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Marketing Masculinity

July 28, 2009

It’s amazing to how gender infects every part of our lives. I was reminded of this at work this week. I work at a YWCA in the anti-violence against women movement. So I work with all women but our maintenance staff consists of three men. They do basic plumbing, heavy lifting, and cleaning. As I left the elevator to head home, I noticed the following:


Notice the captioning on this cleaning bottle which reads: Alton’s Bathroom Weapon. It’s an interesting reclamination of masculinity within a job that where some duties are traditionally feminine such as cleaning a bathroom. It casts Alton as a warrior protecting the women of the YWCA from the invasion of germs. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit far but the use of aggression, weapon, is interesting here.) This instance of reframing traditionally feminine products within a masculine gender perspective is something that we have seen before within our capitalist culture. We can look at body wash for an example.

Body Wash for women

Notice the pink color which is used a lot when marketing to women, the shape and the overall delicate nature of the presentation on the bottle. It’s almost passive.


Body Wash for men

Notice the shape of the bottle, the grips on either side, the use of the color black, and the name, Snake Peel. It’s almost aggressive.

Basically this product is just soap and both genders require it in order to be a part of polite society. However, this form of masculine marketing is peculiarly interesting. We also see this in loofahs.

Loofah marketed to women

Axe Loofah

Loofah marketed to men called the Axe Detailer Shower Tool. (emphasis added) The language suggests something a man may use to wash their car. It even looks like a tire to me. (I bet if the two loofahs got in a fight that the detailer shower tool would totally kick that other loofah’s ass.)

There’s an interesting link here between this type of marketing and homophobia. Just imagine if a heterosexual man had the blue loofah hanging in his bathroom instead of the black detailing tool. The majority of individuals would immediately question his masculinity especially his male buddies. They would probably jokingly or seriously call him a fag. Products like this scream almost a comically exaggerated masculinity designed to protect men in situations like this one. Men are caught in a double bind. They must groom (a traditionally feminine constructed activity) but they can never be seen doing in a “womanly way.”

Is femininity and cleaning too closely tied for capitalism to create a space for manly cleaning supplies? Will we see 409 with a sniper scope on it’s nuzzle? Will taglines like murder the germs invading your home with the cleaning power of Pinesol appear? Will they create cleaning bottles in the shape of guns? Maybe cleaning rags will start being manufactured in the shape of breasts?  Hmmmm. I think Alton is simply ahead of his time.

For more information about what marketing to men looks like, check out the following links.

Marketing Diet Soda to Men

Marketing Makeup to men?

Energy Drinks and Masculinity

Axe Marketing: Objectifying Women in Order to Affirm Masculinity

Rebekah Carrow makes jewerly and loves the color purple.

  1. Erik permalink
    July 28, 2009 3:56 pm

    Wait wait…so you’re saying that companies market to specific demographics? And they do this by making broad sweeping generalizations based on stereotypes to market to those demographics? My god! What an epiphany!

    God that was snarky, but come on.

  2. Emily permalink*
    July 28, 2009 3:59 pm

    Erik, this isn’t an epiphany. Just pointing out some everyday observations.

    And yes, that was snarky. Very, very snarky.

  3. July 28, 2009 4:21 pm

    Very funny (and telling) post. It makes me think that there is room for a counter to Sarah Haskins, CurrentTV “Target:Women” video spots – which very humorously critique marketers of girly overkill in their efforts. First episode of “Target: Men” could be about the assumptions that all guys 1) are interested in bodywash or loofahs, 2) that it would need to be very black and tool-like for them to buy it. Insert eye-roll here.

    What about.. say.. a loofah that is a color in between pastel and black that any shower-er, male or female, might be interested in? Lots to laugh about with gender-focus in marketing. Brands want some magic formula, but humans respond to very different things, and I don’t believe it is always along “gendered” lines.

  4. Erik permalink
    July 28, 2009 4:57 pm

    For the record, I use a purple loofah…and I love it. I also use a body-wash called Tea Tree Tingle. I’m so post-masculinity.

