Mad World: Who's afraid of (being) the big bad feminist?

Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

First things first: All of us at Bitch HQ are bursting with excitement because the folks at Oregon Humanities have awarded us a grant to explore the intersections of advertising, feminism, and media literacy. This virtual symposium is called “Mad World: Gender, Advertising, and Identity in a Mediated World” and over the next eight months you’ll be seeing articles, blog posts, podcasts, and even a virtual book club on the website and in the magazine. Get your media-literacy pants on, people, because we’re doing this thing!

On this, the official Mad World blog, we’ll be discussing how advertising informs our identities and our ideas about sex and gender. Got an idea you’d like to discuss? Let us know! The Mad World blog will go up every Tuesday, and we want you to jump in early and often.

Let’s start with a discussion of this ad:

If you follow us on Twitter and Facebook (and we know you do), you’ll recall that we posted this video two weeks ago, along with this blog post by Jamie Doak at BUST that has us all wondering what, if anything, the spot means for feminists. Sure, many of us find the ad hilarious, but does that mean it isn’t sexist?

Says Doak,

It’s tricky territory though when you label sexist jokes as feminist satire – because a lot of really sexist things get said as “jokes” when really they’re just sexist things being said. It’s hard for me to draw the line here because I DO think humor is a great way to introduce feminist ideals to a broader audience but I also don’t believe that humor is an excuse for sexism.

After posting the video, and that quote, on our Facebook page, a number of you claimed to like the ad, but you ‘fessed up to feeling like “bad feminists” because of it. One reader said, “I am a rotten feminist because I love this commercial.” Another chimed in with, “here, here. laughed and felt horrible and then laughed some more.” From a third commenter, “OMG, I’m so glad to hear other people are feeling the same way. I loooooooove this ad. And then I feel bad about it. And then he’s on a horse.” The guilty confessions abounded, and they got us thinking: What does it mean to feel like a “bad feminist”? Why do we feel guilty for liking certain media? Should we?

In this instance, we can probably say that some of the guilt comes from this particular product being marketed to men in a very stereotypically “manly man’s man” way. The man in question doesn’t think men should smell like ladies, and that could easily be construed as a sexist statement. What, exactly, do ladies smell like? And why would it be so horrible for men to smell the same way?

And what about the ways in which the ladies are framed by this ad? Do women really just want diamonds and men on horseback? (We do all want tickets to that thing we like of course, but who doesn’t?) What about women who have diamond allergies and prefer the bookish type? What about women who want their men to smell like ladies, or women who aren’t into men at all? Of course an advertisement can’t represent everyone’s individual preferences, but the fact that it presents diamonds and masculinity as a woman’s ultimate desires is telling when it comes to our culturally held notions about gender. Yes, it is somewhat of a parody, but does that make it less problematic? Or does the shorthand involved here (get laughs by referencing women’s love of diamonds) speak to a deeper problem?

Another issue likely at play for some of us is that this is a huge, corporate product designed to convince us to buy more corporate products. Would we feel differently if this ad had the same design and message but was for an independently owned men’s deodorant manufacturer, or a company owned by women? Maybe. Do we feel differently knowing that an independently owned advertising firm produced this ad? Why does that matter?

And what of being a “bad feminist”? Are you a bad feminist if you laugh at something sexist? What if you immediately follow up with a comment about how you wish things weren’t so sexist? Is it better to laugh and qualify than not to laugh at all? Being a feminist is tricky business, and we’re all going to find ourselves busting a gut from time to time at a commercial that might just be in poor, or even sexist, taste (heck, there are enough sexist ads out there that it’s bound to happen eventually). Does that make us bad feminists, or just human feminists? Where do we draw the line?

Of course, we are also working against the awful stereotype here that feminists just aren’t that funny. That’s not true, but because so many things that are supposed to make us laugh (Dude bro comedies, sexist and racist stand-up routines, Dane Cook) are actually just plain offensive, feminists get the reputation of being major buzzkills because we’re willing to speak up when something pisses us off. When it comes to advertising this happens even more frequently, because ads often use a sexist shorthand to get their messages across (think of just about every beer commercial you have ever witnessed for evidence of this). I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel a little stuck when I laugh at an offensive ad because I want to hold it down for my fellow feminists out there and eschew all things sexist, but then when I am offended I don’t always feel like speaking up because I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that we’re all a bunch of Debbie Downers. Can I get a witness?

