Monday, November 18, 2013

Men’s Fear of Femininity: Discussing the Media’s Perceptions of Masculinity with College Men

From early childhood into adulthood, young people are constantly bombarded with media advertisements showing them what behaviors are and are not socially acceptable. Advertisers push negative gender norms into the homes, residence halls, bars, and fraternity houses of our college men. Take into consideration the highly controversial Dr. Pepper 10 commercial, which presents its product in a hyper-masculine way. This commercial gives a stereotypical view of what it means to be a man. Thankfully, with some negatively stereotyped commercials, there are also positive ones that exist. Guinness, a popular beer company, recently released a heartwarming commercial with positive role models of masculinity. One way or another, both commercials address the fear of femininity many young men face today. This blog post serves to provide higher education professionals a way to confront negative male gender norms with a group of young men.
            Davis, LaPrad, and Dixon (2011) promote the use of men’s groups on college campuses to educate young men about male gender norms. The important keys to this chapter are education and communication in a group setting. Although presenting the Dr. Pepper and Guinness commercials on an individual basis may be helpful in talking about masculinity, confronting this issue via media might be more effective within a men’s group. The authors claim “the men’s group movement has been an attempt to provide the space for men to reflect on socially prescribed roles and help men reach a healthier, self-authored identity” (Davis, LaPrad, & Dixon, 2011, p. 152). This setting allows young men to talk about what they observe in the two commercials; at the same time, higher education professionals can educate them about masculinities. According to the authors, a great way to spark conversations “about hegemonic masculinity is to use commercials, television shows, and popular movies to illustrate how messages about gender are sold” (Davis et al., 2011, p. 155).
            Davis (2004) states, “using entertainment media to deconstruct powerful sex-role messages is an ideal method for promoting learning about gender identity development” (Davis, 2004, p. 50). Although Davis focuses on this learning in a classroom setting, I believe his methods could apply to something like a men’s group meeting. By showing the different ideas of masculinities presented in the Dr. Pepper and Guinness advertisements, perhaps student affairs professionals can explain society’s influence on young men, which often reinforces negative gender norms. Davis (2004) encourages educators to have their students critique the media, such as our commercials, in order to become “a critical consumer of potentially dysfunctional messages” (Davis, 2004, p. 52). In order to demonstrate this idea, I have critiqued and compared the Dr. Pepper and Guinness commercials in regards to their presentations of femininity.
            The main difference of these two commercials is how they each portray men’s fear of femininity. Kimmel and Davis (2011) give a brief overview of O’Neil’s gender role conflict, which basically states that people learn from society how to act based on their gender. They claim that “at the heart of men’s conflict is the fear of femininity” (Kimmel & Davis, 2011, p. 7). According to this fear, anything that may appear to be a feminine act lessens a man’s masculinity. To be a part of the male gender, men cannot show emotions or compassion and must act tough and strong (Kimmel & Davis, 2011). Kimmel and Davis (2011) stress that any sign of weakness makes men seem less ‘manly.’ By watching these commercials in men’s groups, higher education professionals can show college men how the fear or acceptance of femininity play out in each commercial.
            The Dr. Pepper 10 commercial takes place in a stereotypical action adventure movie.[1] The characters are dressed in army fatigues, have ridiculously large laser guns, flaunt their strong muscles, and yell at the audience in their deep overpowering voices. The main character directs his dialogue to women. After asking them if they are enjoying the movie, the character assumes the female audience is unimpressed. He claims that “this is our movie,” meaning a movie for men (Jakthelombax mar, 2011). He then goes on to say that Dr. Pepper 10 is a man’s drink—even with its fewer “manly calories… It’s what guys want” (Jakthelombax mar, 2011). After a few more explosions, the commercial ends with the sentence, “Dr. Pepper 10, it’s not for women” (Jakthelombax mar, 2011).
[Insert Video #1 link here:]
            The main takeaway from this commercial is the constant fear of femininity. According to the Dr. Pepper 10 commercial, men that drink Diet Dr. Pepper are more ‘manly’ than those who abstain. The overuse of violence in this commercial assumes all young men are obsessed with trucks, guns, and big explosions. According to societal gender norms, all these things are the farthest from feminine. Through violent acts men step away from the feminine and towards the masculine. It is upsetting that advertisers believe the only way to get men to buy their product is by constantly reaffirming it is not a “lady drink” (Jakthelombax mar, 2011). At every turn of this commercial, there is reassurance that Dr. Pepper 10 is not a feminine drink. This commercial reinforces the fear of femininity in two ways. First, the commercial exploits violent acts and images. Second, it promotes the beverage as ‘manly’ or not for women.
            In contrast, Guinness presents an uncharacteristically heartfelt beer commercial.[2] Viewers would not know they are watching a beer commercial until the last few seconds of the commercial. The first scene begins in the middle of a fierce, yet good-hearted wheelchair basketball game. The young men in the wheelchairs are shown crashing into one another and falling to the ground, while yelling encouragements at teammates. As the game ends, all the men but one get out of their wheelchairs and leave the gym together. This simple commercial has little to no dialogue between characters, rather there is a man voicing-over with these simple words: “Dedication, loyalty…friendship” (Guinness, 2013). The commercial ends with the young men all gathered in a bar drinking Guinness, while the voiceover continues, “the choices we make reveal the true nature of our character” (Guinness, 2013).
[Insert Video #2 link here:]
            As opposed to the Dr. Pepper commercial, the Guinness advertisement seems to reject traditional hegemonic views of masculinity because the characters embrace weaknesses and emotions. It shows young men that being disabled is not a form of weakness, while emphasizing the fact that young men should not be discouraged by feeling weak or helpless. The young men that are not disabled accept their friend’s disability, and the weakness his disability produces by playing basketball in wheelchairs. Even though there is a sense of competitiveness, this quality is not presented in a negative light. Essentially, the commercial promotes an emotional connection between close male friends, feelings usually reserved for women. Although playing basketball and going for beers promote a distinct form of masculinity, the characters of this commercial also show emotional connection with one another. This connection is never explicitly stated, but silently understood. The most important part of this commercial is the statement, “The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character” (Guinness, 2013). This message encourages young men to be better than society’s strictly enforced gendered roles.
            With these critiques in mind, student affairs professionals can present these two commercials to young men and gauge how they feel masculinity was displayed in each. Engaging in conversation about the differences between these two commercials can show young

