Real Men Don’t Wear Nail Polish, They Wear AlphaNail

As somebody who has spent most of my short adult life in a progressive and fairly queer bubble up until now, I think it’s fair to say that the average number of “what the eff?” moments per week has significantly increased since my move to Ohio. In fact, it was just last night that I caught myself staring at the TV in horror at a Dr. Pepper 10 ad that’s apparently been around since April.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed all the manned-up products hitting the shelves lately. Ms. Magazine did a roundup of traditionally female products that are being masculinized and marketed to men. It’s a hilarious and fascinating list of health food, candles, and irons that are tough enough for Real Men® to handle.

VIA: Hyperbole and a Half

To which I say: who knew the male ego was such a fragile thing? If we’re going to believe advertisers (and really, we shouldn’t) masculinity is so fragile that even a single flake of granola could send them spiraling into gender-confusion meltdown. Because everyone knows that only women care about smelling nice, eating well, and looking good. The only way to convince men to wade into the shallow waters of womanly tea-drinking is to package it up inside a safe little box of Real Man® approved bacon-flavored melanges and testicle-shaped tea bags.

Or, you know, not. The whole masculinizing approach is insulting to men and women. Most men I know are secure enough in their gender identity to avoid having a panic attack every time they’re faced with an iron. And as a woman, I’m frustrated by the idea that anything feminine is automatically assumed to be weak or trivial. I racked my brain and the only feminized “male” product that I could think of were pink or slim-cut football jerseys. It’s no secret that our androcentric culture sees maleness as normal and neutral and femaleness as a departure from both of those things rather than masculinity’s equal and opposite counterpart. Most things in our society that aren’t clearly gendered become male by default and so marketers don’t have to work very hard to convince women and girls that those things are worth having.

But just how seriously are we supposed to take a candle that describes its scent as “cassis and fig with a hint of danger”? Surely advertisers don’t think men are stupid enough to pick up their product and think “I could use a little adventure in my life!” We’re past the era where advertisers tried to appeal to buyers by convincing us that their product could fix our problems. Now they approach us with a wink that says “This is so meta! You’re smart enough to know how advertising works and I know that you’re savvy. You know, we should probably hang out some time.” Which just makes it even harder to fight the sexism that’s implicit in ad campaigns. Anyone who dares to point out what’s problematic is instantly shut down with some version of “can’t you take a joke” and the culprits escape to continue their reign of hegemony-perpetuating terror.

And that’s the real problem here. It’s not wrong for men to think that Beer Foam is a better color to paint their walls than Bone White. But it’s also not wrong that some women agree or that some men disagree. It’s wrong that we should expect men to act one way (and only one way) and women to act another, weaker and inferior way. Gender is such a lovely and nuanced thing that can be twisted in so many directions and when someone needs it sliced down the middle it makes me want to scream. Out of all the possible gender expressions in the world, we keep getting fed the same two over and over again and, even here in Ohio, I see plenty of people every day who don’t fit into those boxes. Advertisers tell us that they only give us what we ask for, but they’re creating expectations just as much as they respond to them. It’s one reason it’s so important and so amazing that we continue to support queer companies. Like it or not, capitalism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and when the money that’s talking is ours, our voices and our values become stronger.

Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 329 articles for us.

61 Comments

  1. This made me think of an episode of “Raising Hope” titled “Bro-gurt”. In the episode the father, Burt, and his friend invent a product called Bro-gurt which is yogurt that comes in flavors for men. Flavors like scotch and cigar, or hamburger (“Not turkey burger because that would be girly”). The episode was funny, but after watching it I wondered why the men felt they had to create their own “manly” thing when they of course can just eat some darn yogurt because it tastes good, not because in commercials it is eaten by a sex that is not their own. It is strange that advertisers are taking this route when they in fact could just sell the fact that their product is spectacular because it does whatever or tastes great, not because it makes you manly or awesome. That idea is just ridiculous unless it applies to hormones or awesome pills…

  2. I HATE the Dr. Pepper 10 commercials. They play all the time on the radio here. So annoying. They’re screwing themselves over by pushing the “just for men” thing so much. The commercial starts of with “women, do you sit around and discuss tools with your friends? [insert tool talk].. no? then Dr. Pepper ten is not for you!” Well maybe I do!! What the eff?!