There are no hard and fast answers to be found here, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. We mean it. Our Mad World discussion blog cannot exist without discussion. So, what do you do when you feel guilty for liking something that’s just not all that feminist? Do you have a strategy for determining what you’ll accept and what you won’t? How do we navigate the tricky territory of “bad feminism”? Discuss!

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH’s grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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36 Comments Have Been Posted

What a great subject and

What a great subject and well thought out response to something I'm sure we've all been thinking. I especially liked, " I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that we’re all a bunch of Debbie Downers."

Why is it that when we question commercials, comments or behaviors we are immediately attacked as Debbie Downers? I admit that I laughed and still do laugh at this commercial when I see it, yet I also recognize that it could have a negative effect on women. Spreading awareness about how a text could be interpreted shouldn't be labeled as a bad thing!


I mean, can I say that I liked the Old Spice commercial because it was being post-feminist? That all the ridiculous stereotypes were recgonizably exactly that? Do I want diamonds? Do I want to be on a horse? Do I really expect my man to smell "like a man"? Not in the least, and I thought they were placed there very tongue-in-cheek. ly.

I know we're NOT in a post-feminist world, but I thought that's sort of where the commercial was going--for us to all laugh at these silly things that other commercials [I'm looking at you, Kay jewelers] ACTUALLY use to push products. It was actually funny and I didn't feel like a bad feminist for having a sense of humor. Plus, compared to the horrendous superbowl commercial which were neither a) clever when it came to gender stereotypes or b) funny. at all. it was gold. Which is why I think this commercial is a-okay.

I'm a second-generation

I'm a second-generation feminist (meaning I'm 67 years old) and this commercial made me laugh. I would be interested in knowing if anyone finds it offensive and why.

Agreed, but substitute...

I think the stuff we should be really annoyed with (as a feministic whole) are those awful GoDaddy commercials. I couldn't think of a worse way to draw in 50% of the population than having people rip their shirts off.

I think that the commercial pokes fun at both genders (and their appropriate stereotypes), but it does it with aplomb and some amount of grace. Yes, I laughed at it. It made me smile - which is more than what I can say for a lot of either overly syrupy commercials, or that horrific GoDaddy thing that keeps going on and on and on. I GET IT, THEY RIP OFF THEIR SHIRTS, CAN WE GET A NEW MARKETING/AD MANAGER THERE PLEASE?!

Re: The Go Daddy Ads

Oh yeah. Those are the WORST. Totally agree.

I think I want Oysters...

I think I want Oysters... heh.

What a great topic of

What a great topic of discussion! I'm really psyched for this series of blog posts.

I had a similar reaction this ad at first. I think it's mildly funny, but I felt bad that I thought so. In fact, while I would describe myself as pretty far left leaning, I like a lot of politically incorrect humour that makes jokes about topics I'm passionate about. It's a contradiction to say the least.

I guess what it comes down to for me, and maybe this is just in my own head, is really what I experience as the heart of the joke. Is the joke inviting me to agree with an unasked, "amirightfolks?" or is it asking me to agree with, "isn't this utterly ridiculous?" The Old Spice ad ultimately doesn't make me feel like it's saying, "hey- isn't it true that this is what a man should be?" I feel like instead the joke is "isn't this exaggeration of sex stereotypes revealing a lot about how silly they are?"

Of course, that said, someone else's experience of the joke here might be totally different. It's all subjective. This is just a differentiation that seems to fit the way I experience media as one person who self-identifies as a feminist.

Another example of this paradigm is the show Everybody Loves Raymond. Personally, I'm not a fan of the show because I find so many of its jokes to be sexist. They revolve around this idea of wives as nagging, frigid, controlling figures that squelch the hilarious misadventures of overgrown man children who would be having fun if not for "the old ball and chain." Again I say, the spirit of the joke here is- wives are awful, amiright?

In contrast, let's talk about a few moments on that classic American TV show, The Simpsons. Remember the episode in which Marge and Lisa toured the Malibu Stacy factory? Lisa questioned the tour guide and the following dialogue ensued:

Lisa: Is the remarkably sexist drivel spouted by Malibu Stacy intentional, or is it just a horrible mistake?"
Tour guide: [laughs] Believe me, we're very mindful of such concerns.
Man: [wolf whistles] Hey Jiggles, grab a pad and back that
gorgeous butt in here.
Tour guide: [laughs good-naturedly] Oh, get away, you.
Man: Aw, don't act like you don't like it.

