Ads that sexualize women are nothing particularly surprising these days, but ads that play to the same ideas about men aren’t as common. It’s important, though, to recognize objectification of either sex. It is just as necessary to push back against misogyny as it is to understand that while sexualizing men isn’t as prevalent (or, isn’t recognized for what it is because of the absence of a concept of a male version of misogyny) objectifying men is harmful for men for the same reasons it’s harmful for women. It’s well known that things like negative body image and eating disorders disproportionately affect women, but it would be negligent to overlook how these issues affect men. If in discussions about body/weight/ability issues men are left out, it enhances the notion that these are not issues for men, which alienates the men who are struggling with their bodies.
Edge shaving gel has two new ads that oddly address their male audience not with the usual chiseled cheekbones and jaw lines but with allusions to penis size. While advertising has shown its ability reduce every possible product to sex, shaving gel has nothing to do with penis size. You can’t even really make a “man-scaping” argument. The association with products being advertised to men being linked to what makes them “a real man,” is almost as universal as the association of “manhood” with the penis. If we can agree that women being reduced to sexualized body parts or their ability to be sexual, we should also agree that placing a man’s worth in his pants is wrong for the same reasons.
These ads from Edge, promoting a $10,00 sweepstakes, claim that “You can spot an Edge man by what’s in his pants,” and “Edge men are better endowed,” both referring to finances, but clearly associating a man’s penis to something that is worth cash. Imagine if this ad featured a woman, claiming, “You can spot an Edge woman by what’s in her pants.” It’s completely inappropriate. Yet we recognize this more quickly in the female example because female sexuality has long been thought of as something of monetary value, able to be owned or sold. But selling male sexuality is just as problematic as selling female sexuality.
As we argue that a woman is more than what’s between her legs, we have not been as adamant about defending men from the same attacks. Maybe this is because, generally speaking, we have accepted that men understand their male identity based on their physical body and what they can physically do with their body. Part of the way we broadly define men is as bigger, taller, broader, and stronger than women. Aside from the problematic language of women being, by default, smaller and weaker, this language and perception messages to men that the “real male body” should look a certain way, have a certain muscle mass, be able to manipulate the environment to a certain level, all encompassed, for some illogical reason, in the penis.
Advertising like the Edge prints, similar to ads objectifying women, have an overtly sexual message yet their impact is more subtle. On the surface, these bawdy ads are often viewed as humorous, which usually makes them appear harmless. But as we have come to understand the harm inherent in the regularity of sexualized female images, we’ve largely overlooked the fact that sexualized images and messages are not exclusively female. Men are affected by the subtle power of advertising too, and disregarding this impact means that we ignore the effects of those influences.