Friday, January 29, 2016

#MasculinitySoFragile and the Gendering of Consumer Products

The “pink tax” refers to the the sexist pricing policies of many consumer products. These products are either produced exclusively for women’s use (such as tampons or pads) or are products which both men and women use that tend to cost more when they are marketed towards women (including shaving cream, pain relievers, antiperspirants, and razors). According to a Forbes article in 2012, gendered pricing causes women to pay an extra $1,351 per year in extra costs. 

While this unequal pricing is outrageous and unfair, it also illustrates the unnecessary gendering of many products. While women pay for such gendering (both figuratively and literally) recently the internet has become fascinated with "feminine" products being marketed to "masculine" men. Instead of making razors pink and putting flowers on deodorant containers, this type of product gendering is making loofahs dark blue and calling them a "men's mesh sponge" or making soap "MAN SIZED." 

This overcorrection meant to protect men's "manliness" when purchasing supposedly feminine products has led to the hashtags #MasculinitySoFragile and #FragileMasculinity

These platforms were originally used to point out the absurdity of many of the products being sold which are being needlessly gendered so men do not feel less "manly" when purchasing them. This hashtag has expanded to services as well as products. There is now even man-therapy, which is advertised as "[t]herapy from the creators of pork chops and fighter jets."

These hashtags are also attempting to call attention to the concept of toxic masculinity, which puts men down for expressing their emotions or engaging in activities some consider to be too feminine. This toxic masculinity seems to be at least one motivating factor for the attempted male gendering of "feminine" products.

Eventually this hashtag moved from simply discussing products to calling out how toxic masculinity causes "real men" to prove themselves by, among other  behaviors, disrespecting women, making sure not to express outward emotion, or saying "no homo" when they show affection to other men. It is these such insecurities about masculinity that advertisements and product marketing attempt to capitalize on.

As expected (since the internet is full of people with both different opinions and sexist ideas) there was a backlash against these hashtags and the problems that they were trying to call attention to. Instead of realizing that a majority of these hashtags were attempting to critique the unnecessary gendering of products and the toxic masculinity that produced them, these responses largely claimed that #MasculinitySoFragile was just crazy and aggressive feminists attempting to emasculate men.

Instead of proving how "strong" masculinity is and how weak, aggressive and/or crazy feminists are, these responses simply reenforce that toxic masculinity has negative effects for both men and women. While attempting to make it more widely acceptable for men to buy loofahs or purchase a pink iPhone may seem like plugging a tiny hole in a dam with thousands of leaks, getting rid of the idea of "feminine" and "masculine" products may help to diminish the hold toxic masculinity currently has. 


Kate said...

This post reminds me of the advertisements for V body wash, in which a muscular guy mistakes his partner's feminine body wash for his own. Afterwards, he runs through various "manly" activities to try to rediscover his masculinity - some are regular things like welding and chopping wood, and some are ridiculous, like pulling a car by a rope between his teeth. I remember the first time I saw this ad I thought it was humorous, but also sad, because of the reinforcement of complete separation between what is "acceptable" for a man to do. I appreciate your post because it highlights not only sexism that women struggle with in the consumer marketplace, but also the expectations that are consistently reinforced to men in the media.

Ari Asher said...

Reading this I couldn't help but remember my 5-year boycott of Levi's products after Dockers introduced its "Wear the Pants" campaign. The Dockers manifesto urged men to stop eating salads and drinking non-fat lattes. Like Kate said, these types of advertisements create hyper-masculine expectations for men while simultaneously demeaning women. The ads are bad enough without "feminized" product price gauging. Remember when Ellen DeGeneres highlighted the ridiculousness of BIC's pens for women? The "Lady-Pens" had a 70% upcharge.

RC said...

This post makes me both laugh and grimace because I know that #MasculinitySoFragile behavior is inescapably everywhere, even in the attitudes of the people we thought would be a little more open to criticism. I’ve always been intrigued that men get so defensive when anyone points out sexism (#notallmen), even if it is something as simple as pointing out the “pink tax.” Men are so uncomfortable with the implication that they personally are perpetuating an unjust system that they defend themselves first, and maybe challenge the unjust system as an after-thought. When men behave in this way, they derail the conversation and only feed into that unjust system. As you mentioned, masculinity is indeed so fragile that men take this discussion as an attack on their character, rather than choosing to evaluate how toxic masculinity and the patriarchy do us ALL a disservice.