Every once in a while, during a binge of Criminal Minds or Law and Order: SVU, I’m forced to watch commercials. I don’t like advertising in general, but I do find it fascinating. I’m amazed that marketing professionals get paid so much money to create such uninspired crap, but even more amazed that, for there to be a constant stream of ads, some people out there must actually be paying attention to them.
There is one in particular that always catches my attention. It’s an animated spot starring cannibalistic pieces of Cinnamon Toast Crunch who chase each other around a milk-splattered bowl with over sized tongues and teeth, trying to brutally murder each other. But that’s not the weird part. Before the commercial even begins, a confident, sassy sounding woman says, “Hey Ladies…”
I’ve really tried to understand the mentality behind that decision, tried to figure out why a company as huge as General Mills would add such a bizarre line to a commercial for a cereal that is really for kids. I imagine some overpaid, overdressed executive pointing angrily at a big chart titled, “Adult Female Consumption of Children’s Breakfast Cereals,” stomping around the board room, demanding explanations for the steadily descending red line. I figure the conversation would be something like this:
Executive: “Look, we can’t ignore this demographic. We have to get the women-types eating more cereal! Who’s got some ideas? Because I clearly don’t other than maybe starting another ‘Fiber One will lose weight for you’ campaign.”
Businessman 1: “Let’s make the boxes pink! Women love pink! Don’t they? Has anyone ever talked to a woman? I’m just guessing here. Oh god, I’m so alone.”
Businessman 2: “No, no. It needs to be sassy, confident. We need to target the working-woman. You know. Like those ones in the commercials that wear pant-suits? The kind who just wants to have a bowl of cereal in her perfectly decorated urban studio apartment after her long day working at an office or something.”
Executive: “I like that, sassy cereal. But what cereal? Cookie Crisp is too casual. Wheaties, too athletic. We need something real, but feminine. …Hey, Johnson, what is that you’re shoveling into your face there?”
Johnson: “Shminamin toas crufmch, sthir.”
Executive: ” Brilliant.”
And so a stupid idea to add a gender to a product that innately has no gender is born. All hyperbole aside, this commercial is a reality. Because someone in marketing decided that ads targeted explicitly towards women will somehow help their bottom line, we’re bombarded with the idea that some products are male, while others are female. This commercial is a symptom of a larger problem, one where stereotypes and blanket generalizations are used to define the wants and desires of half of the entire population of the world.
It’s doubly vexing, as our language doesn’t even have gender for things like cereal. Unlike modern Romance Languages, English relies on context to provide sex connotation. We just say “cat”, not like the Spanish “gato” or “gata.” Outside of our pronouns (he, she; his, her), and specific gender-identifying words (stallion, mare; father, mother) we don’t automatically apply gender to anything. Almost every inanimate object in the world, according to English linguistics, is neither male nor female. It just is. Which, in a roundabout way, suggests that any masculine or feminine feelings we have towards things with no gender are the result of social constructs, created and perpetuated by our culture.
But because of the stranglehold of patriarchal thinking, it’s only getting worse as the world gets more commercialized. As if women need to be treated as fragile, soft, delicate creatures, things that don’t need to be “feminized” at all are – turned pink or orange with flowers and soft edges – usually by clueless men who think they can sell a product more effectively. Like some kind of misogynistic poison it seeps into everything: pens, razors, deodorant, news.
And now, even beer.
I hear talk about certain beer being “for women” as if it’s somehow brewed to kill anyone with an Y chromosome who tries to drink it. It’s a term that gets thrown around, I assume, to suggest women prefer a certain style of beer: usually something light, fruity, delightfully effervescent.
But that’s bullshit, because I am a man and I love fruit beer. I like light beer and sweet beer and low ABV. I also love stouts and imperial porters and DIPAs. I like beer that is brewed well and tastes good; nary giving one single #@%* if it’s masculine or feminine. I know plenty of women who feel the same way.
Because beer doesn’t have a gender. It’s a beverage, not a birthright.
Yes, in America, the craft beer world is dominated by men. Most brewers have beards, many of those commenting on the culture sport pronounced Adam’s Apples, and many of the people who drink beer excessively do in fact have penises in their pants. But that in no way makes the beer itself male. To suggest so would be to suggest that anything with a following of predominantly one sex would then make that thing a decidedly polar representation of that gender.
What if we could figure out who exactly in the world loved cheese, and found it was mostly men? Would cheese then become a masculine thing, and would the need arise for cheesemakers to start making “female” cheese to appeal to a broader base? Sounds pretty silly when forced upon something with a pretty equal gender balance, doesn’t it?
So I implore all of the marketing people out there, all those people who feel the need to apply gender to things that really don’t need one: stop. Stop thinking women will prefer your product if it’s the right color or has the right name or the right label art. Stop thinking female beer drinkers only like one oddly specific subset of styles. Stop thinking that something as subjective as taste has anything to do with how many X’s a person’s genetic makeup might possess. Stop thinking about the money, for once, and start thinking about the people.
When you drink a beer, think about how it tastes, how the malt is balanced, if the hops are too subtle or too much for your tongue. Do not think that “chicks will totally dig this beer because it’s sweet,” or that somehow women aren’t capable of appreciating the complexity of an Imperial IPA, because it’s hurtful, caveman-like thinking, that has no place in a civilized world.
Beer is female. Beer is male. Beer isn’t either. Beer is beer.
All we really have to do is drink and enjoy, which last time I checked, are human universals.