“We can thank Levi Strauss & Co. for a new Dockers ad campaign that weaves sexism and homophobia into a pitch for pants,” says The Boston Herald’s Lauren Beckham Falcone. Similar sentiments are being echoed in print media across the nation and scathing condemnations have gone viral on the internet, particularly on feminists websites.
“It’s time to answer the call of manhood,” the ad says, “It’s time to wear the pants.”
It’s a pretty straight forward pitch. Reactions to it have ranged from tepid to histrionic, with a growing amount of traction for the latter.
Falcone asserts that Levi Strauss is “..waxing romantic about the days of submissive ladies and alpha males..”
It’s a fairly moderate statement compared to offerings of walletpop.com writer Jami Bernard, who says, ““Wear the pants” is a call to arms, even when used jokingly, that says the only way to be a man is to put women in their place.”
Bernhard further castigates Strauss’s campaign as tantamount to rejecting women’s suffrage and a desire to relegate women to vacuuming and other “womanly” duties.
Those pants pack quite a wallop.
Intertwined with the allegations of misogyny and homophobia are cursory, glancing blows at the commercialization of masculinity, and sometimes embracing it. Amanda Hess of The Washington City Paper writes, “For all the absurd fashion and beauty trends thrown at women, as gender-essentials, it’s refreshing that men, too, are being encouraged to satisfy societies gender norms by shelling out $70 for a pair of pants.”
Hess may have a point, but as far as gender-essentials go, cars and homes, which men are routinely measured by, run a lot more than lipstick and mascara.
Still, there are problems with the ad to be sure. Masculinity doesn’t have a dress code and can’t be purchased off the rack. But demonizing Levi Strauss for that stretches reason and fairness to the breaking point.
Traditional masculinity has been sold in cans of beer, bottles of aftershave, sticks of deodorant and a plethora of other products for ages, ever counting on men to head out and shop for those things in Chevy Tough Trucks.
The real men buy our product pitch isn’t new, and hasn’t raised eyebrows in the past.
No, it’s something else that makes Dockers campaign different, and it has painted a target on the company, with detractors happily adjusting their sights to zero in on the kill shot.
The reason, the real reason, for all this outrage, pretty much boils down two key phrases in the ad.
“The world decided it no longer needed men.”
And, following that,
“There are questions our genderless society has no answers for.”
There’s the ideological bombshell. It is the politically incorrect, but completely cogent idea that the loss of traditional masculinity has a higher price tag than a pair of trousers. It’s a common sense reality that nonetheless has a lot of people outraged, and fearful, that anyone would express a positive regard for traditional men.
To understand that anger and fear, we must understand that there is much more that drives it than is on the surface, just as there is much more to be gleaned from the meaning of the ad than can be achieved with literalistic reductionism.
Levi Strauss & Co. are drawing fire because, intentionally or not, the company challenged an orthodoxy that sees traditional men as evil, and old school masculinity as something that required reengineering into the feminized model that more and more men are emulating today. This gender Zeitgeist includes the advertisers. They are in the upper echelons of movers and shakers in the world that “decided it no longer needed men.” At least not as they were born to be. Those that embraced that kind of thinking are largely the same people making all the noise right now.
So if we are going to honestly dissect and evaluate what is happening here, it helps to understand that the outcry about the Dockers ad isn’t a reaction to sexism, but indisputable evidence of it in those complaining.
Their indignation isn’t because there is sexism in the ad, but because it is the wrong kind of sexism. Their contempt is a backlash fueled by misandry- the hatred of men and boys. For it is misandry, not misogyny that has become the gold standard of advertisers. And it became institutionalized in the mainstream media the moment they figured out there was a fortune in it.
One might ask where the voices of Falcone, Bernard and Hess were when Fedex and Pepsi used images of Burt Reynolds and Justin Timberlake, respectively, getting their genitalia smashed as a sight gag in television commercials?
Quiet as church mice, perhaps?
They are just a small part of the deafening media silence as men have become the punching bags of choice in pitching everything from bathroom cleaners to breakfast cereal. The latest offering is a commercial from Anheuser-Busch that depicts a woman, with an unmistakable sadistic glint in her eyes, fixing a boutonnière to her husbands lapel with a nail gun, while he is wearing the jacket.
Then, of course, once done with the flower, she wants to take it further and use the same nail gun to repair the zipper in the pants he’s wearing. Were it not for the implications of a faulty zipper, it could have doubled as a Dockers ad.
And no one would have said a word, just as they are saying nothing about the Busch commercial.
By the way, Anheuser-Busch’s Mr. Masculine, who grimaced and flinched as nails were driven into his body, actually managed to say “no” to driving them into his crotch. But the commercial ends with her still going for it.
The point has again been made. Sexually mutilating men is funny, and profitable. It is such an effective tool in the arsenal of advertisers that it can be used to sell veal to a vegan.
Keep in mind that this was a beer commercial broadcast during a pro football game. Again, veal to a vegan.
Where physical abuse isn’t employed, humiliation often is. It’s routine to portray men in commercials as one dimensional idiots who couldn’t pick an analgesic without a lecture and close supervision from their wives. Men have become, in the eyes of ad execs and consumers everywhere, the weakened, less-than-masculine objects of ridicule that the Dockers ad points to as a problem.
And while Levi Strauss & Co. stopped short of getting the message 100% correct, the company has nonetheless taken a big step away from the redundant misandry of the advertising industry– and have agitated the prevailing powers in the process.
It’s a groundbreaking step in the right direction.
It is also a step that will foster more reactions. Admonitions will be issued and boycotts will be called for. Pressure will be brought to bear to compel a retreat from the campaign.
Let us hope they are not successful. For if they are, the net result will be Levi Strauss learning all the wrong lessons. It will force the company to abandon something quite rare these days, an intelligent and thoughtful ad campaign, and send it back to a world where nail guns and kicks to the crotch are considered enlightened advertising.
It will send Levi Strauss back to a world that no longer needs men.
And if Strauss is concerned about that world, as it appears to be, it will eventually understand that the time for measuring men by compliance with forced chivalry has passed; that men have intrinsic worth that transcends mere utility to women. But if given simple respect; a modicum of dignity, they will protect women with their very lives. Men didn’t get that from a code of chivalry. It is, and always has been, in their nature. Chivalry is just a label; a tag put on the actions of men to define what was already there.
Let’s hope that the Strauss Co. will see that assuming that what is happening to men is of their own making, reflects, however well intended, the very sexism against men that created all these problems.
But above all let’s Hope that the good people of Levy Strauss & Co. see that the forces that are lashing out with such vitriol at their ad campaign today have been lashing out at men and boys for the last forty years, and that they see, once and for all, that it is time for it to stop.
The company will need courage and conviction to do that. But that shouldn’t present a problem. Courage and conviction are just two of many things that come with wearing the pants.