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Image / Editorial

Man Up: Gendered Advertising Affects Us All

by Holly O'Neill
05th Nov 2016

Be a man. Grow some balls. Man up.

On a hangover Sunday a few weeks ago, I went to a McDonald’s drive-thru with my friend Conor. After we ordered and drove around to the window to pay, we met a large poster of three quarter-pounders, under the caption, Serious Man Food.

I kept my anger under control and Conor smiled nervously as we picked up our food. We pulled up to eat, and I?Googled the campaign, thinking, surely others had to feel as furious as I did. It turns out, this campaign has been around before. Here’re a few lines from an article last year when the Serious Man Food campaign began, and McDonald’s decided to “poke fun” at some unsuspecting customers.

Are you fed up of hiding your expensive moisturiser when your boyfriend comes to visit? Or sick of thinking?he’s staring lovingly into your eyes only to realise that he’s checking his reflection in the mirror behind you? If you’ve been wondering where all the real men?have gone you’re not alone as fast food favourite McDonald’s have been wondering the same and have just launched their Serious Man Food campaign.

The campaign pokes fun of these changes by asking men to ?Man-Up? at the Drive-Thru with a free Quarter Pounder Deluxe- the ultimate man burger. The hilarious clip shows some unsuspecting men pull up at the Drive-Thru window only to be berated for their lack of manliness.

It continues;

Another is given the ultimate put down: ?Surely?that car must belong to your mother?.? So if your man is more beauty hack than lumberjack send him down to McDonald’s, as their saying goes??Another Deluxe served, another man saved.?


A few days later, I couldn’t let it go. I sent an email with some questions about the campaign to McDonald’s Ireland. ?The response was from a woman who, for whatever reason, I pictured as being about my age. Her response didn’t answer my questions. It was just a few sentences along the lines of, ‘it was intended to be light-hearted’. I’d like to imagine she read the email and thought, “go away, it’s Friday,” – fair – but that she might have felt the same as I did about the campaign. I know that she probably had no input into this campaign. I don’t even know if anyone in Ireland has anything to do with this campaign. I know that beneath the casual sexism, the point of the campaign is to sell burgers.

So who decided this androcentric campaign was a good idea?

Initially, I was furious that McDonald’s would choose to cut half the population out of their advertising campaign or target any food product towards men rather than women. I’ve eaten a double cheeseburger in Bunsen, my vagina-inflicted body can handle your quarter pounder. ?However, when I saw the angle the McDonald’s Serious Man Food Campaign took last year – the “hilarious clip” that “berated” men “for their lack of manliness,” – I realised they were perpetuating stereotypes on both genders.

What do you think of when you think of stereotypical masculinity? What are the characteristics that social pressures lead you to associate with males? We associate masculinity with control, with dominance, with aggression, with athletic ability. ?Engage in high-risk activities. Be violent, be dangerous, be tough, be successful, be fearless. Have money, have power, have respect. Be a provider, be a womaniser, be emotionally unavailable. Use violence to solve your problems. Fight back. Never back down. Don’t talk about weakness. Don’t be sad, be angry. Don’t talk about feelings, talk about anger.

Consider the men that men are told to look up to. We deify men like Jordan Belfort. Consider the role media culture plays in perpetuating the male role belief system and how media culture helps to shape certain norms around masculinity – Mad Men, James Bond, Rocky, Indiana Jones, Batman. How many men do you know who follow Dan Bilzerian on Instagram?

In an age of pussified political correctness, you have to respect people who remain unfiltered

A photo posted by Dan Bilzerian (@danbilzerian) on

We have created a group that does not value what society has feminised – empathy, tears, speaking your feelings, vulnerability, sensitivity and being in touch with your emotions. These are common human emotions we all experience. They don’t have to be gendered in any way.

Teaching men to downplay these ‘feminine’ traits and to wear a mask of masculinity is damaging. Socialising men into these ‘masculine’ traits is damaging. The figures linking men to depression and suicide are staggering.

