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Even as modern society increasingly challenges and rejects limiting gender roles that may have assigned women to stereotypical roles in the past, a similar trend has not necessarily occurred among men. The notion that “boys will be boys” still holds quite strong sway across many markets, such that advertising for products targeting men often features stereotypically masculine images. But in a few areas, even that conventional view is starting to compete with an updated version of masculinity, in which men are caring, devoted fathers and spouses, who take full part in household activities and purchases.

This revised view is well supported by actual evidence: Whereas women traditionally performed most of the grocery shopping in family households for example, data reveal that more men are taking over this chore. In turn, manufacturers and retailers are recognizing the need to appeal to these consumers, in ways that resonate with their daily lives.

Prime among them are sellers of personal care products, such as Dove Men+Care and even Axe body spray—previously known for its highly sexualized advertising that embraced a masculine stereotype so exaggerated that it even offended some viewers. But a recent campaign for Axe makes the question about what it means to be a man explicit, with the tagline, “Is it okay for a man to…?” The options following this stem include such “un-masculine” choices as wearing pink clothing, lacking sports affinity, growing long hair, and being gay. The explicit consideration of these notions implies a shift in Axe’s position, as it attempts to “support guys and give them self-confidence.”

Dove Men+Care does not have the same history of sexualized campaigns; instead, since its founding, it has sought to resonate with men who take care of their children, spouses, and parents. It highlights the effects that role models can have on children, and it encourages men to embrace the notion of “care” as central to their lives and their masculinity.

Still, these examples are notable somewhat because they are unique. Advertising for products such as beer, trucks, and fast food continues to reflect conventional views of gender roles, in which men are no-nonsense, flannel-wearing tough guys. Whereas advertising for women seemingly has turned a corner, emphasizing that they can do anything they want, that for men may be stuck in a view that limits men from being who they really are.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why are traditional images of masculinity so persistent in advertising?

Source: Matt Krupnick, “Ad Campaigns Tag Along as Men Embrace Different Paths?” The New York Times, June 4, 2017

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