Sexist behaviour? Absolutely. But I don't experience the joke here as sexist. The dialogue doesn't invite the listener to agree that it's hilarious how all women love being called "jiggles." Instead, the spirit of the joke here invites us to laugh at how ridiculous calling a woman "jiggles" actually is, thereby critiquing such behaviour and placing it in the realm of the absurd.

I look at this from a

I look at this from a marketing perspective.

Old Spice is seen by men in their 20s and younger as what their fathers and grandfathers use and are turned off by it because it seems old-fashioned. Men are also getting more comfortable with the whole "body wash and loofah" trend on the shower, but honestly, the only body wash that's available is for women, which IMO, is sexist. Men don't really have "beauty products" and until Axe came out, they had pretty much nothing. Guys want to smell good but they don't all want to smell fruity and flowery. It's not horrible for men to smell like that, but if they don't want to, they don't have a lot of options. I don't use men's cologne, and I wouldn't use Old Spice. Is that bad that I don't want to smell like a man?

Regarding the diamonds thing, it's an age-old stereotype that women like diamonds. It's a symbol of love. Diamond engagement ring. Diamond bracelet on Valentine's Day. Is this ad any different or worse than the song "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend"? And honestly, what woman would get upset at their boyfriend/fiance/husband/lover if they got them jewelry with diamonds?

If anything, I could see some men being irked by this ad, but I don't think it's anything to be upset over. It clearly speaks to straight men who want more options for body wash than their girlfriend's. (FTR, my fiance has used my bodywash before and has used women's bodywash... and it irritates him that the only options are women's... and he might get this stuff).

I don't feel bad that I like this ad because men on horses are sexy, men on boats are sexy, men with tickets to that thing I love are sexy (my fiance took me to see Lady Gaga for christmas, tres sexy), and diamonds are sexy. And I think that Old Spice smells pretty darn nice. So I guess that's my shtick.

Golddigger stereotype?

Golddigger stereotype? Distraction by shiny rocks? DeBeers? Blood diamonds? Have all of these cultural phenomena passed you by?

I am a woman who would get upset by being given diamonds for these reasons and more, and I know many others.

One tube of women's toothpaste, please.

Congratulations on the grant!!

I thought the ad was one of the most offensive I've seen in a while. I don't care if it was witty. The point of the commercial was to push their product by assigning a gender to a freaking soap and to shame men into buying their "men's" product. There is hardly a product that exists anymore that hasn't been explicitly or implicitly assigned a gender. They even have women's toilet paper ("extra soft") and men's toilet paper ("extra strong") now.

The worst ads in regards to feminism are the ones that follow this script: "You are a (woman/man), so you must _______"

This ad's primary message:
You are a man, so you must buy Old Spice.

This ad's secondary messages:
You are a woman, so you must want a rugged man.
You are a woman, so you must not want a woman or a girly man.
You are a woman, so you must like silly things and should not be taken seriously.

That said, I don't think anyone is a "bad feminist" if they like it or laugh at it. When I first saw this ad, my girlfriend started to laugh but stopped and looked at me to see if it was okay. :) There are issues that feminists can disagree about -- I like American Apparel and even freaking PETA, for example. It's probably better that we don't all share the same brains.

You bring up an interesting

You bring up an interesting point. I mean, even if the ad is (to some) poking fun of that script (you are a man/woman so you must ____), the script is still being used.

The Old Spice ad reminds me a lot of the Grant Hill Sprite campaign in the 90s, the tagline of which was "Image is nothing. Thirst is everything."

The campaign featured ads (here's one example in which Grant Hill talked about how Sprite gave him super athletic abitilites and generally made him an all around cool guy. All the while, dollar signs would appear behind him mocking the idea of Grant making these claims in exchange for a corporate paycheck.

Even though the ads were very tongue-in-cheek about celebrity spokespeople, they still featured a celebrity spokesperson. Grant Hill. Getting paid. To sell Sprite.

Shame men?

So you're basically saying that men are fine with using women's body wash?

I beg to differ.

I can't even begin to explain how much my fiance complains that basically every single body wash has either shimmer, smells like flowers, fruit, etc. They've genderized soap and don't blame it on Old Spice for pointing out that men don't really have a lot of choices when it comes to body wash. You're getting mad at the wrong people.

