been linked since the dawn of civilization,” and that all men should learn to cook, for three simple  reasons: “1. Cheaper than a restaurant. 2.They’re already in your home. 3. You’re dessert.” The site also contains ads for AshleyMadison.com and recipes such as “Garlic (My Balls) Bread”, “Ho’s May Blow-Tatoes”, “Lick My Zucchini Stick”, and “Reverse Cowgirl Eggs”.

The article goes on to make some pretty bold statements. Some of the gems include:

  • Food Republic offers “man-friendly topics such as how to cook a rib-eye steak or make a Rob Roy cocktail”
  • “Because if there’s anything every man is obsessed with, it’s gadgets”
  • “The kitchen is the new garage”
  • “Food Republic offers recipes that are fast and easy to execute, using seven ingredients and taking just 20 minutes — leaving plenty of time for cocktail-making”
  • Reasons for men’s increased interest in cooking include: “single guys needing to fend for themselves and, of course, their need to impress the ladies”

The article and all of the sites it promotes are bewildering in their ignorance. In so many ways, they shove men into the same boxes that we see over and over: men should be able to drink; men should be tech-savvy; men are simple-minded; men are obsessed with sex; men are the life of the party. These stereotypes hurt men by creating unrealistic expectations, both for themselves and for others. They deny of any man who does not live up to them his masculinity, thereby threatening his self-esteem and the respect of those around him. The man who cannot drink alcohol, is not interested in sex, is boring, or is emotion is demoted to the status of un-masculine (or, feminine).

What’s even more enraging about this article is that it plays at promoting social justice. According to the creator of Food Republic, “Traditional gender roles have been turned upside down, and now being a well-rounded man means knowing about food, too.” The article attempts to trick its readers into believing that it is good for men and women. Men – because it will get them laid. Women – because “Relationships are growing stronger as they cook alongside their mate.” Yet in reality the article is an attack on masculinity by defining it in the same way it has always been defined.

Sadly, in less than 36 hours, the article has already received 82 reTweets and 77 Facebook recommendations. Its popularity is a testament to its appeal – people want to believe that men are becoming more “feminine” and that the genders are become more “equal,” when in reality this is simply more of the same. I’m afraid that too many people reading this will not be shocked by the stereotyping it commits, especially since it’s coming from a reputable news source – MSNBC.

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.

Sex, Sex, Sex – Again

19 Mar

Here’s a nice little lesson in male stereotyping. Sheridan Simove recently published a book titled, “What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex.” The back cover [1] reads,

For millennia, humans have marvelled at the difference between men and women. It’s widely known that the female gender is far superior to men in most areas – emotionally, cognitively and socially. But, to date, the complex secrets of a man’s mind have eluded science. Apart from ‘sex’, what does a man actually think about? In this groundbreaking book, Professor Shed Simove, reveals the true depth of a man’s mind. After years of painstaking research, he has precisely identified what men actually think about apart from sex. Professor Simove beautifully reveals a man’s mind as an open book and the result unlocks an age old secret… Take a look inside – you’ll be amazed at how accurate and shocking the truth is…

The book, shockingly, is empty. Completely blank. 200 pages of white paper. As the Amazon.com description suggests, “This book is a humorous talking point and can also be used very effectively as a notebook.” Clever, for about half a second. Then it hits you – wait, there’s something off about this. The thought evolves – this is kind of offensive. And then – bam. Wait. REALLY???

This blog has explored this theme a few times: we’re taught from day 1 that men have one-track minds, that “they have two heads and only enough blood to run one at a time,” as my father used to say. We read headlines claiming that “men think about sex 5,000 times a year” [2], and other similarly ridiculous statistics. From so many stories from Greek mythology [3] to almost every contemporary beer commercial (see: YouTube), we’re taught that men are filled with primitive, carnal sexual urges that are too strong to be controlled. Women, in contrast, are “sugar and spice,” as pure as Mary, ever proper.

This gag book capitalizes on this male stereotype – in spades. According to Time Magazine [4], the book has”climbed the ranks of Amazon’s charts to No. 744, and even outsold both Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” as of March 15, 2011. I believe that this statistic says something powerful about society’s attachment to its male stereotypes.

Some of you may be reading this skeptically, saying, “But this book is hilarious! Obviously it’s a joke. Plus it’s written by a man, so how can it be sexist? Get a sense of humor.” So let’s flip the tables. What if an identically blank book were published under the title, “What Women Are Doing When They Aren’t Being Promiscuous, Whining, Talking on the Phone, Doing their Makeup, or Spending Your Hard-Earned Money.” Still funny? And if it were written by a woman? Any difference? I thought not.

The problem with this book is not this particular book. It’s that this item fits into a recent trend of pseudo-self help books that label men as “broken, retarded, or sexual deviants,” in the words of one online commenter [1]. This myth is perpetuated by a number of actual books with horrifically similar titles, such as:

  • How to Make Your Man Behave in 21 Days or Less Using the Secrets of Professional Dog Trainers (1994) (link)
  • I Don’t Need to Have Children, I Date Them: 23 Child Psychology Techniques to Use on Boys of All Ages (2001) (link)
  • Husband-ry 101: How to Train Your Husband to Be the Spouse You’ve Always Wanted Him to Be (2004) (link)
  • Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (2004) (link)
  • The Scorecard: How to Fix Your Man in One Year or Less (2006) (link)
  • Retool Your Relationship: Fix the One You’re With (2010) (link)

Each of these titles perpetuates the gender binary system by polarizing men and women and reinforces society’s vision of men as simple, animalistic, emotionless creatures. This assault on manhood has real negative consequences for both men and women. Because men are expected to be strong, sexual caricatures of humanity, those individuals who fall outside the “norm” are shamed, shunned, and shut out. They are labeled as sissies, fags, wimps, mama’s boys, and losers.

Women ultimately lose, too. Because we are all taught that real men are aggressive and dominating, women are demoted to second fiddle – a role which many internalize. They learn to be passive and subservient. And they learn to desire men who manifest the stereotypes they’ve been taught. From this flawed logic comes the notion that “Nice Guys Finish Last.” While waiting for someone tall, dark, and handsome, women may miss out on quality relationships – both romantic and platonic – with men who don’t fit “the mold”.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Every-Thinks-About-Apart-Inside/dp/0956827810/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/6950545/Men-think-about-sex-5000-times-a-year.html

[3] http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1500602/highlights_of_greek_mythology_the_scandalous.html

[4] http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/03/15/book-filled-with-blank-pages-outsells-harry-potter-and-the-da-vinci-code/