Men Stereotyping Men [Red-blooded American Sexist, Part 1]

Disembodied Womanparts, Yay!
What kind of man misogynist are you?

Right now the comics blogsphere is abuzz with criticisms of Wizard Magazine’s latest disaster: their How to Draw series. Well, perhaps not latest, as it seems that there have been complaints about this series for a while now.

Following a trail of links, I came across a 2005 post by LJ user Rat Creature. Which lead me to a link about the “Triple Threat” — which, contrary to what it sounds like, is not a wrestling move. The triple threat, of course, references the three ways (boobs, butt, legs) in red-blooded American guys objectify view women! The blurb that I will be tearing apart can be found here (JPG). For reference, the person writing it is Joseph Lisner, known for drawing Dawn.

I’ve actually split this analysis into three sections, the first of which will deal with the way that Lisner constructs American masculinity.

I. Introduction: Red-blooded American Masculinity

I’m somewhat surprised that Linser managed to pack in so many negative stereotypes about men into such a small space. I know I’ve said this before, but articles like these make me realize how stupid it is to call feminists man-haters — those who buy wholesale into the Western construction of masculinity do far more in the way of painting men negatively than feminists ever could. Anyway, let’s see what tropes he has brought out this time.

II. Men as Beasts

What about the opposite sex hits me like lightning and instantly shatters my self control?

This trope is used everywhere from journal articles about rape (the good old “boys will be boys” defense) to abstinence only education (“you gotta hold on to your virginity, girls, because those men are beasts who would take it without a second thought!”). One reason I think this one is used and abused by men is because it acts as a “get out of responsibility free” card — “I can’t be held accountable for my behaviour, Your Honor, after all I’m a man and she’s a woman!” kind of deal. Men lose their self control around women and become these sexual beasts who can only think of the woman sexually and, sometimes, will go to any length to get what they want.

But, really, what does that say about men? That y’all are, deep down inside, horrible people? That you have no more control over yourselves than a baby does over its bladder? Is this really a view of manhood that’s worth perpetuating?

III. Men as Buffoons

To any female artists out there reading this, if you’re looking for some cosmic insight the best I can say is “good luck.” Please don’t ask me about the feminine/masculine mystery… I’m just as lost as the next guy–I’m only following my nose.

This one is somewhat less insidious than the “Men as Beasts” trope, but is similarly used to abdicate responsibility for bad behaviour (see the Ellison incident). You can see this in other areas, too, such as domestic product commercials that feature men — you know those ones where the man is responsible for cleaning up, or cooking dinner, or whatever and he botches it so badly that you wonder how he got through life without accidently killing himself from sheer stupidity.

Though presented in a comical fashion, the underlying message here is that men are just large children. As I mentioned above, this can be played to men’s advantage in certain situations, but overall I’d say that most men recognize this stereotype as insulting. Too bad Lisner isn’t one of those men.

IV. Men as Simple

In America, men usually like to keep it simple and break down their preferences into three basic groups.

A variation of the “Men as Buffoons” trope, this one is about simplicity. Sometimes this is “men are simple minded” and sometimes it’s “men like things simple,” though in the above instance I’d argue it’s a bit of both. I’m not exactly sure what benefit this trope gives to men, but I’ve seen it used often in a way that presents men as wanting to avoid having to think, which implies that they don’t have high intelligence.

V. Men as Pigs

Yeah, yeah, yeah men are such pigs (smart men never argue this one).

Which brings us to the last stereotype that I could find in the article: men revel in their own misogyny. This one is, in some ways, a combination of the “Men as Beasts” and the “Men as Buffons” tropes. It has that “men are naturally beastly,” element of the former while throwing in that bit of “aren’t I a naughty little boy?” inherent in the latter to act as a deflection of any criticism that could be lobbed at them for misogynistic behaviour. In terms of negative stereotypes — well, the last time I checked, men don’t exactly like being labelled women haters, and even if this on the surface deflects such criticism, I just can’t see it as a good thing to pretend that men naturally hate women.