    • My thoughts exactly. And I do NOT recommend visiting the site for Man Teas. He claims he’s not homophobic: gays leave more women for “the rest of us” and lesbians, well, they’re fun to watch!

      He does own up to misogynistic, sexist, chauvinist pig, though, so at least there’s that…?

    • The Alphanail website reminds me of that Powerthirst “commercial” on YouTube, except, right, it’s real…

      (side note: it is substantially funnier if you read the descriptions in the Powerthirst voiceover voice)

    • WHAT.

      Ok, I’ll admit the alphanails actually look pretty cool, but I’m baffled as to why they feel the need to market them exclusively to men. I mean, hell, I’d wear those, and the bottles look much easier to use than the traditional nail polish bottle. Plus the entire site is like an exercise in cheese, and not in a self-aware way. At all.
      A quote: “Our colors are so sick Dr. House can’t fix them.”
      What?

      I’m staying away from the testicle teabags. I don’t want to see them in real life, I don’t want to see them as tea.

  3. Holy sh*t.
    I can’t believe these products are real! I especially hate that stupid Dr. Pepper Ten commercial. I am pretty girly in many ways…I wear makeup, I like dresses, I like my animals cute and fluffy…but I also really love action movies. I guess I didn’t realize that women weren’t allowed to be amused by car chases and stuff exploding.
    Not that I drink soda anyway, but now I’ll be sure to avoid all Dr. Pepper products. JESUS.

  4. “Gender is such a lovely and nuanced thing that can be twisted in so many directions and when someone needs it sliced down the middle it makes me want to scream.”

    i <3 this post. laura, you're awesome.

  5. Idk what kind of straight men the proprietor of ‘Man Teas’ hangs out with. The ones I know are highly unlikely to see drinking liquid made from a testicle-shaped sac designed for ‘t-baggin’ as an affirmation of their hetero dudeliness. Especially unlikely when the testicle juice in question is the ‘coconut cream pie’ flavour. Just saying.

      • “what’s that son? you’re feeling like regular tea is turning you into a homosexual? well drink some of this here testicle juice, that’ll straighten you out good and proper*”

        *in my head this is being said with a cowboy drawl, idk why.

        • “Man teas, because if there’s anything more masculine than placing your testicles on another dude’s face, it is placing a tea bag shaped like testicles into a glass of warm water and drinking that warm, flavored testicle water.”

  6. I hate that commercial. It’s like “this is not for women” and I’m like “well what if I WANT to drink your dumb Dr. Pepper!!!”
    Riley (the cute one on youtube who discusses marketing) needs to have a talk with these people!!

  7. Awesome post! I did want to comment on “the only feminized “male” product that I could think of were pink or slim-cut football jerseys.” There are all sorts of examples of this like pink toolkits, etc. and it is equally damaging and sexist. For more, check out this post from sociological images: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/11/23/personalizing-uniforms-colored-handcuffs/

    • I thought of the pink tools/construction goods as well. If it’s just something available in another color and not an inferior product or weird “girly” version, I don’t really see how that is damaging, though. I think it’s nice to have a choice and show some personality. I’d never wear pink accessories for anything, but I have a purple hard hat and tool belt, and no one seems to care. Of course, I guess it might be different if they were pink. The girls in the office have to keep a pink tool set because it’s the only way to stop the shop guys from coming in and stealing the office tools.

    • Another one is beer. Really, all they have to do is make a beer that is delicious and then not advertise with a bunch of plasticized bikini models. That’s all it takes for women to buy beer!

        • And now that I’ve been thinking about it while taking the washing down, I might take the opportunity to go a bit further…

          I work for a company that makes medical devices. There are some differences between men and women that could make a female version of our products worthwile, but we’ve basically just made pink versions of the small sizes we already sell in the “male” (aka default) product.

