A Manly Mistake? Or a Preposterous Parody?
Generation Z’s, or more fittingly, iGeneration’s understanding of gender, race, and culture are unavoidably flooded and influenced by technology and media. As a result, media provides society with gender specific constructions about masculinity, femininity, how to act, think, and feel. In particular, advertisements are a form of media that are guilty of enforcing gender stereotypes, especially in the form of parody. A parody is a widely used tool that humorously exaggerates certain themes or messages about society, while leaving an underlying message. They tend to be effective because of their relatable content that can be passively digested by the general public. Parodies, however, are quite frequently created as heedless attacks towards controversial topics such as gender. A commercial titled Summer’s Eve uses parody to sell gender specific body wash, revealing the inappropriate use of gender socialization, a homozygous view on male intelligence, and heteronormativity, ultimately contributing to the commercial’s flawed representation of gender.
The Summer’s Eve commercial is intended to sell a distinctly female body wash by enforcing its femininity. Using humour, Summer’s Eve makes the clear distinction between what is appropriate for males versus females. The complex plot involves a man showering, when his wife reveals that he is using a female body wash made safe for a woman’s ‘v’. Horrified, he feverishly sets off to remind himself and gain back his manhood, which the soap supposedly washed away. He dramatically engages in stereotypical male activities that represent strength and aggression such as painfully belly flopping into a pool, and pulling a car with him teeth. Not only are these stereotypes completely inaccurate, but they are too often taught to viewers through media and gender socialization.
As outlined in Gender, Race, & Popular Culture, gender socialization is a process of interaction in which individuals learn the gender norms or their society, and how they fit within them (3). Children especially, develop and understanding of masculinity, femininity, and androgyny. The Summer’s Eve commercial is a tool for gender socialization because it teaches the viewers that “womanly products” are strictly for women, and men must display “masculine traits” to be a true man. The creators of the commercial may have believed the stereotypical male activities were natural or necessary in order for the man to reassert his masculinity, however this can damaging to the viewer. Creating an individual dimension on what is considered male, or how one should act to be male reinforces gender stereotyping. Associating aggression, self-confidence, and competition with men may not capture or define what is means to be male to certain people. Whether individuals do so at all, or only at certain times, all men are bound to express so-called “female traits” such as sensitivity and innocence at some point in their life. The truth of the matter is, men and women really aren’t all that different, yet the Summer’s Eve commercial encourages unnecessary gender distinctions.
A significant concern in this commercial that may go unnoticed, but should be noted, is the offensive remarks made towards men. The Summer’s Eve commercial is visually humorous because of the heavy implication that men are mindless and immature enough to think that a body wash can actually rid them of their Y chromosome. It suggests that men are wrapped up in assuring themselves of their gender identity and will go to extreme lengths to prove their manly power and maintain their pride. This “joke” reinforces the homogenous viewpoint of men and their intelligence. Homozygosity refers to everyone being the same or similar in kind (Tolmie). In the Summer’s Eve commercial, their reference to masculinity on a large scale implies a large-scale homozygous depiction of all men as virile and idiotic. Not only is this a flawed representation of men, but as with gender socializing, viewers are learning stereotypical ideas of what it means to be a true man; muscular and fearless, but a fool. This parody might be funny at surface level, but is actually quite offensive towards male intelligence.
The emphasis on heteronormativity in the Summer’s Eve commercial should also be questioned. Heteronormativity refers to lifestyle norms associated with the “natural” roles in life, that is male and female, and where heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation (Tolmie). So, how might this commercial be different if it didn’t feature a heteronormal couple, rather a trans-sexual, trans-gender, lesbian, or gay couple? Even further, consider how this commercial would differ if the couple were disabled? Or a couple of colour? It’s easy to laugh at a typical, heterosexual, able, and white couple in a parody, however any other couple may not evoke the same response. Privilege and relation are dominant factors that let us laugh at the heteronormal couple, compared to those who are oppressed and tied down to controversial issues about them that are ingrained within society. Such issues are an unforgettable part of history, and are slowly being brought to the attention of society. Unfortunately, however, I don’t think society is at a point just yet where we are able to laugh at the oppressed in a parody.
Thus, instead of digging past the surface, parodies remain within their comfort zone, silencing important issues. They are only able to discuss uncontroversial issues that can be laughed at and taken lightly. By using parody, the Summer’s Eve commercial attempts to sell their product with humour and personal relation. It’s baffling to think that with society’s persistent drive for equality, gender stereotyping is still seen as a humorous topic. But then again, this commercial doesn’t highlight humour a parody’s method to resist. Instead, initial laughter occurs when the male goes against the norm by using the female body wash, however this commercial focuses on how this is unacceptable. Resistance towards existing norms and the idea of challenging what normally goes unchallenged is seen as intolerable in the Summer’s Eve commercial.
Overall, the Summer’s Eve commercial is a parody that attempts to use humour in selling a specifically female body wash. However, it reinforces inappropriate gender stereotypes that many people are striving to eliminate in society. It’s one thing to market a certain product to males or females, but this commercial unjustly stigmatizes gender roles in society.
Gender, Race, & Popular Culture. Toronto: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014. Print.
Tolmie, Jane. “Lecture 7-1.” Queen’s University. Queen’s University, Kingston, ON. 18 February 2014. Lecture.
Tolmie, Jane. “Tolmie (1).” Queen’s University. Queen’s University, Kingston, ON. 25 February 2014. Lecture.