V. Conclusion

Lisner did not invent these constructs, but that he so naturally employs them in order to form a sort of “buddy-buddy” relationship with the (presumably male) reader is rather disturbing. The tropes that he employs are harmful to both women and men, and serve to reinforce this strange dichotomy where men are on the one hand portrayed as the rational, logical gender and on the other hand portrayed as beastly children who have no self control.

Alpha Males, Calling Out, and Frown Power

In the comments of my earlier post on the idea of alpha males jeffliveshere asks:

What would be an example of a man calling another man on sexism that doesn’t also fall into the problem of domination hierarchies–if, indeed, we (men, women and those of other genders) find ourselves steeped in them like fish swim in water?

The Problem of Domination Hierarchies

Feminist men calling other men out on sexism are invariably going to be employing forms of privilege. Simply by virtue of being male, they are going to provoke a different reaction than women would – often this is going to mean that they are paid more attention to, either because their audience is prone to dismissing women or because it’s not seen to be in a man’s self-interest to call out sexism. This privilege is, in fact, one of the main reasons why it’s so important that men as well as women call out sexism.

When fighting sexism, is there a difference between using one’s status as a man to be listened to and using one’s status in a dominance hierarchy? Should we consider it acceptable to use forms of persuasion that we would otherwise consider abusive, because they’re being used for subversive ends? I’m not sure on this one – I can’t decide whether some uses of patriarchal institutions to fight sexism do more good than harm.

Confrontation and Personality

Hugo Schwyzer weighs in on the alpha males confronting sexism issue as well, saying (among other things), that our personality influences our feminism:

And then there’s the other obvious issue, one which Jeff and others have addressed, of personality differences. Not all feminist men are the same! To use Myers-Briggs language, those of us who are Es (extroverts, I’m ENFP) are going to meet challenges differently than I’s (introverts). I doubt anyone has done a typology of feminist men to discover if those of us active in the movement have personality characteristics different from the population at large! I’m certain, and indeed, I know from experience that feminist men have widely varying degrees of comfort with issues like public speaking, leadership, and confrontation.

Somehow, feminist men have to be committed to putting that belief into action. But the actions we take, particularly in our relationships with others, are going to be largely congruent not only with our politics but with our personalities.

I’m pleased to hear this coming from Hugo, who in the past has failed to acknowledge that we’re not all as gregarious as he. And I concur completely, and disagree with the argument that “beta males” can’t be feminist because their personalities and their politics would conflict. I think there are plenty ways to tailor one’s fighting of patriarchy to one’s personality without compromising effectiveness.

So, getting back to jeffliveshere’s question: what are ways that feminist men can confront sexism that (a) don’t reinforce a domination hierarchy; and (b) don’t rely on a feminist man being strongly extroverted and confrontational?

Frown Power

One way to fight sexism (and racism, classism, or any abuse of privilege) without resorting to is through the use of “frown power.” The idea is credited to Stetson Kennedy, and it’s a simple one – pointedly frown at people who are being sexist. I usually say something as well along the lines of “dude, not cool” (in my best Jorge Garcia impression). The idea is to express social disapproval of the act (not the person, which is another reason to add the vocal component). This doesn’t reinforce a dominance hierarchy because the message is one of peer disapproval rather than of asserting dominance, and it’s a lot less taxing on the introvert than a long tirade.

Not relying on a hierarchy of dominance also means that I can call out sexism in situations that would otherwise raise some troubling intersection problems. One of the places I encounter overt sexism most often (or am at least most aware of it) is when I’m riding on the bus. Most of the time it’s coming from either kids on their way to the mall, or factory workers returning from a shift. Neither group is going to listen to a lecture from the white guy in dress shirt and slacks, but if I react as their peer, the message might not be so easily dismissed.

