I have such a blog crush on Sociological Images. The writers over there can take a seemingly throwaway subject that's been making the rounds of the lady blogs -- e.g., new ad campaigns devoted to the promotion of ball-shaving* -- and analyze the bejeezus out of it in a way that is deeply satisfying. (Well, if you're deeply nerdy. Which I am.)
Today, Lisa begins by repeating her maxim that the relative lack of pressure on men to spend money on beauty and grooming products is "a triumph of gender ideology over capitalism." Consider that men are still not usually expected to wear make-up in their daily life; that they are not considered asexual or over the hill if they choose a short, wash-and-go hairstyle; that they're encouraged to take masculine pride in owning only two pairs of shoes to cover all occasions; and that nobody calls them dirty feminists for leaving their legs, armpits or groins au naturel. And then consider how much money there'd be in changing their mind about such things. Philips Norelco has apparently done just that, hence their new ad for the "Bodygroom," featuring two kiwi fruits in nuttastic proximity to each other, one pleasingly de-fuzzed. Tag line: "The ONLY way to shave your balls." In case the kiwi thing was too subtle.
How are they going about this bold attempt at making capitalism triumph over gender ideology? "They are using the same tactics that they use against women," says Lisa. "They are either (1) shaming men into thinking that they are disgusting and no woman (or man) will have them unless they alter their body or (2) naturalizing shaving such that it is just a fun thing that all men inevitably participate in... They are also using a gendered logic. We've seen this with other examples of companies trying to sell self-maintenance to men. They [are] hyper-masculinizing the product." How do you hyper-masculinize a beauty product? Well, you could give it a name like "Blo-job Bronzing Powder" or "Battle Scars Healing Anti-Inflammatory Cream." (Seriously.) Or you could put up a helpful website called malepubichairshaving.net* (also seriously), featuring (along with a post-shave anti-itch product called "Balla Powder") helpful advice like, "Did you know that women like men who shave down there? Having silky smooth balls is a lot nicer than finding a huge bush or choking on your pubes!" *[Ed. note: Malepubichairshaving.net is actually not associated with Philips Norelco, despite copious branding on the site. The official Philips Norelco site is Shave Everywhere.]
I'll charitably set aside the sentence construction (I'm assuming our target male consumer is not actually choking on his own pubes) and just focus on the language choices. Can you even freakin' imagine an ad for a lady-pube mower taking that approach? "Gals, let us be perfectly clear: Guys find a pre-adolescent-style crotch much nicer than getting pubic hair caught in the back of their throats. We know shaving kind of sucks, but we also know you're insecure about your ability to keep a man, so..."
Instead, we get a bunch of empowering bullshit about how darn good it feels to go bare! For instance, the copy that goes along with the corresponding Philips product for women: "Banish bikini line bonsai with the bliss-Philips at-home hair removal kit that pairs a soothing and smoothing spa touch with a sensitive, skin-friendly, super-precise buzz." For women, having a naked triangle of paradise is associated with soothing, sensitive, friendly touches -- from the appliance, not another human being. (There's even a "buzz," just like some similarly shaped products you might occasionally put in that area, nudge nudge, wink wink.) Women should spend ungodly time and money on grooming for their own pleasure, see, but men should do it to get more enthusiastic blow jobs. Philips Norelco might just have figured out the secret to making money from what could be regarded as socially unacceptable emasculation: If you can't beat the gender ideology, join it.
"Another interesting thing to consider is the extent to which the social invisibility of the pubic area facilitates marketer manipulation," writes Lisa. "You have to trust the advertisers to tell you what 'today's trend' is." I think that's a great point, but I would argue that we need more than just advertisers to tell us what's in fashion under people's pants. Hardcore pube topiary for women only took off because porn went that way, and then women's magazines started pushing it relentlessly, and then people on TV started talking about it, and suddenly it was common knowledge that all fashionable young women must have bare naked hoo-has, whether they actually do or not. The subject was made as socially visible as possible, both literally and figuratively. So until the lad mags join the razor sellers in insisting that a smooth scrotum will make you irresistible, and some dude-oriented hit series builds an episode around the main character's ball-shaving experience, I don't know that all the marketing and Balla Powder in the world will make the average man want to epilate his kiwis on a regular basis. But in this economy, you can hardly blame a corporation for trying.
*In an e-mail discussion of this subject among the Broadsheet crew, Rebecca Traister declared, "I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to say that I once wrote a FEATURE about this."