[1] It must be noted that this commercial attempts to get men drinking diet soda drinks, which could be better for their health. Regardless, I think the ulterior message gets lost in the overbearing nature of the characters and the situation.
[2] It must be noted that the act of playing basketball and drinking beer depicts a specific type of masculinity, but I believe the message behind this commercial is stronger than the generalized masculinity. This commercial is not perfect, but compared to the Dr. Pepper commercial could be a better model for young men in the long run. 

Davis, T. (2004). Using entertainment media to inform student affairs teaching and practice
            related to sex and gender. New Directions for Student Services, 2004, 49-59.          Doi: 10.1002/ss.141
Davis, T., LaPrad, J., & Dixon, S. (2011). Masculinities reviewed and reinterpreted: Using a         critical approach to working with men in groups. In J. A. Laker, & T. Davis (Eds.),        Masculinities in higher education: Theoretical and practical considerations (pp. 147-            160). New York, NY: Routledge.
Guinness. (2013, September 9). Guinness basketball commercial [video file]. Available from
Kimmel, M. S., & Davis, T. (2011). Mapping guyland in college. In J. A. Laker & T. Davis           (Eds.), Masculinities in higher education: Theoretical and practical considerations (pp.      3-15). New York, NY: Routledge.
Jakthelombax mar. (2011, November 30). Dr Pepper TEN action commercial [video file].            Available from

Marie Elena Castellano is currently a first-year graduate student in the University of Maine’s Higher Education Program. She graduated from the Catholic University of America in May 2013 with a BA in History. She serves as the Graduate Assistant for the Higher Education Program at UMaine. In this position, she assists with program recruitment and faculty research.You can connect with Marie Elena on Twitter @lenacast91

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