The other advantage of “frown power” is that there’s really no way to fight it without looking like a fool. If I’ve expressed myself with merely a frown and and a “not cool” in psst-your-fly-is-open tones, what response is there? Arguments, threats, etc. make them the one who’s overreacting. If they argue that their sexism “is too cool,” they look dumb – as we all know, coolness is like humor in that if you have to explain it, it’s not there.

The Temptation of Passivity

Returning to Hugo’s post:

Feminist men must avoid several temptations: the temptation to passivity as well as the temptation to play the role of the “white knight” chief among them! Based on personality traits, some men will find it difficult to summon the courage to speak out; others will find it difficult not to fall into traditional masculine roles like that of the Hero or the Rescuer. Most of us will make mistakes along the way, but learning to be as gentle and harmless as doves — while retaining “serpent wisdom” — is a good place to start.

There is certainly a potential criticism in “frown power” that it creates the “temptation of passivity” – that because it’s easier for some of us to simply frown at people, we’ll forgo more direct confrontation even when it’s called for. I don’t believe this is a big problem – I think it’ll encourage more people to act for equality, and that in turn will encourage the people to more directly confront these issues, knowing that society’s got their back.

More Ideas?

What ways do you all call out sexism in your life? What have you found works (for whatever definition of “works” you care to use), and what doesn’t?

"Alpha" and "Beta" Males

Jeff over at Feminist Allies has a series of posts up on the intersection between feminism and “alpha males.” In his latest post (part three of the series), he writes:

The first prominent train of thought in this regard is along the lines of “the term “alpha male” is just too fuzzy a term (or is an inappropriate term, or is the out-and-out wrong term to use here)” to the point that, rather than helping us understand the realationships between men (and women, and those of other various genders) and feminism, it actually gets in the way.

I’m all aboard this train of thought; I’m never exactly sure what “alpha male” means at any given time. Sometimes it seems to be an application of observations about animal behavior to humans (the “evo-psych definition”); other times it seems to be more a way of dividing people up into “winners” and “losers” (the “ranking definition”).

The Evo-Psych Definition

The evo-psych definition is adapted from whatever other animals fit the speaker’s stereotypes; the Wikipedia entry on the subject refers to chimpanzees and canines.

I think one of the most telling aspects of evolutionary psychology is how we often compare different genders to different species. Men are compared to wolves; women are compared to birds; both are compared to whatever species of primate supports the author’s point.

The Ranking Definition

More often, though, “alpha male” is simply used in a loose sense to denote a set of traits which are loosely correlated at best. This is the conventional definition that people, even those who don’t buy into the evo-psych basis, throw around. Alpha males are rich, powerful, strong, confident, good-looking, extroverted, popular, aggressive, attractive leaders. “Beta males,” by inference, lack these qualities.

Jeff writes:

And yet–we do have to consider that people throw this term around as if it does mean something definite, as if it were something simple and easy to recognize (or create in yourself).

I don’t agree that because people use the term, there’s something to it. By lumping disparate characteristics into a single category, associations between them are supported or fabricated. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: we expect men who meet a few of these standards to meet the rest, and so we assume the qualities that aren’t there. Also implicit in this definition (and reinforced by the overtones of Brave New World) is the idea of a hierarchy – alpha males are seen as superior to beta males, and beta males are expected to aspire to become alpha males. Alpha males are “winners”; beta males are “losers”. Who wants to be a loser?

“Alpha Males” and Feminism

The context of these discussions is how the categories of “alpha male” and feminist intersect. Jeff’s point in his first post was that the two categories are incompatible insofar as “alpha male” establishes a hierarchy of domination:

Given the flavors of feminism that I tend to embrace, the very notion of the ‘alpha male’–here used in a loose way, like most people use it, I think–can be seen as anti-feminist inasmuch as one’s feminism embraces non-dominance/hierarchic thinking and one’s alpha male-ness embraces domanance/hierarchy.

