The male stereotype for Father’s day in advertising is probably the most narrowly defined, rigid, straight-jacket men have.
This bookstore chain, with a plethora of things they could have offered in this flyer to buy Dad, offered me, instead, books and accessories on beer, grilling, headphones, and a choice of novels about Olympic rowing, a western, a 100 year old man, spies, and the Beatles. Wow, I could have played a game of Macho Matcho. (while an asterisked note says you can find more on their website, I’m interested in what made it to the Main Flyer.)
Surely a marketing team somewhere was saying, “Come on! How can you go wrong with the Beatles? Beer? Grills? Westerns?” And yet, somehow, a bookstore managed to reinforce male stereotypes through the “enshrined” male hobbies and interests merely to try and hit what they perceived as a norm.
As Guys, we learn early that we need to like beer, grill meat, be into rock & roll, sports, cowboys and spies. We learn that it doesn’t matter if you really like these things or not–they are the “vocabulary of men.” To be a real man in Western society you must be able to speak Grill, Beer, Cars, Sports, and Babes (as opposed to speaking Women which would be an improvement). If a guy likes something else, you don’t say it. Otherwise, you take a chance that other guys will make fun of you. The pack is important. It is your society. So you learn to master the Basics; keep quiet about the nuances. You start with the basics, and advance to Hunting, Fishing, Sailing, and Power Tools.
We learn that these are the Things We’re Supposed to Know because marketing and advertising tell us this. As young boys we read those ads to find out what our Fathers will love, and possibly, what we can do to earn our Father’s praise—something most young boys desperately want. So we buy the things that marketers tell us will win their love and admiration, and make them feel like a man. And in doing so, we deepen the cultural grooves in our own brains to become the kinds of man exemplified in these things–the griller, the sportsman, the beer drinker.
I expect this marketing of places like Home Hardware and Canadian Tire—whose products already appeal to mechanics, sportsmen, and outdoorsmen. I don’t expect it of a bookstore.
Imagine another flyer: this one has books on hiking, gardening, travel in Spain; books on spirituality, trains and watches; Star Trek memoirs; books on arctic wildlife, politics, climate change; or OTHER men’s hobbies like chess, remodeling, theatre, computers, comics, a history of Opera. Novels by Graham Greene, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Garrison Keillor–a wide spectrum of men. Even, dare I say it, books on parenting, relationships, understanding teens. Please offer them a Deborah Tannen book.
I expect more from a bookstore; I expect them to lead. Do they think that women and children do not understand their fathers and husbands so much that they must choose one of the Sacred Seven Subjects on Father’s Day in order to be accepted? Or couldn’t they show them a greater opportunity to enlarge the idea of masculinity and being a man in the 21st Century? Could they offer wives and children (or husbands and children) in their main flyer a more representative selection of male interests? A chance to understand their husbands and fathers deeper, more intimately, thinking not “what do men want?” but “what could men want?”
Reinforcement is a fantastic way to learn. Guys learn what you keep telling them. If you tell them that real men like drinking, grilling, sailing, brewing, as this flyer does, then they will stay confined to those choices, some of them will break under those choices. If you show them more choices on how to be men—they will be unafraid to admit that they enjoy these things; they will learn something new; and they will teach their sons that they can be more than a handful of hobbies and interests. And some of us sons will not strain under the exasperation of our fathers who don’t understand why the Baseball, the Cars, the Women, these few “rites” of manhood, aren’t working. They will not be frustrated with us. They will not feel themselves failures. They will know—oh, he likes insects! Oh, he likes baking! Oh, he likes other men! And they will look around and see NOT a society that only advocates the Sacred Seven, but instead reinforces every man’s choice to be who he wants to be.
This can enlarge the conversations in the world between men. It was easy for a man to talk sports, cars, women and grilling–we agreed those were on the Test. It will be harder to expand the topics, but the men that come from wider exploration of hobbies, interests, passions, won’t just enrich the conversations–these men will enrich the world.