The ad is saying "You're a man and here's a body wash that isn't for women." "You're a man and you're sick of buying women's products and don't want to smell fruity." Is that so terrible?

You're also dismissing that actual men don't want to use women's body wash. You're dismissing their feelings, wants, and needs, to buy a product designed for them. You're putting down masculine men and women who are attracted to masculine men. The ad is speaking strictly to those men, not ALL men. That's where you're mistaken.

And what about that ad says that women like silly things and shouldn't be taken seriously?

Whitney, I think the real


I think the real issue here is not so much that some men don't want to smell like fruit or that some men do (and yes, some men do) but rather that this ad and others like it promote stereotypes when it comes to gender. Yes, many men want their own bodywash, but why is that? Why have we decided that men should smell like pine trees and women should smell like sparkly flowers? These choices are not biological or inherent, but we are conditioned to accept them without question. That's why media literacy is so awesome, because it helps us break down some of these commonly held beliefs.

No one is putting down men or women individually, but rather we are attempting to think critically about the system as a whole. Why is it that we assume women should want diamonds and men on horseback? Why should a "masculine" person be valued differently than a "feminine" person?

You're right that soap has become genderized, but instead of being happy when a man's soap is introduced on the market, we should be asking for a gender-neutral soap. IMHO, anyway.

Um, actually, it is biological.

"Yes, many men want their own bodywash, but why is that? Why have we decided that men should smell like pine trees and women should smell like sparkly flowers? These choices are not biological or inherent, but we are conditioned to accept them without question."

With all respect, this is the craziest thing I've ever heard. Ever heard of pheromones? Ever stood next to a man who's all sweaty and been inexplicably turned on by that smell--a smell that is instantly recognizable as male because sweaty women just don't have that same musk to them? Did you know that they've done studies that show that men and women are turned on by different smells--and that this reaction is physiological, not sociological? I wouldn't argue that culture doesn't have some sway over how we all feel about gender, but to flat out deny that there's a biological factor at play when it comes to this kind of thing is misguided at best. There's a difference between our constructed identities (all the stuff we've picked up along the way since we were small children and have decided create who we are) and instinctual reactions (which definitely exist, and anyone who says they don't is in full flight from reality). To imply that ALL men don't want to smell like flowers because they've been enculturated to think they don't and that this has NOTHING to do with biology is shortsighted to say the least.

If we're talking biology...

Actually, with pheromones the components in a man's sweat that cause a chemical reaction (sexual attraction) in the brain are actually scentless when isolated (look up perfume/cologne companies that try to bottle these pheromones.) Also, all people have their own unique body odor- In terms of heterosexual women, certain men will turn some women on and turn others off based on their own unique scents. So if men really wanted to attract women and still smell "like men" they would not wear any artificial scents at all. For any human, covering up your natural smell altogether is actually a detriment to finding a mate, biologically that is.

Also, all humans have a musky-ish smell. I can guarantee you that no woman naturally smells like roses, vanilla, or what have you.

Here, Here!

First of all, I can tell you right now I'm one of the muskiest gals around... and my man LOVES IT!, as do many of my female, hetero and homo sexual girl friends, and hetero and homo sexual guy friends.... on the contrary, there are also people out there who think I could use a shower or some deodorant (I choose to not wear deodorant, and when I deem it really necessary use natural "sea salt" deodorant or some sandlewood oil I get from my local co-op). Some folks are just naturally attracted to other folk's scent. In my circle, several or many of my friends don't really wear deodorant, conscious of the chemicals and disliking fake, constructed smells, we generally get a good whiff of each others aroma. I have learned that the more I appreciate someone's scent, *generally* I get along with them very well, and sometimes and even attracted to them. My boyfriend sometimes uses a natural Tom's deodorant, which isn't horrific, but I still prefer when he doesn't (then again, not all days equal the same body odor and there's one a bestfriend/ex-girlfriend has appropriately dubbed "garlic-salsa"-- I'll take Old Spice over that any day!!!).

So, herein lies two points:
1. I agree with the natural scent attracting humans to one another, but I do not believe that men and women smell inherently different-- as separate genders, not individuals-- if left unscented and, perhaps, unsoaped.
2. While mainstream media and consumerism have definitely target marketed women for these body washes (and other numerous cosmetic products) and left men to reach for dial or some other less "foofy" bar soap (or by default use his girls shimmery-coconut what have you), this is kind of a moot point--- while deconstructing marketing campaigns is helpful, what's more helpful is deconstructing the product inside those shiny, happy (or black and masculine looking) bottles!!!