I think it’s no coincidence that a Google search for “alpha male” turns up a lot of “seduction” sites, often explicitly anti-feminist, telling men how to procure the attention, affection, and bodies of women by acting like an “alpha male.” The idea of “alpha male,” no matter whether we’re using an evo-psych or ranking definition, is inextricably tied up in anti-feminist ideas of access and entitlement to women. It’s also implicit in a lot of the denials of male privilege out there – the claim is that male privilege is reserved for the “alphas”, and therefore isn’t really about gender at all.

Over on Alas, Stentor turns the argument around and asks can “beta males” be pro-feminists? His argument:

Looking at the feminist and (pro)feminist responses to the alpha male question, though, it seems that it’s alpha male (pro)feminists whose existence is unproblematic. Indeed, the paradigm case of (pro)feminist action — boldly calling out another man on his sexist behavior — is also a classically alpha male act. So perhaps we should be asking whether it’s possible for beta males to be (pro)feminists.

It’s an interesting comeback, but not one I can support. For one thing, it’s very rooted in extrovert privilege; while feminism is typically going to involve men abandoning a comfortable status quo, and shyness is not an excuse to condone sexism, I don’t believe it should be required for introverts to act like extroverts to be accepted as feminists. For another, it’s a fallacy to think that the only way one can call another man out on sexism is with “alpha male” tactics. And, of course, it still perpetuates the alpha/beta hierarchy, which to my mind is incompatible with feminism.

It’s been proposed that, instead of distinguishing between “alpha” and “beta”, we focus on the distinction between “aggressive” and “assertive.” I like this distinction better insofar as it focuses on classifying behaviors rather than people.

I am so glad I stopped eating BK

No, Burger King (BK) does not have the monopoly on awful advertising. Not by a long shot. But this new commercial combines sexism, racism, and probably a whole lot of other -isms that my mind wants to blank out into one nasty little package. I just… yeah. Didn’t Carl’s Jr. try this one before? And Jack in the Box? And, like, didn’t it fail? Miserably?

Shame on me for trying to apply Earth Logic to Marketing! I should know better, really. But, in all seriousness, this commercial is just plain bad. I don’t mean to pick on Burger King (well, I sort of do), but it’s making the rounds on ther internet (elsewise I never would have seen it, me being in Japan and all), and I can’t help but put my two cents in. Two cents that should be studying my kanji, but, hey, I got all but the hardest combinations right when my study partner quizzed me. I deserve a break.

So, without further ado, let’s begin with the analysis.

I. Pandering to the Caveman Mentality

Punching is Manly!Rarely have I seen such contempt shown for men as when they are portrayed as what I can only describe as “cavemen.” Uncivilized at heart, barely above animals (and, to be sure, in the minds of the person making the connections, animals are base creatures without intelligence), who have no real control over their actions. They’re men, after all!

The tagline, “I am Man, hear me roar!” (a dig at the feminist saying, as one feminist LJ commenter speculated?) sets the stage for the “caveman mentality”. Roaring, as we all know, is associated with lions (which also asserts men as “king of the jungle” — which, naturally, is to show that they are still supreme despite being closer to the animal kingdom than women). To further the lion analogy, the lines “‘Cause my stomach’s startin’ to growl, and I’m goin’ on the prowl,” show up.

Amidst all this prowling is two “manly men” punching each other in the stomach — male bonding, how quaint! And some guy ripping off his tighty whities and burning them. Given the “I am Man, hear me roar!” thing, I have to wonder if this is not another jab at feminism. The whole commercial is, after all, a backlash against the strains of feminist thought that say it’s okay (and — dare I say it? — good) not to succumb to the caveman mentality if you don’t want to.

And, really, we can’t forget the necessary “property destruction” part where they throw a guy’s van into a dump truck. For added bonus, the truck is being pulled by a man trying to get his “prize” — a whopper, of course! How manly! How virile! How… stereotyped. But, alas, you men just aren’t manly enough if you don’t buy into the caveman mentality.

