Perhaps you’ve seen the latest series of Dockers ads, imploring today’s men to step up and “wear the pants.” The man-centric campaign actually rolled out a few months ago; I figured it had foundered on the shoals of its own ridiculousness until a link to the “Men Without Pants” commercial showed up in my Facebook sidebar. I’m not sure what Pantsformation is, but it has replaced “Man-ifesto” from a previous version of the Dockers website:
It feels a little like shooting fish in a barrel to bring a critical eye to this, but here goes. The lynchpin sentence seems to be “But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for,” which trades in the old anti-feminist canard that combatting gender inequality leads to the “unsexing” of both men and women. The monstrous specter of androgyny-cum-thwarted-adolescence in the previous sentence underscores this point. References to disco and the “foamy non-fat latte” suggest that homosexuality, laced with effete European masculinity, additionally threatens the ideal American man, rolling gender presentation, sexuality, and national identity into a single package–no pun intended.
What I find interesting (besides the “Shop Women’s” link at the end of ad) is the commercial short I mentioned above. It features a group of (mostly) paunchy, pantsless men marching through a field, singing about their lack of pants. They are the replaced by a trim, muscular, bekhakied male figure, the clear antithesis to the emasculated others. Their literal softness represents a loss of (implicitly national) strength which, coupled with their “pantslessness,” conveys a clear message: loss of male privilege goes hand in hand with the loss of American prestige.
The nation has often, if not always, been represented in explicitly gendered terms, and throughout the modern age the human body has presented a handy metaphor with which to delineate the boundaries of political and national belonging. Dockers is certainly not the first to perceive a threat to masculinity, but they offer interesting evidence of this in their reference to a 2006 article in the Journal of Clinial Endocrinology and Metabolism that indeed demonstrated an age-independent decline of serum testosterone in men over about a decade and a half. This may very well be true, and the authors of “A Population-Level Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels in American Men” suggest that environmental factors may be the cause. However, the Dockers campaign features a video on its Facebook (I couldn’t find it anywhere else) that purports to explore this “crisis” (how else could you describe it?) by having an actor travel the country doing “manly” things: riding a bull, killing a deer, and pumping iron at the Jersey Shore. By framing clips of wo/man-on-the-street interviews discussing the state of men’s lifestyles (men are obviously a homogenous group) with the crisis represented in the above article, the video makes the most dubious of all possible propositions: that larger cultural changes, like disco-dancing, latte-drinking, and feminism, have weakened the hormonal foundation of masculinity.
Is this not ridiculous? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.