ALL of these products contain various amounts of chemicals, most of which have been tested on animals, and most of which could potentially be bad for the environment, and come in new plastic bottles, etc, etc. You get my point. I opt, although it's more expensive, for all natural products, and even ones that can be used for multiple purposes (Dr. Bronners!!!). I'm no physicist and don't know too much about these chemicals, but it certainly seems that listed items I can read are likely safer and more biodegradable than ones I cannot! (That is, it seems safer to be using "organic lavender essential oil, coconut oil...." etc, than the crap listed on them other bottles!) *You can check out the truth about all / most products at Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Reviews (

In short, while discourse on what is or isn't sexist is totally rad, I think that there are issues totally connected to sexism (why are many of the products targeted towards women really, really full of chemicals that cause breast cancer?) that should be taken more seriously in this discourse.

That said, the commercial was witty. I didn't feel targeted, except for the diamonds, and I don't like All-Spice, nor do I want my man to douse himself in it, nor do I think that his scent will make him a better man--- he other helps with dishes or doesn't, right?

FURTHERMORE: the commercial I've recently seen that drives me to the point of throwing a cinder block through my t.v. screen is the AXE commercials about 'women getting bored easily' and then the man has to change his appearance every 5 minutes. Talk about sexist towards both genders! Geez! It's absolutely horrible.


It's a common misconception that chemicals that are produced 'naturally' are less safe in some way than ones that aren't. There's really no inherent difference in chemicals based on whether they were manufactured in a lab or harvested from a plant/animal, each chemical has it's own unique properties based on it's own, unique arrangement of atoms, which is quite independent of source. For example: lavender oil (and tea tree oil) which you mentioned, is considered a pseudo-estrogen under some conditions, and has been found to cause development of female secondary sexual characteristics in some prepubescent boys (aka, preteen boys started growing breasts), and we don't know what component of lavender and tea tree oil causes this effect. In reality, every one of those "natural" components you can read and you think you understand is made up of dozens of individual chemicals all with names you'd consider strange, and most of which with chemical properties, and biological and ecological impacts we are mostly to completely in the dark about.

You are a woman...

Your reply got me thinking....

Since the ad seems to target a female audience, advising the viewer to "look at your man," the primary message includes this stereotype:

You are a woman; women do the shopping because a woman is supposed to take care of her man. If your man doesn't look like me, doesn't buy you things or take you places, then it's because you haven't been taking care of him.

At the same time, the reference to "your man" smelling like a woman (already offensive) more than hints at stereotypes of emasculating wives/girlfriends.

Quick comment about the Old Spice ad...

At first I thought the commercial was stupid, using gender stereotypes to sell a product for Manly Men, but after a few more times watching it I started sort of loving it, but I think I just love the actor's delivery and flow. It cracks me up for some reason. Old Spice has had some really entertaining commercials in the past (like Will Farrel's ads playing his Semi-Pro character), but of course not all of their ads are. I think they have another commercial running now, I can't remember anything about it at the moment, but it's uninteresting and unfunny.

But, um, I think my point is that if it weren't for that actor, I wouldn't enjoy this one at all. I still don't like the gendered stereotypes the ad relies on to make its point, especially all the stuff about men "smelling like a lady" is apparently a bad thing... But dammit, he's just strangely hilarious.

Just wanted to say that when

Just wanted to say that when I posted the above comment, I didn't realize that I wasn't seeing the entire blog entry. I didn't read anything after the embedded video. Oops...

So, sorry if anything I said was addressed in the blog.


Congrats on the grant!

What a great topic, because it basically sums up what contemporary feminism is about, in my opinion. On one side of the spectrum you have the traditional gender narrative (what this ad is satirizing while at the same time reinforcing), on the other side there is "I'm a bad feminist if I laugh." How do we navigate our personal identities when neither side of this spectrum is completely sustainable or realistic (and on the former side, sexist & harmful)? Like you ask: "where you we draw the line?" Personally I think it is the task of every feminist today to do as much thinking & self-educating as she can, and then draw this line for herself--- and to bravely do so when there are so many conflicting messages to overwhelm and conspire against her. Yet I think it also means to accept that there's wiggle room and that it's okay to laugh sometimes (I did, and I'm usually the Debbie Downer type).

