Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Con Caracter

ESPN2's Friday Night Fights is now sponsored by Tecate beer, and so, unsurprisingly, they've been running Tecate commercials. But there are at least two things I find interesting about them. First is the fact that the commercials are all in Spanish -- no subtitles, no nothing. I keep waiting for Mark Krikorian to pitch a fit, but so far, no dice.

Second, though, and the subject of this post, is how the commercials handle the trope of masculinity. In general, I'm interested in efforts at reconstructing dominant social paradigms (masculinity, Whiteness, etc.) in ways that are compatible with egalitarian and equitable norms. And I think in many ways the Tecate ads step dramatically in that direction.

Like many beer commercials, the ad campaign here was specifically designed to appeal to a norm of manliness. Yet by and large, it doesn't indulge in the usual beer commercial stereotypes of what a "real man" is (crude, sloppy, disrespectful to women, etc.). Instead, it seeks to evoke tropes of self-respect and dignity for the many Mexican men who have come to America for a better life. Consider this example:

The first person is a sweltering farm worker laboring in the hot sun. The second is a big, tough, tattooed guy who lights up when he sees his mom. And the third is a soup chef who ignores the burn as he moves a pot of boiling liquid from point A to point B. So, as far as Tecate is considered, real men work hard, love their mom, and play through the pain. That's not the worst set of ideals I can imagine.

Is it true that the commercial renders Mexican women supporting characters? Yes. But I'm not 100% convinced I'm against targeted marketing so long as the marketing doesn't reinforce hierarchy or negative stereotypes. Promulgating a positive vision of masculinity requires, at some level, a focus on men and manliness. It's a trade I'm willing to make.

(Semi-inspired by this post by Daisy).


PG said...

I don't really understand gender idealization. Daisy says, "'Manliness,' for them, is fundamentally about responsibility and respectfulness — that’s what masculinity is about for me, too." Is a woman who is responsible and respectful being manly or masculine? What are the fundamentals of "womanliness"?

David Schraub said...

I don't think saying a quality is an idealized attribute of group means all manifestations of it need be described as acting like said group. If I said that "Being a Chicago student is fundamentally about responsibility and studiousness" (snicker), that wouldn't mean that a, say, Columbia student who studied a lot was "acting Chicago".

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I'm not so sure about that analogy because even if we don't accept gender categories as a binary, they are far less specific then "student of X at school Y."

So either responsibility/respectfulness isn't or shouldn't be an idealized attribute for women--and what does that say about notions of gender equality--or it is, in which case what are the distinguishing characteristics of manliness/womanliness?

Maybe it's just the drinking of Tecate?

David Schraub said...

I think it is up to men and women to determine what are the ideals of masculinity and femininity. If they happen to overlap, great! Moreover, one can do something and take pride in it without seeing it as a fundamental element of any given portion of your identity (e.g., I consider toughing out a hockey shift to be a good quality, but I don't consider it part of the norms I consider fundamentally Jewish).

chingona said...

It's kind of interesting to contrast these with Dos Equis and the Most Interesting Man in the World, which held ultra-manliness up for mockery even while still kind of reinforcing the coolness of it all.

On a cultural note, the Most Interesting Man campaign clearly was aimed at a white, hip, ironic crowd (I thought they were hilarious), while these are aimed at a Mexican audience (they make me feel emotional).

If I had to generalize, I'd say that Mexican media tends to portray a more "adult" version of masculinity and it's common to use family relationships in establishing masculinity, compared to the "extended adolescence" view of masculinity in a lot of American media.

chingona said...

About masculinity/femininity/gender idealization ...

Personally and politically, I'm very opposed to gender essentialism. Anything that treats men and women like two different species just leaves me cold.

But because gender plays such a large role in how we're defined in society at large and in our families and such a large role in how we're taught to view the world, I think it's actually very difficult for anyone to really conceive of themselves completely independently of masculinity or femininity.

Even if you have aspects of yourself that are counter to the prevailing cultural norms, perhaps especially if you do, I think it's hard to avoid positioning yourself somewhere on that spectrum. At least, for me it is. If I claimed I have no sense whatsoever of femininity and what that means to me, I would be lying, even if a lot of that identity has to do with NOT being a girly girl.

And just because something is culturally conditioned and difficult to define in any objective way, doesn't mean it isn't real or doesn't have any force in the emotional sense.

PG said...

I just find it particularly difficult to accede to gender norms that assign virtues (or vices) as belonging to one sex. Peggy Noonan is a serious offender in this area with her "9/11 restored masculine virtues" type of shtick. It doesn't bother me so much to refer to relatively neutral things like an obsession with rebuilding cars versus an obsession with knitting scarves as masculine vs. feminine.

chingona said...

I just find it particularly difficult to accede to gender norms that assign virtues (or vices) as belonging to one sex.

I definitely hear that. Pretty much any virtue that you could assign to masculinity or femininity would still be a virtue if you assigned it to the opposite sex. I mean, who would say they don't want want their partner to be tender with them? Who would say they don't want their partner to be hard-working and responsible?

I think part of the problem is we reflexively think of "masculine" and "feminine" as opposites, which there's good reason to do, given the social construction of these terms.

But given that we (feminists or feminist-sympathetic people) don't think men and women are opposites, is it possible to construct masculine and feminine identities that overlap substantially (or even entirely) in terms of the qualities or virtues even if they differ in the social performance of those qualities?

If that makes any sense at all. You might say that if they're the same thing, why bother to distinguish at all. I guess I put it forward because I don't hold out a lot of hope that masculinity and femininity as concepts with meaning for people are going away anytime soon. Gender harm reduction, if you will.

But maybe I'm taking my eye off the prize by thinking that way.

Daisy said...

I just saw this thread! I wish I'd seen it sooner.

For the record, I am completely against gender essentialism. When I talk about masculinity, I'm talking about the way I perform my gender as a butch (which greatly overlaps with how a lot of men and a lot of queer of various stripes perform their genders). I'm not talking about the innate attributes of men and women. And I think it should be obvious that I, as a woman who performs masculinity, don't think masculinity and femininity should be compulsory or tied to any one sex. I think of them as omnipresent cultural phenomena, which we must a) work to reform, b) minimize the damage of, and c) ultimately learn to live with (hence my transition of from a radfem-esque failed attempt to escape/reject all gender to my current quest to be a feminist butch).

I'm also very, very, very against oppositional sexism. I don't think masculinity and femininity are opposites at all. Yes, my masculinity is about responsibility; my femme girlfriend is also extremely responsible, which is great and doesn't make her in any way less feminine (though I wouldn't say she considers responsibility to be linked to her gender). This goes for every other gendered quality -- the fact that for some people femininity is about nurturing doesn't mean masculine people can't or shouldn't be nurturing, etc. I think David's comment re: Chicago vs Columbia students is right on.

Daisy said...

Also, if you haven't already, you folks should all read Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. In addition to lots of other great stuff, she offers a really useful framework for thinking about body sex vs subconscious sex vs gender identity vs perceived gender, and she (as a queer femme trans woman) makes a good defense of a feminism that embraces (respectful, self-determined) gender. She greatly influenced my thinking on this issue.