II. Meat or Death!

Tofu... blechLater on I will discuss more in depth the role of “chick food” in the commercial, but here I would like to point out here that the entire premise of the commercial is based on conflating burgers with “MAN FOOD”. And, true to the Caveman Mentality, MAN FOOD (yes, it must always be in all caps) is meat. Red. Juicy. Meat. Mmm, manly. Of course, if one actually thinks about it, the BK whopper is a far cry from a steak which, in itself, is a far cry from what animals, or even our esteemed ancestors, ate. But, well, I’ve already established that logic has no place in commercials; it’s all about creating an emotional connection between your viewer and the product you want to sell.

So, back to the whole MAN FOOD thing. In order to set this up, the BK marketing team has chosen to go with an effective tactic: the dichotomy. People love simplicity, and what’s more simple than an “Us vs. Them” mentality? In this case, several dichotomies are set up. I’ll talk about the “chick food”/”dick food” dichotomy in the section on women in the commercial, but here I’d like to talk about the unseen dichotomy: carnivores versus vegetarians.

I am no expert on any form of vegetarianism (but perhaps Ariel will weigh in with her opinions on the matter?). I love meat. I love it so much that I’ve jokingly said on several occassions that I was a carnivore. However, this isn’t just pushing meat as a healthy part of a non-veg*n (catch all phrase for the multiple kinds of vegetarianism) lifestyle. It’s pushing it to the exclusion of foods associated with health, namely salads and tofu (they mention quiche, too, but I don’t know how healthy/not healthy it is supposed to be).

Seeing as men already have a tenuous relationship with their own health, I see this as a problem. A big problem. While I may find networks “for men” like Spike questionable in many areas (as I find their female counterparts, like Lifetime), one thing I noticed while getting my Star Trek fix is that the station will often emphasise the fact that men should take care of their health. They challenge the stereotype that it’s “unmanly” to take care of one’s health, often by advocating the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. I have always thought that this was a good thing — men deserve to not be shamed into leading harmful lifestyles.

What BK does with this commercial, however, is chip away at the progress that stations such as Spike have made. They quite obviously draw the line between “healthy” food (tofu, especially, is the poster child for “healthy food”) and MAN FOOD, namely BK’s burgers. And, you know what, I don’t think that’s cool. As someone who loves burgers, I don’t like one of my favourite foods being used to shame men into thinking that if they aren’t “carnivores” then they are less manly. I, frankly, see it as BK emasculating men who don’t want to buy their product. And, really, if anyone is going to be emasculating men around here it should be us feminists. I’m kidding! Jeez, y’all can’t take a joke. What are you, a bunch of humourless feminists? Ha, ha. But I’m serious about the BK thing. And that’s not cool.

III. The Sexualization of Meat

Eat This Meat!Meat already is tied to sexuality in our culture. Phrases like, “beating the/your/my meat,” are euphemisms for male masturbation. “Man meat” referrs to a phallus. Do I even need to go into all the sausage and hot dog references? Bottom line: meat is, in most Westerner’s minds, linked to sexuality, especially male sexuality.

Earlier I referenced a line in the jingle about “going on the prowl.” In the animal kingdom, this means hunting for food. For humans, however, it often means hunting for sex — most often used to describe men seeking out women. Already, here, burgers are linked with sex and conquest. Which puts burgers on the same level of women. Or, I suppose I should say, women on the same level as burgers. It’s not an overt objectification (that comes a bit later), but it is, I would argue, an objectification of women.

At another point, the lyrics go, “I will eat this meat,” and a large banner unfurls that says, “Eat this meat,” which has another one next to it saying, “I am man.” Now, dirty minded that I am, the first thing i thought of was some homoerotic action. Which, given the context of the commercial, I doubt BK would imply. Only heterosexual men deserve to eat whoppers, after all (must… resist… writing… on caveman mentality and heterosexism……). But, the first three times through, every time I saw that sign, it looked sexual to me. Now that I have to stop and analyse it, I’m sort of at a loss. Do any of y’all have thoughts on the matter?

