Outdated notions of "masculinity" are quite literally killing men

08 Feb 2016|ttmilnec

After the best part of 80 years of academic wrestling, “sex” and “gender” have seemingly become successfully divorced in popular culture. Women don’t need to throw or run “like a girl” due to their anatomical make up; “femininity” has been seen for the arbitrary set of performed behaviours it represents.

The fallacy of “femininity” has allowed for women to determine their own identities: women can wear, act, and behave however they want. Sex doesn’t define the entirety of female life. Although there’s still a long way to go for complete equality with their male counterparts, change is actively happening. The process of social change is somewhat prescriptive: academic and artistic circles sow the seeds of unrest, these opinions and thoughts permeate slowly through media and counter-culture before eventually being cemented in brands’ advertising and ethos as well as popular culture. Personal care brands ‘Always’ and ‘Dove’, as well as American telco brand ‘Verizon’ with their ‘Inspire Her Mind’ campaign, have all placed the changing notions of femininity at the heart of their powerful ad campaigns in recent years, demonstrating the topic’s cultural poignancy.

Whilst these changes have been great for the cohesiveness of society generally, one question cannot be overlooked: what about the men? As it stands men still undoubtedly have an easier ride in life than women in many ways: higher pay, better job security, more overall representation in politics and media, et alii. However to overlook the problems faced by men is detrimental to the cause of societal equality. Outdated notions of “masculinity” are quite literally killing men: three quarters of suicides are committed by men, a figure that has been rising over the past several years. It’s the single biggest cause of death for men under 45. ‘CALM’, a charity that exists to fight mental illness in males, believes that archaic male stereotypes enforced by media and brands are a direct linked to depression and suicide. Men, silenced by the stiff-upper-lip characteristic imposed upon them by “masculinity”, are suffering alone.

Culturally, men have not yet been liberated from “masculinity.” Media and advertising has failed them. Last year, (perhaps with the exclusion of Star Wars) the top 5 films with men in the lead projected the role of their protagonists to be the athletically and aesthetically superior heroes of the world (Jurassic World, Furious 7, Avengers, Spectre). Fashion and grooming brands still project an antiquated ideal of masculinity: six pack, tan, full head of hair, accompanied by a beautifully luxurious environment. It’s time for society, media, and brands to deconstruct “masculinity,” just as they’re doing to “femininity.”

However a ray of light is emerging from an unlikely source. ‘Axe’ (‘Lynx’ for us in the UK); a brand famous for portraying men as hyper-sexualised beasts obsessed with nothing but chasing women, has made a refreshing jump to embrace the myriad interests, appearances, and characteristics of the modern man. Their new campaign ‘Find Your Magic’ features nerdy record collectors, exuberant fitness fanatics, and vibrant vogueing queens; no longer lone rangers in the pursuit of women. Men are now depicted in social situations, having fun, being individual. The stereotypical qualities of “masculinity” have shifted and have no place here.

We working in the world of marketing have a huge amount of power, and thus responsibility, to portray images and messages that are beneficial to society. Growth of business and good ROI are not at odds with socially responsible messaging. More male centric brands should be broadening their depictions of men not just to be more culturally on point, but also to help create a culture in which men can thrive without battling through an identity crisis which too often leads to mental illnesses and a pressure arguably just as great as females face.

 

Written by: Cameron Milne, Added Value UK

Image Source: Unilever Axe Find Your Magic Advertising Campaign.

prev next