Anyone seen the Bud Light ad in which a group of men, with letters painted on their bare chests, mistakenly spells the word “Girlies,” rather than their actual team’s name, “Grizzlies”?
If not, here is one version of it:
Funny, right? It’s humorous that the men, initially self-satisfied with their display of masculine bravado, are deflated when they realize that they have spelled something antithetical to the intended word, something silly, and, well, girlish. Because what’s funnier than a grown man being portrayed as a little girl? Not much.
Given its emphasis on traditional masculinity, it’s clear the commercial is aimed at straight men. Apparently women and gay men don’t comprise much of the audience during football games. (Or they’ve given up on us because we drink better beer than Bud Light. One would hope.)
In order to sell something considered feminine, something low in calories like light beer, advertisers have to make the potential buyer (the viewer) feel masculine. They do this by deriding other men for being wimps, which leaves the viewer’s masculinity intact (he is not like them after all) and unassailable by something as tangential as light beer. The viewer is different from these men, who are so dumb and clueless and illiterate that they might as well be little girls, just like the word they’ve spelled.
Though the misogynistic message is obvious (that men should not be feminine or girlish, since femininity is inferior to masculinity), we might overlook the connection to homophobia. In essence, it’s not just that being feminine is bad, it’s that if you’re feminine, you might as well be gay. In fact, the assumption is that being feminine makes you gay.
It’s not news that men—gay and straight—are mocked and derided for being feminine, and that’s what happens in this ad, as well. So it’s not a stretch to say that, when we laugh at them for being sissies, the underlying message is homophobic: they are so pathetic and feminine that they might as well be gay; whether they actually are is irrelevant.
These two—homophobia and sexism—are kissing cousins, cozy and mutually-reinforcing in nature.
It’s worth noting that gay men are not necessarily more feminine than straight men, just as lesbians are not necessarily more masculine than their heterosexual sisters. But such hegemonic stereotypes endure because people don’t know what to do with masculine gay men and feminine lesbians. (Are they hot or gross? And if we can’t pick them out of a crowd, then how will we stay safe and uncorrupted and moral???)
I know a lot of people (particularly men) who would denounce sexism, but tell a few gay jokes on the side. Or use the word “gay” to mean lame. Because there’s no one in the room who’s gay, so what does it matter?
In an ideal world, each of us would chose to denounce homophobia for the most obvious of reasons—it is oppressive and potentially deadly to those in the GLBTQ community. But for some people, this is not motivation enough, because they are disconnected from this community, and think they don’t know anyone who is anything but straight up straight. They don’t see the relevance to their lives.
This is a myopic and inaccurate assessment.
Here is my request to the straight world, particularly to straight men: Next time you think of razzing your buddy by insulting his masculinity and making a gay joke, consider that you are perpetuating traditional and sexist gender roles when you do so. You might as well come right out and tell your daughters that they are less capable and serious and smart than your sons, because you are saying that being a woman (or a girl) is a sad, laughable thing. And you are perpetuating the idea that your son must conform to the rigid expectations of masculinity or be teased and humiliated, even if he is straight as an arrow.
You are setting your kids up to fail, because such rigid categories cannot contain all that they are, all that they can become.