[Transcript available here.]
It’s a common sociological truism that gender is not just an identity but an action. Through their dress, appearance, mannerisms, speech quirks, and behavior, people convey that they are male or female, masculine or feminine or androgynous; other people “read” them as a certain gender (and may get quite embarrassed or offended when told that they made a mistake in what gender they’re reading someone as). The sociologist Erving Goffman studied one way gender is conveyed– the “code of gender”– through looking at the postures of people in advertisements. For instance, look at this:
[Muscular, shirtless man stares straight into camera, his head and shoulders square and face expressionless.]
[Thin woman in nothing but a bra makes a sexface at the camera, her head tilted and her eyes widened.]
These advertisements are pretty damn similar, what with the whole “here is an attractive person, as naked as we can allow, looking at you in a way we think will enhance their attractiveness” thing. The expression differences are subtle and probably not even deliberate on the part of the advertisers (they were probably just looking for “sexy man” and “sexy woman”), but they’re real. The man appears powerful, in control, and emotionless; the woman looks emotional and sexually available.
Masculinity is about being strong, confident, and most of all powerful. So men (and masculine people in general) in advertisements (and in the wider culture) tend to adopt positions that make them appear strong. The prototypical example, of course, is standing upright with their hands in their pockets or arms folded, staring out at the viewer. Where women tend to “cant” (tilt their body, the way the woman’s head is tilted in that ad), men almost never do.
When people violate these codes of gender, it looks really fucking weird. For instance:
[The Avengers in combat, drawn so all the men are showing off their asses. Original artist here.]
[Man in stereotypical pin-up girl position. Original artist here.]
One bit of the analysis in the video I found super-interesting was when they discussed the increasing sexualization of men in advertisements, especially fashion ads. Of course, the advertisers want men to feel insecure about their bodies, because there’s this vast untapped market for beauty products. On the other hand, depicting unrealistically sexy men risks being gay and turning straight men off from the product. (Anyone else find it amusing that sexy ladies are assumed to be directed at men and sexy men are assumed to be directed at… also men?)
Sometimes, hilariously, they put women in the picture so that you know the guy’s straight. “See! Here’s a woman! Being all woman-shape! NOT QUEER.” Sometimes they just depict them as being muscular and athletic, which makes them look powerful and therefore masculine and not one of those damn queers. I have to say I think that point’s a little overstated– you can’t ignore that muscles are part of the beauty standard for men, and therefore when depicting a hot man you are going to depict a man with muscles. And of course they don’t depict men as sexy in the same way women are, with the canting and the sexfaces and all: that doesn’t even read as gay, it’s just funny.
Incidentally, fun thing for vaguely androgynous people to do (sorry, men with buzzcuts and large-breasted women in skirts, you might have to sit this one out). Go to a store walking in a stereotypically ‘masculine’ way, see how many people call you sir. Go to a store walking in a stereotypically ‘feminine’ way, see how many people call you ma’am. It’s fucking uncanny.