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Working my last nerve: the Dockers “Wear the Pants” campaign.

May 28, 2010

I don’t even remember exactly how or when it happened, but one day something in my e-travels lead me to this Flickr page hosting images for Dockers khaki’s “Wear the Pants” ad campaign. It took me maybe about 5 seconds to be completely irritated and offended by the whole campaign, the foundation of which is that men need to stop being such sissified girlie men, throw on some khakis (from Dockers, of course) and go out and save the world with our masculine manliness. Check it out:

(Click to enlarge)

And here is the text:

Once upon a time, men wore the pants and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that’s what they did. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny. But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for. The world sits idly by as cities crumble, children misbehave and little old ladies remain on one side of the street. For the first time since bad guys, we need heroes. We need grown-ups. We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar and untie the world from the tracks of complacency. It’s time to get your hands dirty, it’s time to answer the call of manhood. It’s time to WEAR THE PANTS.

The implications in this ad are staggering. It screams sexism, homophobia, transphobia and gender essentialism from a huge bullhorn atop a very large mountain. Of bullshit. Whenever one invokes a bygone era where “men wore the pants” it’s impossible to not conjure up images of 50s housewives bound to the home by their apron strings and maternal duties while the man rushed off to win the bread. Phrases like “genderless society” (other than being entirely laughable since we live in such an incredibly gendered world it’s not even funny) point to such a fear of people who destabilize the traditional notions and constructions of gender identity by transgressing those binary boundaries and living outside of them, whether by being transgender, transsexual, gender queer or even cisgendered but having visual signifers (wardrobe and styling choices) that don’t gel with one’s perceived sex. And homophobia and heterosexism are always lurking in the subtext of any rant about the lost masculinity of our men. Because so much of what is at the root of homophobia is a fear of the un-mooring of structured gender roles by people whose sexual practices defy the gendered binary of heterosexual sex as we know it. In other words: man puts penis in woman. The end. Anything that disturbs this paradigm – even heterosexual people who engage in transgressive sexual practices such as strap-on sex or role play or BDSM –  disturbs the very foundations of rigid gender roles and sends people into a khaki-buying panicked frenzy in hopes of saving this “genderless society” and all of our crumbling cities, unruly children and helpless old ladies who somehow made it all the way to the corner but cannot manage to walk across a street unaided.

And if this all seems like me being Hector Projector about this ad, look no further than the comments section of this NY Daily News post about the campaign. A choice quote from “pclemnh”:

This new ad for Dockers pants stands in stark contrast to a generation of advertising which pictured men as bumbling idiots, subservient to their wives and girlfriends, incapable of simple tasks, dressed like slobs, swilling beer. It’s about time that image was changed. Because of feminism and political correctness, men have become afraid to show a manly side. The ad is telling us to “man up”, be yourself, and reverse the trend toward feminization. I hope they sell tons of these trousers.

In the end, it’s an ad campaign trying to edge up something that is about as un-edgy as possible. The only more laughable attempt at making a product edgy lately has been Miracle Whips’s new ad campaign trying to make fucking non-mayo dressing hip and stylish. But as ridiculous as the Miracle Whip ad is, it’s not trying to bash us all over the head with some gender essentialist message. Advertising is almost always about selling a lifestyle or an idea than just a product. And this lifestyle is one that insults me and a hundreds of thousands of other people and holds us responsible for destabilizing the rigid constructs of gender that we’re destroying culture and the world as we know it. Oh wait, I think I actually like being responsible for that! How about we tear up some ugly-ass khakis while we’re at it?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. jimmy permalink
    May 31, 2010 11:13 am

    Yeah, we talked about this on BCO in the context of all the fucked up Super Bowl ads this year. It’s a big trend right now in advertising to get into this whole “be a man” shtick, one which I think is at least partially a reaction to the whole “metrosexual” trend and at least partially a coded appeal to guys who are scared of having a black president and lady speaker.

    Disheartening for sure.

  2. June 1, 2010 12:13 am

    Jimmy, I think that’s an excellent point you make about men being intimidated about having a black president. It’s never explicitly stated but I think a lot of lauding of traditional masculinity is often about white masculinity more than anything else.

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