For a super-personal example, I eloped almost a year ago (I'm 23) and it took me about ten months to realize that I did not just end my life, my professional ambitions, or my capacity for independence by getting married. I am only now finding in myself a place of comfort in spite of all the conflicting messages (...I'm supposed to be a single independent and successful! 85% of young marriages fail! etc) and becoming happy with the me-specific identity I have chosen. I think I might be just echoing what Misha said, that we don't all need to have the same brain... and that there is not one feminist-path that we have to follow, which doesn't make us "bad". I don't think it's a coincidence that I started to feel more comfortable with my choices around the same time I re-discovered my feminism (and Bitch, to whom I am grateful for getting my brain going about all this stuff and for opening the discussion).

Speaking of "being comfortable in your own skin," a ton of the commercials for the Daily Show/Colbert Report online recently have been for a male body wash, "Dove Men+Care," with that as the slogan. The first one was surprisingly neutral and got a "wow, that was actually not that bad" from my pop-culture-sensitive not-very-masculine Sleater-Kinney-and-Joan-Armatrading-loving husband. Then the second one had a cringe-worthy song that ends with something like "BECAUSE you're a MAN!" and undid everything. :(

Lastly, @Whitney: personally I would be pissed and bewildered if my husband ever bought me a diamond.

My Two Cents

Okay I found the ad funny. And I think that because it was so over the top in making a joke out of stereotypes, it isn't quite that bad as far as ads go. That doesn't mean that it's not sexist, as most ads are. But let's face it, their main goal is to sell you something, and they tend to do so by both reflecting and perpetuating society's standards. Sexism is one of them. So I think as long as you understand the sexism in the ad, it’s still okay to laugh. And then start a campaign against if you want! Does finding something funny or finding it offensive necessarily have to be mutually exclusive?

Every day I probably do or think a million sexist things in ways I'm sure I don't always realize. And I'm sorry, but we all do. Does that make anyone any less of a feminist? No. It means that we were raised in a sexist society and have conscientiously made the choice to fight against that sexism, yes, but also have to acknowledge that we probably haven't been able to unlearn everything society has taught us; and that, in the end, all we can do is our best. In order to be functioning members of this society, we inevitably have to come to terms with some of its misogynistic ways, even as we are fighting to undermine those very same things.

Plus let's face it, we live in a pretty messed up world, and if we can't find some humor in it, even at the risk of being contradictory, we're pretty much screwed. (Wait was using the word “screwed” sexist?)

First, @Whitney, I don't

First, @Whitney, I don't like diamonds. Don't assume all women like diamonds. I'd pawn the little shiny things for something useful (and probably not soaked in blood).

Anyway, when I first the ad, I seriously thought it was a parody made by a company not affliated with Old Spice. When I realized that it was made by Old Spice, I thought, "Seriously? I'm not going to buy it [if I were a man], you just used post-feminism humor."

I read the comment that referenced looking at this commercial from a marketing perspective. Fine, there are some men that want to smell "like men." I think it would have been better to show a scenario of him trying to shop for a body wash or him at his girlfriend's place trying to take a shower. This ad was too hilarious in a post-modern way for guys to actually not see this as a joke, in my opinion.

stinky feminism

You know that can of soup that's not labeled for recycling, but you know it's steel. Or that used paper plate with grease stains on it? It's still paper, right? But are these items recyclable? So you toss the can into the trash and the paper plate into the recycling bin and hope you got it right. That's how I feel about this Old Spice commercial, and any other iffy/sexist jokes that I think are funny. The commercial seems satirical and self-aware, but that could just be a ridiculously devious mechanism for reinforcing sexist beliefs (as you've all pointed out). It's going to make some people laugh, and some people furious, and it's okay that there are both reactions! The important thing is that we can freely choose our responses--because isn't feminism about choice?

And at least it wasn't an Axe commercial. Amen.

Can we talk about THIS?

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Deconstruction began and ended when Emily busted out "Hello ladies."

So. Many. Feelings.

Is this supposed to funny, or sad? Because I laughed. But then I cried.

