Since I don't really watch television, I heard about the new Dr. Pepper 10 ad through social media. I am bothered by it nonetheless, and it exemplifies one of the main reasons that we don't watch television in our house. (And I should clarify that we watch plenty of series and movies on DVD or through online streaming subscriptions that are ad free. I have nothing against video as a form of media or entertainment. It is the advertisements that I take issue with.)
This new ad has managed to annoy and offend women by playing on tired old stereotypes that we thought we had for the most part left behind us. According to reports, Jim Trebilcock, executive vice president of marketing for Dr Pepper, thinks that women won't be offended because we “get the joke”. While it is does appear that the ad is hyperbolic with the possible intention of being ironically humorous, some women are offended enough to start a petition to stop the ad. I think it is safe to say that we get the joke, but not all of us think it's funny.
It can also be argued that the ad is equally offensive to men. The ultra-macho portrayal of men who fear appearing in any way un-masculine, and who overcompensate to the point of suppressing all emotions and indulging only in violence and destruction, is a condescending attempt to manipulate men's consumption by instilling insecurities. They even issued “10 Man'Ments” that are supposed to advise men on how to be more appropriately macho. This particular ad has gotten a lot of attention for being so over-the-top, but the stereotypes it is reflecting are not new to advertising. Worthwhile Canadian Initiative has written an excellent article on the topic of how men, and their relationships to women, are portrayed in ads. She says that, “[these ads] are part of a larger social trend towards seeing men and women as fundamentally, irreconcilably different.” This is a trend that is insulting and detrimental to women and men.
And it is not just women who are noticing these ads and their negative masculine images. Men are offended too. AskMen.com put together a list of Worst Male-Bashing Ads with examples that depict men as incompetent, unsophisticated, subservient, detached, immature, disposable creatures with primitive drives and mental processes. And the AskMen article points out that our children are noticing these messages too:
“You’ve seen him plenty of times on sitcoms; he’s the dumb, bumbling, idiot dad, husband and boyfriend who appears useless at everything but bringing home a paycheck. The message: Guys are dumb and women have to lead them around. This, of course, cues the laugh track. Yet a survey from an organization called Children Now found that two-thirds of kid respondents described men on TV as angry, while respondents from another group’s survey said men were portrayed as corrupt on TV by a 17 to 1 margin. Clearly, this is no laughing matter.”
These stereotypes seem archaic and outdated but they are still prevalent in advertising and media today. The group Media Awareness Network has categorized some of the Common Stereotypes of Men in Media: the joker, the jock, the strong silent type, the big shot, the action hero, the buffoon. These stereotypes all send a message that there are limited rigid roles that boys and men can fit into and that anything different is somehow less than manly.
So, what messages would we like to see in the media about masculinity? What would we like our children to be seeing about how men and women relate to each other?
Here is what I would like to see replace the common male stereotypes:
You can joke with us. We love your sense of humor as much as we love your serious side. And we love that you have the emotional intelligence and sensitivity to know when, where, and how to joke appropriately.
You can be an athlete. We love that you have found something that you are passionate about and talented at. We admire your kinesthetic intelligence, your hard work, and that you know how to handle the victory and defeat of competitions with grace.
The Strong Silent Type?
You can be a leader. We love your willingness to take responsibility and make difficult decisions. And we are here to support you and talk through these decisions, because we know how emotionally straining they can be. We also love that we can work in partnership, and alternate taking the lead.
The Big Shot?
You can have a successful career, and you can define that as whatever brings you a sense of fulfillment. Sometimes career will be your first priority, sometimes it will be lower on the list. We can work together to help each other balance our careers with all of the other important aspects of our lives.
The Action Hero?
You can be a hero in many different ways. Every time you speak up for what is right, act on a sense that something is unjust, help someone in need, do something kind just to do it, set an example of being true to who you are, and countless other ways, you are acting heroically strong and courageous.
You can make mistakes. You can need help with things. You can count on us. These things do not mean that you are not a smart, independent, reliable, caring, competent person. We will not mock you for being human and relying on other humans for assistance at times. We will rely on you too, and appreciate you for all that you are.
What kind of roles would you like to see boys and men fill in media? Are there any ads, shows, movies, or other media you enjoy that send positive messages about gender roles and relations? Or is there media that makes you feel good about who you are and the roles you live?