Why do men constantly need to be reminded they’re, er, men?
The other day, a friend of mine was doing some shopping at our local store and ran into the most ridiculous product we’ve ever seen: Dude Wipes.
Dude Wipes are toilet paper wipes made for men. Because, you see, regular wipes are clearly made for women, and using them will be automatically gender-altering. I knew this could only be the tip of the terrible, terrible iceberg, so I kept digging. From mandles (man candles) to throat lozenges for man flu and Colgate toothpaste that reassures men it’s made just for them, there was an overabundance of ridiculously gendered products that can only exist for one reason.
We women spend our entire lives teaching ourselves that stepping one foot out of line lowers our right to claim femininity in any form. We have to wear perfume, shave our legs and jump through psychological hoops that keep us from getting too uppity around the menfolk. In essence, we’re taught womanhood is a weak, tenuous thing. Women are weak because of things like having emotions and feeling the need to express them, while masculinity is strong. “Stop acting like a girl” and “step up and be a man” are opposite expressions because of this dichotomy – which is why I find these products so hilarious. It proves that it’s in fact masculinity that’s fragile, not femininity.
If men don’t have man soap, how are they supposed to know they’re really men? What happens if they don’t smell like Old Spice? And more importantly, what happens if they end up using a Bic ‘For Her’ pen? Will they actually transform into women? We have an obsession with keeping everything absurdly gendered, and it has to stop.
The unfortunate reality is that when we gender things, we’re assigning them a very specific kind of value. ‘Female things’ and ‘male things’ fall under categories that usually imply their worth. Male things involve getting a good head for business, playing sports and making a mess. Female things involve buying pink dresses, learning how to make their hair pretty and figuring out how makeup works. One of these is obviously intended to make a group successful and strong, and the other is more geared towards creating a daughter who can land a good husband.
Thankfully, in a lot of areas, what it means to be a man or woman (or neither/both) is changing. Most of us don’t teach girls they have to play with Barbies, and we don’t teach boys they have to play sports. However, even though girls are now largely encouraged to play sports, there’s still a stigma surrounding boys playing with Barbie dolls – which is what leads me to my theory about masculinity being the more fragile gender. Men have to constantly remind themselves what they have to do to be a real man, and they purchase products emblazoned with the word ‘man’ when masculinity isn’t inherently implied. Man purses! Sunscreen for men! Mancakes! Bronuts!
Creating a life full of gendered products is great for marketing executives – it helps them estimate how many makeup sets they can sell to girls and chemistry sets they can sell to boys. This is literally the only group of people who are aided by the gendering of products. So rather than helping rich white guys make more money, why don’t we abolish the idea that a brush has to be labelled a ‘styling tool’ and packaged in steel grating for a man to feel secure with his masculinity when purchasing it?
The most powerful thing men could do to prove the solidity of their masculinity is to stop trying so hard. The more men’s products focus on the idea they’re definitely only for men, the more the rest of us wonder why this particular gender needs to be constantly reassured. As Queen Gertrude so concisely stated in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Comment: Do you agree?