          These pink products are almost universally reviled amongst the women I work with (surprise surprise). But! Apparently out in the field, women take to some of the products very, very well. The medical devices we make are used to treat something that is seen as mainly affecting men (although that might not be the case as much as we once thought), so the fact that my company is thinking about female patients *at all* is a huge deal. I’ve even seen patient testimonials saying that they were almost moved to tears by pictures of women using the products!

          (The pinkified version of a product that is specced exactly the same as the silver one? Yeah, that one hasn’t done as well as certain marketing execs had envisioned. Shocker.)

          There has got to be a way to harness this, though, without being so condescending! Making use of biometric data might be one of them, but I’m not sure what else we could do – but there must be something!

          /rant

    • thanks! i knew had to be more but i couldn’t think of any. the tool thing drives me crazy. especially because they’re usually lightweight and smaller and WHO WANTS TINY DINKY TOOLS? no one because they won’t work!

  8. While this is ridiculous, the cassis and fig candle the original article says is “reminiscent of a strippers pole” is more reminiscent of James Bond, which is why the tagline about danger works…never mind, of course, the fact that James Bond is homophobic, sexist, anti-disabled, classist, and has about a million other things wrong with it (I may be slightly bitter, having had to recently study Goldfinger for uni).

  9. *looks up Alphanail website*

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    *scrolls down*

    BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    HAHAHAHA

    HAHA

    HA….

    Really, nail polish is nail polish and whether you buy Alphanail or NYC brand from Target you’re going to get the same results

  10. how is a soda ‘not for women’? advertising is such a nonsensical thing. What if I say something like ‘Dr. Pepper Ten, every flavor, just 10 calories… no need to worry about weight, just what a girl needs’ isn’t it the SAME thing?

  11. The “it’s not for women” line in the Pepsi commercial seems incredibly counterproductive… I would think that they could get more profit by trying actually to persuade people to buy their product.

  12. I get the masculine packaging angle. But does it seriously have to have FOR MEN plastered across it? There in lies the gender binary suckage. If it was just masculine packaging then it would in fact be more subliminal. Yes, men would naturally just go for products packaged so, the look of it appeals more to them. They don’t have to be fucking told THIS PRODUCT IS FOR YOU WITH THE TESTICLES. That’s just laziness and the assumption that the consumer is an idiot. Also it alienates those females who would be drawn to the product as well.

    In closing, I really want the Alpha Nails because I suck at painting my nails and coloring them in like a sharpie looks way easier. Also, also, Cassis and Fig with added Danger sounds like my kind of candle.

    • I agree. I am drawn to masculine/androgynous/just not so overtly girly versions of a variety of products for a variety of reasons. I want the things, but it’s silly to suggest only men want less-femmey items.
      That candle sounds amazing. Flames, in my house? That somehow smell like danger more than a usual candle? UH YEAH IM A BADASS SIGN ME UP

  13. Can I just say I heard the Dr. Pepper 10 ad on the way home from work a few hours ago and was like..’are you kidding me.’ and then immediately after, ‘I wonder if AS has gotten wind of this?’

    and as it turns out, you have!

  14. It’s interesting how the very same things are described in gendered, either/or terms- y’ know the obvious, girls play with dolls, boys with action figures. I would argue, also, that what we call the male ego in reference to something men have vs. emotions as something that women have are actually the same thing. When someone says that a guy’s ego was hurt, really they mean his feelings were hurt.

    Yes, many men who are also masculine can pick up an iron without feeling any less masculine, but many, many men just aren’t there yet, as evidenced by the effectiveness of bullying boys and men into falling into line by calling them pussies or sissies. Appalling ads, but sadly/outrageously, probably pretty effective.

  15. I was so sad the first time I saw the Dr. Pepper commercial, I can’t believe it wasn’t laughed off in the development stages.

    Also, I see Ohio mentioned on here often, are many of you located around Columbus? I live in Columbus!

  16. I love, LOVE this article! I love pointing out the range of gender and sexuality when ppl want to go there and it makes me scream too. And your conclusion is spot on. Supporting each other to grow our voice is the most sense I’ve heard lately. Love!

  17. I got a “girl” swiss army knife for Christmas one year and my brother got a standard, “man” knife. Guess what mine had? A nail file, tweezers, scissors, and a toothpick. Super freaking lame.

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