While watching television today I saw an advertisement that spoke to me. It made the hairs on my arm stand up and by the end of it I was smiling. I was completely shocked when when I saw what company was behind the ad. Typically there are just a few types of commercials that consistently make me emotional: Apple with their yearly Christmas commercial, Publix Commercials, Proctor & Gamble Olympics commercials, and Super Bowl Commercials. These companies make commercials that are happy and sappy and make you you tear up. This commercial, however, made me emotional in weird way. I was happy, and sad, and insecure, and optimistic all at the same time. And of all the companies with the potential to make me emotional, I was not expecting it from the clothing company Bonobos. Watch the commercial and then I will unpack my feelings.
I really like this commercial for several reasons, the first and foremost of which is the innate simplicity of the commercial. The next thing that immediately that jumps out to me is the multi leveled types of diversity that the commercial employs. In addition to having equal amounts of races and ethnicities present throughout the entire commercial (and having them accurately and fairly portrayed no less!) the commercial features a fairly wide variety of ages and body types as well. That may sound odd to consider that a point of celebration in a Men’s Clothing company commercial, but when you look at ad campaigns for similar companies (see picture) they don’t look like me – the average American man. I don’t have a jaw law or a chin chiseled from marble. Or abs. Or biceps. Or calves for that matter. Actually, I take that back. I like my calves. Check ’em out next time you see me. And While I don’t think I’m ugly or undateable or anything like that (I know I am a catch), I do know I do not fit into the mold of a traditionally physically attractive man.
All those things aside though, the message of the commercial is what I hope resonates with you the most – it sure did resonate with me. Now that I am sitting here thinking about it, watching the commercial was the first time I have ever truly reflected on just how God-awful-terrible the definition of masculine happens to be. In case you need a refresher, here it is below.
Why would anyone in their right mind want to be known as that at all. The only thing that even sounds half-way descent about that is the strength part. I don’t want to be known as aggressive. I feel like that gives off a negative, mean, rapist type of vibe. Everything I have read about Harvey Weinstein suggests that would be an appropriate word for him, but when I think of the positive traits of masculinity that is not the first one that comes to my head. Words like confident or determined come to mind. The way he carries himself and the way he treats his partner (whether she be a woman or a man). That is sexy masculinity – in my opinion at least.
In addition to all of that why are we even concerning ourselves with what has been traditionally defined as being associated with men? Why aren’t we passed the era in the world where blue is for boys and pink is for girls? Where women are nurses and men are engineers? Or worse yet, where the woman is chained to the sink only to be called out to make a sandwich for her husband when he wishes it? Why does everyone suddenly freak out if a little girl wants to play with hot wheels or a boy wants to play with Barbie dolls? Please tell me how that little boy is somehow not masculine enough? Or the little girl not feminine enough? The only thing we are doing by continuing to perpetuate the antiquated and outdated ideals of what is masculinity is harming both boys and girls of the future. You may scoff and tell me I am overreacting, but I don’t think so. Axe recently waded into the conversation with a brilliant commercial. So have NBC News, Karamo Brown from Netflix’s Queer Eye, and Tedx Talks from around the country.
While you might not think about it, continuing to push for this toxic masculinity has done two things. It has told the little boys out there who know they don’t fit society’s traditional type of masculinity that they should hide it, be ashamed of it, or that there is something wrong with them. But they aren’t broken toys from some plastic toy mold. They are uniquely and exactly who they are supposed to be- their true self. It is not just the boys that are being harmed, either. When we talk about feminine, you never see or picture in the back of your mind a woman as a scientist or an outspoken women who tells you her opinions on political issues as sexy. She is pushy, bitchy, or bossy (As if that’s a bad thing). Our current version of masculinity teaches boys they are superior to women instead of teaching them how to process feelings like anger and jealous, and I would go so far as to wager that this is what landed us smack dab in the middle of the #MeToo movement as well.
On a personal note, I have been a part of this debate for over 10 years now. And I have one word to thank for it: Faggot. In a weird way, the word faggot is interesting to me. The first time I heard that name hurled at me I was a freshman in high school and it hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. I wasn’t 100% sure what it entailed, but I knew it was not something you wanted to be called. I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve been called that word before – certainly not as many times as some have, but more than I ever cared to count. You get used to it and then if you are a history person like me you just tell the people who yelled “faggot!” at you from across the street that the original definition of faggot is a bundle of twigs bound together ultra tight with flammable cloth and that these bundles of twigs were sometimes used to light up the tunnels of the Roman Coliseum, but sometimes they used actual gay people instead of the twig bundles. That sorta takes all the fun out of their “insult,” and If you say it in one massive run-on sentence like that it has the ability to make you sound super academic and smart.
Eventually it doesn’t phase you because you grow into your own skin and start realizing your not the one with the problem, they are. For some reason even though they are the masculine ones who are strong and aggressive, the sight of a man who portrays some qualities that could potentially be associated as feminine threaten them. If you are the top of man who won’t wear a pink or lavender polo you really need to think about your self esteem issues and how they relate to you and your masculinity, because at the end of the day, that has nothing to do with me or any other man that doesn’t fit your definition of masculinity. To prove that, my last two points are going to come from people who would not traditionally be considered harbingers of masculinity.
The picture to the left is of Kameron Michaels, a man who lived a normal life and had a normal job in Nashville before recently finding fame as part of a show you might not know based on his traditionally masculine look. Kameron Michaels was a contestant on the most recent season (11, I think?) of Rupaul’s Drag Race, and before some of you ask, yes that is the show with Rupaul, and yes, that is the show that is basically American Idol for drag queens. Sidebar: If you have not heard of Rupaul and Rupaul’s drag race you must have been locked in that bunker with Kimmie Schmitt so I suggest you start trying to catch up. The pictures below will show you what Kameron Michael looked at most of the time during the season as the show was filming. In addition to being a kick ass lip sync assassin (which you can see here, here, and the best one of all time here), Kameron exudes masculinty and feminity throughout all of his performances because masculinity and femininity aren’t something you either are or you are not – it is a constantly sliding and evolving scale. That is part of what makes sexuality so fun. If you still have issues with it though, I would tread carefully- I am pretty sure Kameron can take care of herself if you feel like name calling.
The last point I am going to make comes from another contestant on a different season of Rupaul’s Drag Race. When Latrice Royale was asked what she wanted to accomplish by coming on the show and what she wanted to tell people she had this to say:
I love this. Nothing says silencing your haters in a way that doesn’t involve violence, a jail cell, or a ton of extra work like keeping your head down, knowing whats in your heart, and succeeding in the one life you get. So to the men out there who have never been able to see themselves in society’s definition of masculinity, know I feel like that sometimes too. More importantly, however, to the younger boys and teenagers who feel weird, or different, or not enough – know that your weirdness is something you will embrace one day, what makes you different is what will give you your strength, and that you are exactly the amount that you are supposed to be. When they come for you over who you are, just smile – and tell them to eat it!