Masculinity Overload: Something You Can Depend On
Deeply sexist advertisements aren’t exactly a brand new presence in the world—Old Spice has always glorified hypermasculinity with viral results, and I might vomit if I have to watch that Dr. Pepper TEN commercial one more time. But now there’s another ad campaign in town, for Depend Guards and Shields for Men, that’s apparently attempting to raise the bar in how grossly sexist a thirty-second TV spot can be.
First things first: the product itself. They’re essentially maxi-pads shaped for external genitalia rather than interior genitalia, to protect underwear (and dignity) from bladder leaks. Someone’s invented a very practical solution to a very common bodily function issue—awesome! What’s not so awesome is, well… just about every other aspect of the commercial. The spokesperson is Tony Siragusa, a former NFL defensive tackle and host of DIY Network’s Man Caves, and he’s here to help you learn how to “Guard Your Manhood”. That’s right, folks—a penis is the be-all end-all, the defining characteristic of a man. Just this product’s slogan (we haven’t even gotten to the dialogue yet) is incredibly cissexist, because newsflash, not all men have a penis.
When Siragusa opens his mouth, things only get worse. “Ladies have their own stuff,” he says, and holds up a plastic bin filled with assorted lotions, maxi-pads, and other nondescript but “obviously” feminine products. “See this?” he continues. “This is for girls. This is not for you.” He drives the point home by chucking the supplies offscreen and then gesturing to the two gray packages sitting on the counter behind him. “This,” he says, “is for guys. These are Depend Guards and Shields. This is your gear. This is made for men. You don’t see any pink, do you? No girly package?” There are so many things wrong with this speech that it’s hard to know where to begin, so let’s just go one sentence at a time. First, let's assume that most of the products in the bin are unnecessarily gendered: lotions are for people who want smoother skin, razors are for people who want to get rid of body hair, and maxi-pads are for people whose vagina bleeds once a month. (To reiterate, in case Mr. Siragusa needs it repeated, having a penis does not make you a man, nor does having a vagina make you a woman.)
You don’t see any pink, do you? No girly package? This bit is particularly enraging if you're a female-identifying human who detests pink and buys things in more neutral/unisex colors whenever possible. The suggestion that “pink” and “girly” are synonymous terms also reinforces stereotypical elements of the gender binary; and for the record, the only difference between the packaging of Always pads and Depend Guards and Shields is the color of the plastic.
As if the words coming out of his mouth weren’t sexist enough, the set design is utterly laughable. Notable decorations include a moose head, a two-foot tall trophy, a football clock, a dart board, a pair of boxing gloves, a basketball hoop, and during a later installment of the series of commercials, Siragusa even plays a game of poker. The website is also filled with similar, stereotypically “masculine” objects, from an electric guitar to a pool table to a set of freaking ping-pong paddles. Do we not live in a world full of female athletes and rockstars, a world that fights to let people do what they’re passionate about, rather than what’s expected of their gender?
It’s completely fine, admirable even, to try to make men feel comfortable about their natural bodily functions—by all means, talk about the problem and what your product does to fix it. But you can do that without being blatantly sexist/cissexist, and without shitting on the so-called “girly” products menstruating people use when their uterus goes berserk. There’s no need to be so insecure about your “leakage” problem, or the perception of a one-hundred percent practical solution, that it becomes necessary to make the product, its spokesperson, and its users colossally hypermasculine.