By Bailey Shoemaker Richards
The recent trend in “manvertisement” (candles – only for men! Dr Pepper Ten’s “it’s not for women!” debacle, granola cereals – also only for men! And so on, and on) has been covered extensively already, but it’s something that deserves another look. Recently, “Dudepins” was announced: it’s the man’s alternative to Pinterest. The website, when you look it up, tells you “Man Up. Sign Up. Pin Up.” The connotations of this are obvious: Pinterest is for lady things – man up. Get an invite, and then look at all the pictures of pin-up ladies.
I’m grossed out by this trend for a number of reasons. Dudepins was the final nail in the gender essentialist coffin for me. The femmephobia ingrained in someone’s apparent need to create this website – because Pinterest is for girls, ew – is unfortunate. It reflects an irritating cultural moment where advertisers feel the need to aggressively hawk a certain species of masculinity that is harmful to everyone.
Femmephobia, for those not familiar, is the fear of the feminine; it often contains a sense of loathing, as well. While people who are femmephobic, specifically the hyper-masculine demographic Dudepins and manvertisement seeks to court, may covet the delicate charms of a narrow subset of women (thin, white, ultra-feminine), that same femininity is also seen as something weak, other and bad – it is a threat to the masculine.
Men, according to manvertisements, must be violent, dirty, power-hungry, buff, rough, rude and strong. Anything other than that and you are in the realm of femininity, which is unacceptable, because to be like a woman is to be less than a man in the eyes of Dudepins and their ilk. The front page of the Dudepins website, for example, is plastered with pictures of cars, pool tables, wrestlers, meat and alcohol, and occasionally a scantily clad woman.
It is designed to look like the exact opposite of their impression of Pinterest, the front page of which is plastered with recipes, fashion pictures, cute quotes, scooters, interior decoration and wedding shots. The division could not be clearer – but it’s not like men can’t use Pinterest to further their defense of manliness already: there are numerous boards of things men want their girlfriends or wives to cook or wear.
Dudepins, man-candles and other aggressively masculine products aren’t only targeting a certain demographic of tough-guy, though. They are also upholding a definition of masculinity that is dangerous and damaging, even to the supposed toughest of guys, with their adorable pins of cars and booze in their own steroid-filled online man-caves.
For starters, this definition of masculinity reflects a deep gender-binary division: if men are rough, women must be soft and gentle. If men are the stoic types, women must be over-sharers and chatty. If men are the rowdy wrestlers and players of pool, women’s interests must be quieter – embroidery, maybe, or planning a wedding. There is no room for overlap.
This is dangerous because it puts people in boxes that it can be very difficult to get out of: men are told they must never share their emotions (that’s for ladies), and this leads to depression, anger issues, damaged relationships. Gay men, and men who are more feminine, are at risk of homophobic attacks, both verbal and physical. Women who like pool, power tools and muscle cars are scolded on a number of fronts: they just want attention from men, they don’t really know how an engine works; women aren’t good at physical stuff, they’re weak; women can’t like whiskey and action movies, those are only for guys – but they’re still a little cooler than girly girls, who are catty and mean, of course. This type of attack comes from both men and women, and also includes the risk of physical attack.
The message of manvertising is that women are less than men. Men who are like women are less than men. Only straight manly men count. Femininity is bad and must be avoided, unless you’re objectifying a thin woman. The manly man is shown as both the norm and the pinnacle of achievement. There is no place in the world of Dudepins vs. Pinterest for men who like lace and women who like power tools – these are anomalies that must be crushed and stamped out.
This is ludicrously unhealthy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pool, whiskey, and fast cars – the problem enters when those neutral objects get tied up with reductive ideas of what it means to be a man, and posited as markers of the only acceptable way to be manly. Defining gendered behavior and appearance in such a narrow way makes true expression impossible: it is entirely feasible that a man who likes Call of Duty can also like tasteful interior decorating. It is entirely feasible that a woman who likes skirts and high heels can also mountain climb, hike, hunt and camp with the toughest of outdoorsmen.
Reducing the categories of “men” and “women” to strictly delineated camps of masculinity and femininity, and setting them at war with one another, denies the exciting and complicated relationships of human behavior and interest. Reducing people to the most basic concepts of gender erases complex gender identity and puts people at risk of homophobic and transphobic violence. Denying that there is any overlap of masculinity and femininity prevents people from safely exploring their interests, and makes it harder to build deep and interesting connections with one another.
Segmenting people along a gender division that says women must exist to be soft, passive objects for the admiration of tough, dirty, drunk guys reinforces a lot of very ugly messages about how advertisers expect us to behave, look and act. My challenge to you is to defy those messages with your authentic self. Remind people and companies that there is more than one way to express your masculinity and femininity, and that these categories can exist in the same place, in the same person, in compelling and real ways.