Women and men

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So there’s an ad campaign out there that’s been slowly driving me…well, I’d say it’s driving me to drink, but actually, it’s doing quite the opposite. I guess it’s driving me to sobriety.

The ad campaign is in support of Miller Lite, and its message is simple. If you drink the wrong light beer, you may as well be a woman, and that’s bad. Especially as far as women are concerned.

See? If you’re drinking Bud Light, you’re just a skirt-wearing pansy. And who’s going to call you out for being less than a man? That’s right, the hot female bartender. Because people who wear skirts suck.

And don’t even get me started on back tattoos:

Or – God forbid – carry-alls:

You see? If you drink the wrong kind of beer, you’re just a weak, pathetic woman. And you know who hates women? Women.

Over at Manvertised, Peter Alilunas gets to the heart of the message these ads are conveying:

There is clearly a belief within marketing firms such as Draftfcb that the most efficient way to sell products to men is through a three-step process: 1) Aggressively gender-differentiate them; 2) Pounce on that constructed differentiation and make it an unforgivable cultural transgression to deny or ignore the code of “appropriate” masculinity offered by the product; 3) Create an aura of “safety” around the correct use of the product that will deliver the consumer from the anxiety.

Yet there’s a fourth element, too, which might be the most calculating and effective in the long-term Manvertising strategy: retain the tension by illustrating that it can never quite disappear. Note how the “punchline” of both commercials in the new campaign both end with the protagonist still somewhat unable to escape his gendered mistake. To me, this narrative move perfectly encapsulates how this genre is able to stay salient. Much as the immense body of scholarship on gender has shown, the “appropriate” masculinity is an unattainable mythology. It does not exist, and cannot, and any effort to obtain it will only result in the exposure of its slippery impossibility.

The brilliance of the genre is in the way it plays on this phenomenon, always locating “appropriate” masculinity just out of reach – always putting the protagonist’s friends in the role of anxious jesters, mocking the protagonist even after he has succumbed to conformity. We could easily shift the narrative lens to any of them (just as we could in any Manvertising commercial) and discover, immediately, the impossibility of their quest, too.

This is central to the ad campaign, as it sets up and preys on concerns about masculinity, and demands an extreme, impossible level of gender conformity – but at least it holds out hope that if you just order the right beer, you can get closer to “right.”

But I think it’s worth noting the other message of these ads, and that is simply that women suck. Wearing a skirt, carrying a purse, having a back tattoo – these are things women do, and therefore, by definition, they are lesser things than what men do.

And that’s what drives me crazy about these ads. As usual for ads that promote gender conformity, they don’t just offend one gender or the other; they offend both, obscenely.