Back in January, I predicted that 2018 would be the year feminism goes after boys. So far we’ve seen the New York Times praise a growing Instagram trend featuring boys as young as ten years old posting makeup tutorials, preschool television being criticized for being too masculine, and the reboot of Roseanne excited to feature a cross-dressing 9-year-old boy. Now, marketers for AXE body spray are taking the anti-male crusade to the next age group with the online campaign #IsItOkForGuys, and they aren’t alone. Covering the trend, Getty Images reports:
Challenger brands tackling hyper-masculinity include Axe’s #IsItOkForGuys, which explores social anxieties based on Google searches: “Is it OK to be skinny… to wear pink… to not like sports?” The Blaze’s Cannes prize-winning music video Territory follows an Algerian man’s homecoming with intense emotion and intimacy between men.
…Given the masculinity crisis in fast-changing social and visual culture, creatives have an opportunity to discard dull, destructive male stereotypes. Let’s swap competitiveness with community, silence with support and make room for vulnerability and diversity. Men are increasingly responding to empathic and authentic storytelling that visualizes the complex and diverse possibilities in becoming a man.
The report falls under the title “visual trends for 2018.” “The male psyche is in crisis,” the section begins, noting that Getty Images partnered with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) Photography Movement, “launching a competition to ‘re-picture’ mental illness. The resulting imagery was powerful, encouraging an expansion of male self-expression through photography.” In other words, traditional images of masculinity – including the “tough guy” and the “hunk,” according to Getty –are the equivalent of misery and/or mental illness? But the borderline gender dysphoria the competition promotes is… happy and healthy?
To be fair, CALM is a UK organization dedicated to preventing male suicide, “the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.” The website doesn’t appear to take any particular stance on what is or isn’t an appropriate expression of male sexuality. However, search the hashtag “Is It Ok for Guys” and you’ll find different links posted, including a photo taken at an International Men’s Day event featuring questions that include:
Is it OK for guys to wear makeup?
Is it OK for guys to wear pink?
Is it OK for guys to be skinny?
Is it OK for guys to wear jewelry?
According to an article on Axe’s campaign in AdWeek, “The brand says it hopes the new work helps “to break the cycle of toxic masculinity by providing guys with resources to live more freely.’”
In other words, Axe is simply using the buzz phrase “toxic masculinity” to market their product under the guise of being both politically correct and compassionate towards their target demographic. In reality, they’re walking the gender dysphoria tightrope. The company could highlight images of fathers and sons, male teammates or even male friends or colleagues in positive relationships. Instead, they’re taking the kind of binary either/or approach that those who wage the War on Boys love. If you really want to be sensitive, if you really want to be in touch with your true manly self, act like a woman. Because if you don’t, as the Getty Images coverage indicates, you’re obviously mental.