‘Men Are Back’ – but where did they go?

Sheryl Plant ponders two recent advertising campaigns from McDonalds and Peugeot 407 which portray a world dominated by women.

, 4 March 2006

When it comes to identifying growing trends in society, advertising is always a useful first indication, as it is advertising that actively (in an attempt to sell us a product) tells us the ‘correct’ way to act, the ‘correct’ way to behave. Also, in its attempt to appeal to as many viewers as possible, it exaggerates trends and stereotypes, blowing them up and shoving them into everybody’s face. Advertising is the barometer of society’s desires, because it is created purely to channel our aspirations, to make us believe that if we buy a particular product we will become everything we want to be; be it successful, beautiful, sexy, or just plain comforted.

In recent months two particular advertising campaigns have demonstrated a new trend; they create a ‘place of comfort’ for men in identity crisis because of feminism, and both demonstrate a backlash to the matriarchal world feminism has, in their view, apparently created.

they create a ‘place of comfort’ for men in identity crisis

There is the new McDonald’s ad. In this ad a young man walks down the street, telling us how much has changed in recent years; he talks of how now women can be builders and can wolf-whistle at some poor unsuspecting man on the street, that women now go to work and earn all the money. As he does so good looking women wander past, giving him the sexually predatorial eye; he looks into a big manly truck and a brunette female builder (she is again very attractive) eyes him up from behind her hard hat, that is slightly tilted over her face as she attempts to get some shut eye. He is suggesting that woman has taken over what is and what always should be a ‘man’s’ world. The boot is on the other foot, so he reckons. Then the ad shows two slightly wimpy looking men in the Mcdonalds window, both with relieved expressions as they sit down to their Mcdonalds, because in Mcdonalds they can still eat big meaty burgers, and revel in their male bonding.

The point of the ad is that regardless of the women taking over, it is all ok, because with McDonald’s you can get meaty, manly burgers, and escape from the oestrogen-fuelled, matriachal state that is now our society.

There is also the Peugeot 407 Coupe advert that suggests again that our society has become a matriachal state where women dominate. This world is full of high heels, make up, skirts and well, lots of stunningly beautiful women seemingly walking to work and not a single male in sight. But again at the end, it is all right because the Peugeot (a.k.a. phallic symbol with four wheels) zooms into view with Lynda Lyndell’s ‘Whatta Man’ playing in the background, and we are told that ‘Men are Back,’ in big, black, thick writing, not unlike the titles of an testosterone-fuelled action movie. Meanwhile, an attractive blonde woman looks on jaw-droppingly shocked but curious as to what this sleek, shiny, silver, sharklike beast may be and who might be driving it. The implication is that it is a man driving the car and due to the matriarchal state they are living in, these women don’t know what men are.

an attractive blonde woman looks on jaw-droppingly shocked but curious

There are various elements of these two adverts I find offensive. There is the continuation of gender stereotypes in the respect that what is male is ‘meaty’ and what is female is ‘high-heeled,’ when in reality this is far from the case. Treating men and women as opposties in this way is drastically unhealthy as we should learn to embrace both the ‘feminine’ and the ‘masculine’ sides of our personalities – if we learnt to do this perhaps it would curb male aggression and also release women from victim status.

The continuation of gender stereotypes isn’t even my most major gripe, as gender stereotypes are ingrained into our pysches and cannot be easily thrown off. Suffice to say many feminist women still adhere to gender stereotypes because that is what they have been taught through life as to how they are meant to behave.

No, my major gripes are firstly, the suggestion that women have taken over and created a matriarchal society. Statistics would suggest this is not the case at all, women are still paid less than men, men still hold the highest positions in the workplace and domestic violence is endemic. Secondly, the suggestion that women taking over is wrong and that men should fight back and reclaim what is truely theirs.

the suggestion is that women have taken over and created a matriarchal society

This assumption is extremely negative to the feminist cause, as it labels all feminists as power-hungry beasts salivating over their next step to victory over men. In fact this was never the goal of feminism, the goal of feminism was (and is) equality.

We haven’t even gained that yet and men are apparently panicking that we are going to take over and suffering an identity crisis because they no longer know their place. The ad also continues the idea that man should be in charge, that it is the ‘natural order’ and there is nothing that us women can do about it.

What is so wrong with women being in positions of power, alongside men? Many of the qualities that women stereotypically posess are in fact highly important when it comes to leadership; compassion, tenderness, understanding of others, effciency, the ability to organise and juggle various tasks all at once. Perhaps that is what freaks these men out so much, they think that women might actually be able to do a better job than them, and so strive even harder to keep women down.

Thirdly, even in the apparently matriarchal societies shown in the aforementioned ads, the women still retain sex object status. For example, the women in all the ads are very beautiful, well-dressed with long gazelle-like limbs, and more specifically the blonde woman who looks on shocked but with an intrigued little smile in the Peugeot 407 advert suggests that women actually enjoy their place as bimbo sex object, while men retain their masculine power, because of course that is the ‘natural order’ and what women truly prefer.

even in the matriarchal societies, the women still retain sex object status

According to Dean Drew, director for advertising at Peugeot, the theme of the commercial is to show the 407 Coupe as a car that’s particularly ‘masculine’, not ‘macho’. He wanted to “reaffirm male values, rather than male domination.”

Regardless of the obsession with reaffirming supposed ‘male values’ (which surely revolves around what is patriarchal, i.e. power, strength, and dare I say it, domination, although Drew seems to have forgotten this little connection) apparently, this ad is also expected to attract more women to the new, ‘glamorous’ Peugeot. Although it is worth noting that 75 per cent of customers who bought the previous 406 Coupe were men. Not really a surprise, as the PR company seems intent on marketing the vehicle as a phallus substitute.

But am I critiquing reality here, or is this simply the world of advertising? As Webzine ‘The Friday thing’ notes, in a column on this ad, advertising is “all high speed and big money, and runs on testosterone; as with several other industries it’s got a swaggering masculinity about it, meaning that in general it simply aligns itself more readily with men who enjoy the feeling of being very male.” But as I mentioned previously, advertising simply exaggerates current trends in our society.

what does this ‘Men are Back’ mean?

So what does this ‘Men are Back’ mean? Does it mean that the ‘new domestic, sensitive man,’ made infamous in the eighties is now dead? But surely the advent of the lad mag killed him stone dead ten years ago? Does it mean that feminism is now dead and that the male is now taking back what is truly his so we women had better stop bothering? Does it mean that u

we women even enjoy this male reassertion, because we are simply returning to the ‘natural order’ anyway, and you know, we women do prefer it because after all that striving for power we are just timid little things that need looking after.

Whatever it means, it is wrong; men never went away and it was never the intention of feminism to make them go away. This whole male identity crisis, if it exists, is based around a complete misunderstanding.

The adverts are not only irritating for women but also somewhat embarrassing for men. Any man actually secure in himself won’t freak out at seeing a completely unrealistic female dominated world for three minutes and start to assume there is no place for him and his identity, if anything, judging by lad mag stereotypes, he would probably quite enjoy watching the herds of beautiful legs stomping to work. Because neither of the ads described above is reality. In reality women are still abused, dominated, controlled, and in many countries still seen as property and as second class citizens in comparison to men. Now what is the point in having an identity ‘we men have no place in modern matriarchal society’ crisis over that?

Sheryl Plant is a contributor to The F Word.

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