Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reader Request: Slim Jim Sexism

Hey, Stephen! Thanks for the suggestion to look at this Slim Jim ad campaign for DARE sticks.

Okay, so I think the first and most obvious issue with this ad campaign is its complete acceptance and adherence to traditional concepts about masculinity. See above ad, and below ad to start us off.

I think it's safe to say that "Male Spice Loss" is a euphemism for "lack of traditional masculinity." And I think their definition of ideal maleness goes even beyond what most people conceive traditional male gender roles to be, for as the Education in Male Spice Loss video explains, "Male Spice Loss" also happens because of all those things that are a drag in true bro-life, like being in a relationship and having a job and responsibilities. Let's have a round of DARE sticks and toast to that, my brofriends! Can I get an amen?

And so we see ad after ad equating this loss of broiness, characterized by salad-eating, minivan-driving and being emotional (omg, aren't these traits we usually see women having??! coincidence!), with actually being an inadequate man. And in the below ad about the waiting room, such extreme male inadequacy brought on by "Male Spice Loss" necessitates observation at a hospital.

And since Male Spice Loss is so apparently common, Slim Jim has provided these handy video-e-cards, so that you can let your inadequately bro-y manfriends that they're not dude enough for you. Thanks, Slim Jim! (It is also at this moment that the socialist in me would like to point out that Slim Jim is creating a "disorder" of male inadequacy that is fixed with the purchase of a Slim Jim DARE Stick. That's capitalism!)

So what does this mean for men, and why the heck am I writing about this here anyway? Well, I actually do write about masculinity occasionally, and it is something that I would like to explore more on this bloggy blog. Getting men to think about feminism isn't simply a matter of getting dudes to think about you know... things like "consent is sexy," we should have an ERA, Playboy Bunnies are not representative of the female population etc... Feminism since the Third Wave (early 90s) has been really interested in breaking down the very barriers we have toward equality. Sexism and hegemonic gender roles are real for women and men. Men are very much trapped by gendered expectations as well, but it's easy to forget about because we tend to invisibilize maleness. In less made-up words, what that means is that because we tend to, in Western Culture, focus so much on the gendered aspects of what it means to be a woman, that we forget to talk about what it means to be a man. Breaking down the harmful ideology we use to construct ideas about "adequate" masculinity will help both men and women.

What feminism does for men is provide an arena for critically engaging in discourse about gender ideology. Michael Kimmel, one of my favorite feminists and academics specializing in the study of masculinity has this great quote about feminism and men:
“Feminism expects a man to be ethical, emotionally present, and accountable to his values in his actions with women — as well as with other men. Feminism loves men enough to expect them to act more honorably and actually believes them capable of doing so.”
This is awesome! What Kimmel is saying is that we as feminists, both men and women (and everyone in between and outside) should be re-imagining masculinity. And that men should be letting other men do their own thang to be actualized, happy human beings. Kimmel writes about this a lot, but to sort of paraphrase a few ideas from a couple of his articles, despite drastic cultural changes and uplifting cultural movements for women, queer people, Latin@s, African Americans, and Native Americans, men have kind of been left behind. You can hardly take a step these days without bumping into some new article in Time magazine about masculinity in crisis... but what the heck does that even mean? What is masculinity anyway?

We've been expanding opportunities and the range of gender expectations for women in the last few decades, but this kind of ideological broadening has not so much occurred for men. That's why we still get these "silly" ads like for Slim Jim DARE sticks that tell men it's not okay to do these things we associate with femininity like salad eating and minivan-driving. I think a lot of men internalize this conflict, about presenting themselves as "adequately" male while being true to the things that they actually want to do regardless of the "gender" of that activity. (For example, you've probably heard of female football leagues or girls joining male high school football teams if there is no available team for girls. There aren't so much stories about guys trying to join field hockey or form their own teams... Not yet there aren't.)

In conclusion, Slim Jim is taking advantage of consumer fears about male inadequacy with their "mantastic" ad campaign. Playing on the fears of men is functioning to reproduce ideology about traditional gender roles and ultimately repress men. So... if you want to be a free man, don't eat a DARE stick.

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