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Opinion: Boys in the Bath

By Sophie Hanlon, Designer & Copywriter.

“I would never buy your deodorant just based on your terrible crap poofy ad. Keep your gay tainted ads off my tv you bunch of idiots.”

What makes a deodorant commercial one of the most complained about ads in all of 2020? The above complaint, and countless equally charming others, were received last year by the Advertising standards board regarding a series of Tradie body spray and body wash ads featuring comedy duo, The Inspired Unemployed. These ads received vitriol, not because of any shocking or controversial opinions expressed by the pair, but simply because they were situated in the same bathroom as one another when talking about the product. Try to contain your horror.

The complaints received all seem to stem from the same homophobic ideology: “It’s hard to believe this advert was approved to be shown on TV as it contains audible sounds of grunting and exhilaration that are matched to a couple having sex.”

It doesn’t matter that the ads are comedic, it seems for a certain sector of the Australian public, the barest of contact between men might still as well be a homosexual orgy of roman proportions.

However, despite partaking in the same actions considered gay in the previous ads, the recent release of Tradie Bodywash’s new series of advertisements featuring players from the Melbourne Storm rugby club didn’t seem to garner the same vitriolic reaction. It’s a scary thought that men are required to be football giants with obliques sharp enough to cut someone before they are considered masculine enough to share a bathroom with another man.

It’s interesting that many of the critics hid prudishly behind the commandments of advertising standards as the foundation of their umbrage. These complaints seem to point more towards a precarious ideal of outdated masculinity than any real moral affront. …Or, to quote a popular podcast’s catchphrase: ‘Toxic Masculinity ruins the party again.’ Toxic Masculinity denotes the behaviour of men conforming to archaic definitions of ‘maleness’: in other words, machismo, violence and sexism. As Michael Flood wrote in 2018, “The term typically is used to refer to the narrow, traditional, or stereotypical norms of masculinity which shape boys and men’s lives.” These norms include the expectations that boys and men must be active, aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant.” Its hallmarks are the alpha-male oppression of others, rejecting so-called ‘soft’ emotions and encouraging overtly sexist behaviour. Oh, hello Patriarchy. A particularly poisonous blend of misogyny and homophobia, Toxic masculinity decrees feminine or ‘gay’ behaviour in men is not just unacceptable, but even cause for outrage and anger.

But what exactly is so threatening about moving the ancient gender goalposts? Could it be these ‘old school’ men are threatened by the inherent vulnerability of expressing their feelings, exposing their soft underbellies, or embracing their inner femininity? And do they cling onto these outdated ideals even at the expense of their own mental health and wellbeing?

It’s been well documented that emotional suppression leads to increased psychological problems in men, such as depression, substance abuse, addictive behaviours and even suicide. Joseph Vandello, a social psychologist and Professor at the University of South Florida is quoted as saying “Part of the problem among men is that one of the markers of traditional masculinity is independence and rejection of help.” Restricting the way men can relate to each other through the threat of shame and ridicule, leads to a culture of male self-reliance and silence that obstructs emotional development and discourages men from seeking help. “No matter where the turmoil in modern men’s lives comes from, it seems like there would be a clear benefit to men feeling confident in seeking help to cope with mental illness and change the behaviors that harm their health—and that risk hurting others,” writes Amanda Mull in The Atlantic.

How great then, that in spite of the outrage and vitriol still spewing forth from the terrified gender rigid, this new generation of men aren’t afraid of blurring those gender lines. The Inspired Unemployed have built a huge following on their own quirky brand of gender-fluid skewed masculinity. From embracing their ‘bromance,’ to cross-dressing and camp, they have no problem mocking the traditional stereotypes men have been boxed into. The men from the Melbourne Storm aren’t scared either. These athletes embrace and embody the noblest elements of maleness, like pride in one’s work and the mateship of sport, but they didn’t bat an eyelid at our scripts and scenarios. On the day of shooting, right from the get-go the players were building each other’s confidence offscreen, supporting their mates to deliver the best performances. And once the cameras were rolling, they commanded the screen with confidence and charm, completely oblivious to the so-called ‘shock factor‘ of being in a bubble-bath with another bloke.

Australia has had a long history of sloth-like change when it comes to evolving societal attitudes. A study by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that, “throughout the year 2012, verbal abuse had been experienced by a quarter of all gay men and lesbians, 47% of trans men and 37% of trans women.” Our true embarrassment as a country should not be that we managed to lose both a Prime Minister and a war with emus, but that America beat us to having marriage equality. No one should lose to the United States in a progressiveness race.

In spite of this, progress is being made every day in this country, and our attitudes are changing.

Instead of trying to drag everyone kicking and screaming back into a toxic gender-binary past, we think it’s time these curmudgeonly old complainers caught up with the rest of us.

At the very least, if these Tradie ads are anything to go by, being a true new man is a hell of a lot of fun.

This article was first published by The Incubator.


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