  5. ti cote permalink
    July 29, 2009 12:55 am

    i like what Andrea said, that humans respond to very different things & not always along “gendered” lines. i know for a fact that alot of just everyday guys are very fearful of being labeled a fag or whatever. i had this guy at my work ask me if i worried what people think of me (i was using a jar of vasaline on my lips). and i mean, i just laughed. i also have noticed being with people that just my being colorblind (a common male attribute) has gotten laughs out of people because of what color i pick out. but i really wanna get back to andreas comment about human response, because i mean, if some dude thinks he macho but really inside he’s responding to something he feels he shouldnt be he gets freaked out, right?/

  6. Jay permalink
    July 29, 2009 9:49 am

    Just imagine if a heterosexual man had the blue loofah hanging in his bathroom instead of the black detailing tool. The majority of individuals would immediately question his masculinity especially his male buddies. They would probably jokingly or seriously call him a fag.

    This paragraph is a string of sweeping gender stereotypes. Similar, if your contention is correct, to those made by companies like Axe. I have a hard time embracing your critique of gender stereotypic marketing when you do the same to support your argument.

    • Emily permalink*
      July 29, 2009 10:47 am

      I don’t understand your fragmented second sentence—please explain.

      Secondly, Rebekah’s statement that you quoted does not make a sweeping statement—notice “majority” was used; not “all.” I think that Rebekah is making a valid point here, because it would make many men “uncomfortable” having a baby blue or light pink loofah around other heterosexual men.

      I think that Rebekah’s critique of gender stereotype marketing is poking fun at these companies and gendered products and how ridiculous it is that we have these products that basically have the same purpose but different design based on our gender (for another example: girls play with “dolls” and boys play with “action figures”—aren’t they the same thing?).

      • Jay permalink
        July 29, 2009 11:37 am

        Just imagine if a heterosexual man had the blue loofah hanging in his bathroom instead of the black detailing tool. The majority of individuals would immediately question his masculinity especially his male buddies. They would probably jokingly or seriously call him a fag.

        Clarification: This paragraph makes contentions based on a stereotypical male gender schema that is similar to the gender schemas the author has contended are being used by Axe for marketing to men.

        It is a generalization despite your hairsplitting. If one were to say “the majority of women aren’t good at math and science” that would be offensive and misogynist. However, it is fact that there are some women who are not proficient at math and science. Just as there are some men who are not proficient at math and science. Just because there may be some heterosexual men who are uncomfortable with using blue loofahs (although I don’t know any), that certainly does not take away from my contention that the spurious link between using blue loofahs and explicit homophobia is based on a stereotypical male gender schema.

        I’m not even necessarily arguing against the major contention of the post (although I have a tough time buying into the aggression component of the marketing). However, I just think that overall the argument loses credence when it relies on similar ham-fisted extrapolations based on stereotypes for support.

  7. July 29, 2009 3:46 pm

    Individual men and women express their gender roles in different ways, however there is a larger cultural conversation going on about gender. This larger cultural conversation provides each of us with internalized yard sticks in which to measure how womanly or manly we are. Individual men and women may accept or resist different components of how we’re told to measure up. My focus in this piece was to talk about the macro level and point out how this form of marketing makes the boundaries of the masculinine gender role tighter and more tightly policed which hurts men.

  8. ti cote permalink
    July 29, 2009 6:47 pm

    come on jay its not that bad, i mean ‘ham-fisted’?, ‘lost credence”??. hey, if you don’t know any heterosexual men who would be uncomfortable with a baby blue loofah well maybe you should just broaden your circle of acquaintances jeesh.

  9. AceHatesAll permalink
    August 2, 2009 10:01 pm

    I can understand the loofahs and stuff, but come on, leave the guy with the spray bottle alone. If you worked a boring and degrading job you’d probably do something similar. It doesn’t need to be critqued.

    • August 3, 2009 5:50 am

      AceHatesAll, I didn’t read this as being an attack on a particular worker but, rather, a consideration of the social forces that shape the way in which he copes with his “boring and degrading job”. There’s nothing wrong with asking why calling a spray a bottle a “weapon” might make a man feel better about his position.

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