This week, while I was doing my grocery shopping, I noticed something odd. Among the plethora of toiletries, I came across men’s toothpaste. That’s right, toothpaste. For men. I found myself interested in what it had to offer. I mean, if a company was trying to advertise toothpaste to men, there had to be something distinctly manly about it, right? Unsurprisingly, no. The only difference was in the actual packaging. It was much darker, with the strong silver word “MAN” embellished on the side. I began to think of the various other products out there, marketed towards men. Deodorant. Body wash. Even sun-cream. Yet, these are all products that both men and women use frequently. So, why do businesses feel to need to gender these neutral products? Because masculinity is a commodity.
I’ve always had a rich interest in the world of marketing, especially packaging. Businesses must pitch to you their products, its features and benefits in quite a limited surface area. Many businesses sacrifice some of this space to print words like “MAN”, or “MANLY”, or something even more pathetic. Companies understand the market. They understand that men and women shop differently. While women might look for quality in the products they purchase, and the subjective benefits that comes with it. Men, on the other-hand, look at things such as price. However, even price can be overshadowed by the genderization of a product as inherently manly. Why? Masculinity is fragile. Shockingly so.
Marketing nowadays is complex. Businesses are no longer selling us just a product, they are selling us ourselves. This is prevalent in the market of “manly” goods. Men are reassuring themselves of their masculinity by purchasing “masculine” products. Take for example, the unholy amount of Lynx products found in the gym. You wouldn’t be caught dead in the men’s showers with a Aveeno body-wash, would you? The problem stems from the issue of male chauvinism in society. Boys are told from a young age that they must behave in a certain way in order to be considered a “man”. They grow up trying to fit this mold. They spend the majority of their formative years trying to become the unattainable ideal that society taught them to strive for. So, they buy products that tell them, in big bold letters, that they are a man. The ideal of masculine superiority can be achieved, because it can be bought.
The controversy in regards to Pepsi’s recent ad campaign shows how ideologies, such as masculinity, have become commodities. The ad, featuring Kendall Jenner, sparked wide-spread backlash, and rightly so. Pepsi was not only selling the soda, it was attempting to sell you solidarity. By purchasing Pepsi, they led you to believe you were contributing your part to the ongoing struggles of the modern day. [eg. the Black Lives Matter movement] Pepsi was telling you that in order to contribute positively to society, all you had to do was purchase their product. They reduced social and political action to a commodity, that could be bought.
The commodification of masculinity is more complicated. Society itself created the idea of “masculinity”, and society is the one selling it to you. Businesses are honing in on the frailty of this idea, and they are turning it into profit. If you were to compare the price of a Lynx deodorant, and for example, Dove, you would see the problem. Businesses understand that men are willing to pay more to assure themselves of their masculinity. So, they abuse it. Apart from price, what exactly makes these items different? In the grand scheme of things, nothing.
Even as young kids, businesses were feeding you these ideas. Remember when Yorkie used to market itself as “NOT FOR GIRLS”? Even before kids understood the difference between men and women, boys were taught that masculinity comes with entitlement. Even if it’s just a chocolate bar. Once the seed was planted, they grew up believing it. Then, as adults, they search for reassurance in the products they purchase.
Masculinity, like most other things, is a social construct. The fear of being “feminine” is a real issue in society. It will take some time for people to recognize this, and move past it. For now, who can blame companies for trying to profit off of the insecurity they foster in you? You’re the one buying into it.
Anyway, that’s what’s been on my mind lately. Hope you’re having a great day, and an even better week.
Thanks for reading!