Bad Feminists

As someone who identifies as a feminist and is a member of 'generation Y' (and the post feminist era) I feel that I come up against this 'good feminist/bad feminist' dichotomy all the time.
Personally I have not heard some of my more chauvinistic male friends giggle at a feminist joke/agree with a feminist comment and my immediate reaction is to accuse them of being 'bad patriarchal examples' or 'sub par chauvinists'. (Granted these phrases don't necesarily carry positive connotations).
But perhaps more so I do no see my male friends questioning the extent to which they degrade/disrespect women when they do not laugh at an advertisment or joke. nor do they appear to feel guilty about not taking a stronger stance on their position or 'living up to the expectations' society places on them.

I hope that made sense..slight rant. But even more interestly (this topic is fascinating by the way) I get it a lot from my more conservative female friends. Because I am a womens studies major at university I am expected to be a kill joy over every slightly chauvinistic thing said, to boo every male that breaks a girls heart (male friend or stranger, its irrelevant) and spit at men who practice chauvinism, who open my doors, who appear like the 'white night on a horse' in the add and who dare set FOOT near the patriachal 'fairytale' we all grew up on. If I wear high heels, I am not a 'true feminist' and if i shave my legs and do not identify as a lesbian I am a 'bad feminist'. Sheesh can someone please stop with the stereotypes THEY ARE EXHAUSTING!!

To be perfectly honest I am just glad to see feminist debate/discussion alive and well, with women determining their own social scripts and gender roles, but more so still feeling their way through (together) what still appears to be a changing manifestation of feminism .

Barking Up The Wrong... Horse.

Wow, I really love what everyone's saying here. I think I can agree that this may have been intended to be post-feminist irony, but I don't think using sexism as the medium of showing how over sexism we are really works - especially not when that exact brand of sexism is still rampant and especially not when they're trying to sell us something.

However, I think that's barking up the wrong horse. Personally, I find this laugh-till-I-cried funny AND really sexist, and I don't feel like a bad feminist. Here's why:

If you take the format of this commercial - every comedic and storytelling method used to make it funny and delightful and switch the content with something else, it would still be a HILARIOUS commercial. I think a lot of us conscious feminists may mistake this for finding the subject matter funny, which is why we feel guilty. While perhaps some bros or ladies will react with a, "HA! Yeah that's totally what women want!", most of us react with "OMG HORSE!!".

The actor's delivery was brilliant, the one-take-one-set was surprising, the horse was hilarious. I could care less about the messages. The commercial isn't funny because it's sexist - it's funny and it happens to be sexist.

So I don't think we should feel guilty, but I think we should point this out when we see it and keep an eye out for other commercials that use charming and unique formulas but still use the old subject matter as a crutch.

As a designer, I'm really interested in how we can create brilliant commercials without using crutches like stereotypes, toilet humor, sexism, racism, etc. Try thinking about the comedians you love - for me that would be Eddie Izzard, Brian Regan and David Cross. I love them because they take the time to avoid using classic crutches and instead do something new. Their comedy is a great deal harder and braver than making "old or Asian" jokes and griping about their wives.

Sex sells - that's why there's boobs in every beer commercial - but that doesn't mean it's the strongest medium for a message, or even the best way to impress your audience - it's just the easiest commercial to write for the lowest common denominator.

We can do better, and we should demand that we do!

Heck maybe one of these Mad World blogs can be a re-imagining of this or another commercial that uses a great format but defers to harmful subject matter?


i personally LOATHE this commercial because of all the inherent male stereotypes it involves. i criticized it, and called it sexist towards men, if they don't inhabit the manly-man world. it's completely ridiculous because of the stereotyping on both sides of the gender equation.
i asked my boyfriend what he thought about the commercial; he didn't care at all. this is interesting to me. feminists examine things constantly to see the message; i don't think men and boys are really taught to do this. they either take things at face value, or dismiss it out of hand.
now i know i'm being really broad here, but what might that mean? if men aren't examining these things nearly as closely as we are, how will that have an impact on our society? and is this why terrible beer still continues to sell so well, because their core audience isn't questioning anything?

funny but doesn't actually go against stereotypes

I laughed at this ad, but I also immediately recognized that it is in fact employing stereotypes to push product while at the same time appearing to laugh at them. The ad does not attempt to debunk that which it pokes fun at, but to employ it for the purpose of product promotion. It does not deconstruct stereotypes, nor does it go against them, because you can laugh at something and at the same time continue to confirm it - as you are not actually doing anything to subvert it. On the contrary, you're merely employing humor in an attempt to promote a product which, when you strip away the humor, carries the message that promotes stereotypes: women want masculine men, and men can (and should) be more masculine by using Old Spice.

i take it in the spirit it was meant.