Socialising men into these ‘masculine’ traits is damaging

According to a January 2015 report from Ireland’s National Suicide Research Foundation, suicide is a leading cause of death among adolescents. Men in Ireland are four times more likely to die by suicide than women. The latest figures from the National Suicide Research Foundation show that young men are the highest risk of suicide in Ireland.

The most common age for depression in boys is between age fifteen and twenty-four.? The Guardian reported last year that the rate of suicides among males is at its highest since 2001 and in 1981, 63% of UK suicides were male, but in 2013 the figure was 78%. The proportion of male to female deaths by suicide has increased steadily since 1981.

We are only beginning to offer the right support and stimulation. Certainly, there’s been an increase in tackling mental health and detaching the stigma associated with it, with global movements like Movember or when men took to social media this year to proclaim that #ItsOKToTalk.? But who do you turn to and who can you speak to as a male in a culture where any displays of emotion or intimacy from a man has to be followed by an instant “no homo?”

The world isn’t black and white, but as this excellent YouTube video shows and says, from the minute we are born, it’s blue and pink. “What easier way is there to separate humanity than the totally valid personal self-identification as male or female?” Yes, gender is a societal segregation technique. In terms of our DNA, we are 90% identical to a chimpanzee. 50% of human DNA is in a banana! If we are 90% identical to a chimpanzee, how different can we be to each other?

Your gender is not filtered by your childhood preference to skirts or trousers, Action Man or Barbie, short hair or long hair, your favourite cartoon characters or whether you prefer pink to blue. Your gender is not filtered by social ideals of masculinity and femininity. These oppressive norms and stereotypes have created a hyper-masculinity, a toxic-masculinity that’s so simplified it is damaging.

If you have ever been shamed, embarrassed or made to feel like less of “a man” for having poor athletic ability, for not being a womaniser, for feeling sadness or for discussing your emotions, it’s because the concept of “masculinity” has been programmed into you. You have been indoctrinated into self-loathing by the facade of masculinity.

Being aware of this doesn’t mean you have to radically change who you are. ?Separate the real you from the person you’ve been told to be. Don’t mute yourself,? or be a repressed, second rate version of yourself. Be your true, authentic self. You don’t have to validate who you are to anyone. You are enough.

Is this a lot to take out on an ad campaign in which it’s’main purpose is to sell burgers? Perhaps. When I first took on this piece, I had fully intended for it to be an all-out feminist femifesto (screw your manifesto) until I considered the gender restrictions our culture places on all of us. I was furious that Sunday morning that McDonald’s had taken up such a Yorkie attitude to advertising – which you’re welcome to by the way, Yorkies taste disgusting anyway. We should be beyond a point where we can use stereotypical masculinity on a nationwide level (McDonald’s states on their website to have over 86 restaurants in Ireland) to pressure men into being “men”, or to imply that women are in any way different or inferior. Even if the purpose of this gender discrimination is just to sell burgers.

We can be the ones to change this and establish a new norm. A good place to start is not to have gender stereotypes thrown at you when you order a burger.

So what can we do to change gender stereotypes?

  • Be the change you want to see in the world and practice tolerance and compassion while avoiding gender stereotypes. Remove the phrases man up, grow a pair of balls, act like a man, don’t be a pussy, take it like a man or any other term of gender stereotype from your vocabulary.
  • Don’t mute yourself or hold back who you are because you feel like you need to conform.
  • No matter if you identify as male, female, bigender, agender, third gender, gender queer, intergender, genderfluid, non-binary, pangender, poligender, transgender, demiboy, demigirl, androgyne or all or none of the above – be your authentic self. Gender is a social construct. Yes, there are biological differences but that argument is reductive and more importantly, is not an indicator of who you are. Screw the social norms.
  • Check out the Great Men project from The Great Initiative, who challenge gender stereotypes and are changing the behaviours that fuel gender inequality.
  • Watch this powerful YouTube video from new Australian TV series Man Up. Watch the documentary The Mask You Live In, Ryan McKelley’s TEDx talk ‘Unmasking Masculinity’ on YouTube, and ‘How To Avoid Gender Stereotypes’ by Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jordan at TEDxZurich.

And if someone tries to give you a free burger after telling you to man up, tell them (with non-binary anger) to shove it up their gender discriminating a***.

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