Last week, on Christmas day, I failed Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s test by not eating at a Chinese restaurant. Instead, my husband and I stayed home. With him in the kitchen cooking a delightful dinner, I took the day off from researching corporate law and watched whatever programming our cable TV provided.
And that programming contained a seemingly disturbing amount of manliness, whatever “manliness” means.
Simply guessing, maybe I fall on various portions of some gender-conforming-(“cisgender”)-male-behavior-stereotype continuum. For example, while I know nothing about pop and techno music and couldn’t throw a tight spiral pass to save my life, I’ve likely forgotten more about major sports and heavy metal than many of my cisgender, heterosexual, male friends will ever know.
Also possibly evidencing some of my disparate placement on some manliness stereotype continuum, as a Southern California resident, I enjoy going to the strip and watching LA-based metal band Steel Panther. I also love their male-chauvinistic new album Balls Out, featuring such sexist songs such as “That’s What Girls Are For” (“cleaning, baking, hot love-making … sewing, cooking, being good-looking”).
Offended? What does this have to do with my Christmas TV watching?
Because decades of published research demonstrate that reinforcing gender roles is bad; and worse, gender nonconformity is a risk factor for harassment, bullying, suicide, and other violent acts. Black or Latino males expressing certain degrees of femininity have been particularly subject to gender-based killings.
“50 Under 30” examined the killing of 50 non-cisgender people who ranged in age from 13 to 30. The research detailed how people such as Gwen Araujo were killed, at least in part, due to their gender nonconformity within “the context of a wider ‘gender culture’ that rewards hyper-masculinity [and] that loathes ‘sissies’” (emphasis added). Since the late 1800s, a “sissy” has referred to a gender-nonconforming man, and even manly World Series MVP Ray Knight apologized earlier this summer for using “sissy” on TV.
So on Christmas I watched as the Travel Channel devoted an hour’s worth of programming to discussing the nation’s “Manliest Restaurants.” The show’s language mirrored the linked article’s phrases, such as “real men” go to such-and-such restaurant for the delightful cherry pie, or what have you. After watching, I’m not sure what a real man is, but I guess I understand where real men eat. Even The Huffington Post isn’t off the hook on this one, as HuffPost uncritically published a press release in which Men’s Health asserted that “sit-down restaurants are for sissies.”
Regardless, fed up with the Travel Channel’s manly feeding, I began watching sports and saw some ads for Miller Lite (Miller) beer. Miller’s ads tell me to “man up,” whatever that means. Miller‘s commercials are particularly offensive in light of the earlier statistics on violence toward gender-nonconforming men.
To illustrate, this ad features an ostensibly attractive female bartender sarcastically telling a man that the she wouldn’t serve him a Miller beer because it mattered that he was “wearing a woman’s scarf.” Following this scene was the announcer’s deep, husky (manly?) voice saying, “Man up,” adjoined by the commercial’s ending, where another ostensibly attractive woman wears the same scarf, leaving the scarf-wearing man appearing awkward. Now I’m still not sure what a manly man is, but I know what he eats, and I now understand that real, manly, gender-conforming men don’t wear scarves.
Given the broad audience of regular cable TV itself and that sports in particular attracts, nearly anyone of any age could be the audience of these ads. And the ads’ message is that “not only is something wrong with being gender non-conforming, not only are we going to point out non-cisgender characteristics and ridicule them, but we’re also going to implicitly tell you to stay away from bars because you’ll feel uncomfortable or ridiculed for being non-cisgender.”
I appreciate satire, parodies, and comedy, although restaurants, bars, and scarves aren’t quiche. Steel Panther’s amazing instrumental and vocal artistry landed their Balls Out album in Billboard’s Top 200. But the band’s ability to understand how to market its satire also explains why the album entered at #1 on Billboard’s comedy chart during its release week, despite explicitly sexist, gender-reinforcing lyrics too filthy to be played on commercial radio, and despite the fact that Miller would likely deride the character of the band’s scarf-wearing bass player (maybe creating a new song, “That’s What Bass Players Are For”).
But explicitly sexist satirical music and books are goods that require a conscious choice to consume. At home, however, people of all ages choose to view seemingly innocuous programming about sports or travel, yet are subjected to non-satirical marketing ploys. These ploys not only help to ingrain viewers’ misbeliefs about what constitutes a normative gender-conforming person but also to heighten viewers’ insecurities that the slightest deviations from the dominant gender norms merit ridicule.
Digging deeper, Cox Communications, Cox Enterprises’ wholly owned subsidiary, owns the Travel Channel. And the self-professed “largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans” — the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — awarded Cox Enterprises HRC’s highest Corporate Equality Index rating of 100 this year, for Cox’s apparently stellar corporate treatment of GLBT Americans.
MillerCoors, LLC, owns Miller. HRC similarly gave MillerCoors a perfect corporate equality index rating this year. Despite claiming that “when media is used as a platform to … stereotype LGBT people, GLAAD takes action,” GLAAD apparently nominated Miller for a media award in advertising last year, and my research showed nothing on GLAAD’s website condemning the linked ads.
Because we don’t live by the theoretical rules of neoclassical economics, we lack perfect information. Thus, we often rely on intermediaries to help us in information sifting. Two large-scale self-professed GLBT groups, as intermediaries, appear to have assisted the corporations that produced this harmful imagery and messaging, free from any adverse consequences.
Perhaps HRC and GLAAD should simply “man up,” or they should balls-out stop rewarding and start condemning corporations who irresponsibly perpetuate and exploit blatantly heightened gender norms.
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