I agree with the "laugh then feel bad then laugh some more" crowd. i do see how people might take the manly man's man angle and run with it down a humorless and easily-mockable "this ad is horrible!" stance, but i think it was honestly meant as a joke, and that's how i take it.
If i thought the writers were just trying to make a sexist statement in joke format so we couldn't yell at them for it, i'd hate it, but i don't. Does that make sense?

And lastly, can i just say in reply to a commentor who's name i can't remember, i DESPISE the term post-feminism. Feminism is now, and later, and in the future! Just because it's no longer the sixties or whenever post-fem people think feminism stopped, doesn't mean feminists today don't "count", which is in my opinion what the term post-feminist says. Rant over.


"And lastly, can i just say in reply to a commentor who's name i can't remember, i DESPISE the term post-feminism. Feminism is now, and later, and in the future! Just because it's no longer the sixties or whenever post-fem people think feminism stopped, doesn't mean feminists today don't "count", which is in my opinion what the term post-feminist says. Rant over.

THANK YOU! I was just about to say the same thing. Feminism is alive and it is NECESSARY, it never stopped, as evidence by this very blog.
There are so many ways people try and have always tried to make feminism seem irrelevant. Dont be a part of that.

When I first saw this Old

When I first saw this Old Spice commercial, i was dumbfounded by the surreality of it. The second time, I laughed. The third time, it was still funny, although its tour through cliche did nothing to make the particular product appealing. Now, I just laugh at it and ponder -at the thinking that went into deciding this was the proper way to market this particular product. I don't think it is aimed at women at all, but at the kind of man who thinks those cliches have application (and we can identify him by his smell, which could be useful). In fact, it was so obvious a use of cliches about women that it just skipped over my "this is offensive" button and skidded right into my "this is too stupid to make me react except to laugh." It's self conscious and obvious. As another poster above noted, it's using some very transparent storytelling techniques to elicit a laugh. It doesn't make me want the product its hawking.

The commercial I'm finding trips my "this is offensive" button is the latest in the "World's Most Interesting Man" campaign for Dos Equiis beer -- the one that starts out with an image of the chubby, bearded gent emerging from under the ice, dressed only in his long underwear and holding two fish. The voice over says "He wouldn't be ashamed of showing his feminine side -- if he had one". It goes on to talk about his mom having a tattoo that says "son" as we see him in various adventures, several involving moon eyed, giggling women. He's the "World's Most Interesting Man" because he's all freakin' MALE.

I bet he doesn't even have an X Chromosome, he's so macho. After all, if one gender shares qualities with the other, that's just ICKY. And if a man has some feminine qualities (or, I dunno, nipples) then he's just BORING. Maybe he's not even really a MAN. But if he drinks this particular beer, maybe -- just maybe -- he can get rid of that nasty feminine balance thing and be ALL MAN, and therefore INTERESTING.

Or a sloppy drunk who thinks he's all macho and interesting. I can't swear as to the outcome.

I find the connection between a lack of femininity and being interesting offensive.

I love this commercial for a

I love this commercial for a reason some of you will hate: the fan service. It's nice to see an ad featuring an attractive half naked man. I'm tired of goofy husbands and irresponsible teenagers being the only males that will get a woman's attention. If sex sells so well why aren't shirtless studs pushing detergent? I know that this is a little hetero-sexist so I will state that I am also highly in favor of half naked women pushing detergent.

Well, aren't the original

Well, aren't the original ads pure and simple body snarking? Aren't they trying to get men to buy things by making them insecure in their masculinity? It seems to me that if it's not cool when done to women, it's not cool when done to men.
Of course, I know that they are jokes, but is there really a difference?

How are you making this

So y'know about faux queens

So y'know about faux queens - Bio-women who dress up like drag queens, performatively enacting a gender that is a hyperexaggerated caricature of their own gender. Isaiah Mustafa is basically a faux king, he has that fantastic growly sexy masculinity that you only ever find with drag kings and ftms. He's exaggerating masculinity past the logical extreme by way of parody of masculinity. Did I say hot? hot parody.

There's some layers to to considered with this commercial: On the one hand, it's parodying gender in advertisements, pointing out that gender is usually used to make people feel inadequate without a product. On the other hand, it's still trying to sell a product, and ultimately supports gender norms.

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