Here’s something that sucks.

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.


7 thoughts on “Here’s something that sucks.

  1. I had a similar reaction to this ad, and to the general tone of the Superbowl ads this year – there were half a dozen or more that implicated “threatened” masculinity in some way or another. Seemed both more blatant and more prevalent than in recent years. I blame the economy.

  2. I agree with Abby. Consider that the end of Q3 2009, the jobless rate for men was 10.5% compared to 8.7% for women. The gap is expected to widen through year end 09 and into 2010. Longer term forecasts predict continued losses in male dominated employment sectors like manufacturing, construction, etc.; female dominated fields like heath care and education are likely to be much more resilient. Clearly every ad agency read the same market research: American men have been emasculated by the financial crisis and are primed to buy their manhood back, in the form pants, cars, and not so subtle jabs at their bread winning female counterparts. I sound eerily like a feminist so I will stop now before i make myself sick.


  3. Yeah, there’s been no shortage of “man-cession” pieces in the New York Times. I’d like to know how underemployment is distributed across “male” and “female” professions, and what their respective benefits situations are. It’s also worth noting that categorizing fields by gender masks what is a much more complicated job picture that fractures along racial lines as well.

    So Catherine, how do you sleep at night having taken a job in finance away from a man?

  4. You said it! I can’t analyze the ad any more eloquently than you do in your post, but I was offended by the sexism and homophobia in the Super Bowl ad last night, too (as well as other ads – seems like last night was all about reasserting normative masculinity). Dockers should be ashamed of themselves. And if I had ever been a customer of them, which I’m not, I would certainly boycott them now.

    As for the economy, I’ve read pieces that state that women are more affected by layoffs than men. Women are in lower-paying, less secure jobs to start with, often working part-time without benefits and juggling family responsibilities, so they are the first to go when bosses start cutting costs. Not that it doesnt’ suck for anybody to lose their job, but I’m just commenting on the above posts.

    (Great blog, by the way!)

  5. I think the trend Kelly points out, women holding lower paying, lower benefit, less secure positions is predominantly a result of the changing nature of employment in America. Compare these employees to union workers and their defined benefit pensions from days of yore. Jobs of the latter sort were predominantly in the sectors that have been declining in the last couple decades and/or those that have been hit hardest by the recent financial crisis. To summarize, the women of America are holding the jobs of the future, and those jobs suck. I leave Dan to propose a policy solution…

    Dan, I’m assuming your last question was rhetorical. How do I sleep at night knowing I’ve emasculated a (conservative estimate) white, upper middle class, top tier educated, heterosexual man? Like a rock.

  6. Catherine, need I point out that you hail from the genteel suburbs of Chicago, hold two Ivy League degrees, and are easily the most heterosexual person I know? Anyway, to me you’re still the Norma Rae of Philadelphia finance, whatever that means.

  7. Pingback: Quickie. | Ye Olde Royle Blog

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