IV. Happy Asian American Heritage Month!

All Asians know kung fu!Oh, yes, they went there. I find it subtly ironic that this little section appears in the commercial during Asian American Heritage Month (which, if I’m a good person, I’ll blog about before the end of the month). For those of you who missed it, I highly recommend watching A Chink in the Armour, which addresses (among other things) the false notion that “every Asian knows kung fu.”

But, I mean, come on, the only visible Asian American in the entire crowd and BK has to do that? And I noticed that he’s the only prominent suit wearer. There were only two others I could find — one (white looking) guy in the lineup who bare their manly arm muscles while bringing the burger to their mouthes (maybe I should have mentioned that in the caveman section?), and the other was a black man in what looks to me like a white leisure suit. Forgive me if the terminology is wrong.

I guess, if one was a fan of using stereotypes to fight stereotypes, you could see it as the AAM (Asian American Man) asserting his virility. He can be part of the caveman mob mentality, too! But maybe just him, as there didn’t seem to be any other Asians around. Of course, if one was more cynical like me, you could see it as reinforcing the asexual kung fu master stereotype without gainfully challenging any other stereotype associated with Asians. And since I am cynical like myself, I’m going with the latter interpretation.

V. What about the women?

Claim your PrizeThe commercial is, unsurprisingly, devoid of women. It’s about men, after all. However, it does make the few women present stand out. The first of whom is the assumed girlfriend of our protagonist. The implication is that she forced her carnivore boyfriend into eating at a fancy restaurant — excuse me, a women’s restaurant, which serves chick food. Although why they would serve chickens the kind of food displayed in the commercial is beyond me. I joke, I joke.

Seriously, though, Luke of Real Men Are Not (RMAN) comments on the potential harms of using the “chick food”/”dick food” dichotomy:

I really get tired of the old “men are carnivores” thing because on the flip-side it tells women to eat….guess what, SALADS. We know now, of course, that for reasons of anemia and what not, women and young girls should actually be eating more red meat but no, that’s not what the King with that chesire cat grin on his face would have you believe.

On the livejournal forums, other discussions on the implications of the “chick food” (salads, quiche, tofu… “rabbit food” as one commenter describes it) can be found here, here, and here (snark at the fact that BK used to offer vegetarian hamburgers).

The other woman, like the first, is only seen for a split second. She is the keeper of the prize — the hamburger. Much like the women at racing shows, E3’s booth babes, and other “acceptable” female jobs in male-dominated fields, I believe that this woman’s main appeal is to show off the hamburger. I must say, however, I am a bit stumped as to why they chose the woman (who does not fit the standards of beauty that I have seen levied on others of her profession type), or the outfit (which, to me, makes her seem more asexual than sexual). Is it to not detract from the focus — that of the burger? Is it that she is the kind of real woman seen in the kinds of events that the man is mimicing? Am I missing something important?

While not unexpected at all, the use of the two women in this commercial bothers me. I would much rather not have any women at all — and, seeing as the commercial specifically targets men, I don’t see why they strictly need to be there — rather than used to first set men apart (and above) and then being nothing more than decoration for the product that BK is selling. But, I suppose it is a relatively minor point when compared to the gross abuses of masculinities that BK has used throughout the commercial (thank you gender caste and gender cultism!).

VI. Conclusion

“I am a man”? All I have to say, BK, is if this is what you think men are, then you and your crack marketing team hate men a lot more than I ever could. I mean, at least I’m not out to kill them, which is more than I can say for this ad campaign.

Seriously, for all the men who read this blog, are you not insulted by this? Like, honestly? And if not, then why the hell not? Y’all are better than all this bullshit, and I know that for a fact.