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Khaki or tacky: Is this 'pink/blue, truck/doll, pants/dress' ad offensive?

by Jeremy Hooper

What follows is the splash page currently running at Dockers.com. Decide for yourself: Offensive or benign?

Screen Shot 2009-12-11 At 11.13.02 Am-1

Now, we hesitate to even raise a question about Dockers, considering their parent company, Levi's, has been immensely pro-gay in the past few years. But there are a few undeniables here. (1) The text is completely hostile to those who eschew traditional "gender norms." (2) The implication (even if satirical) is that a lack of "manliness" equates a lack of heroism. (3) Focus on the Family sees this as a great victory for their LGBT-hostile cause, with the anti-gay group posting the ad to their blog under a "healthy sexuality" tag.

Without a doubt, this text is born out of heterosexism/gender conformity. But it's also undeniable that all of us, including modern ad executives, are products of a society that put a G.I. Joe or a Barbie in our hands based on our genitalia, not our displayed interest. So to us: This ad was most likely never meant to offend. But at the same time, it still provides a teachable moment that we should not let pass us by without comment.

What say you?

**MORE TAKES: Dockers “Wear the Pants” Campaign: Khakis the New “Call of Manhood” [The Sexist Blog -- Wash. City Paper]
Bunk Documentaries: Dockers does it again (2 of 2) [Bitch magazine]
Dockers is for Real Men® [nobody]
Ads gone bad: The Dockers man-ifesto [Heartless Doll -- SF Weekly]

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Your thoughts

I say this is a non-issue.

Posted by: Alonzo | Dec 11, 2009 11:47:06 AM

Definitely offensive.

Posted by: Ari | Dec 11, 2009 11:58:25 AM

This is more of a rolling of the eyes kind of moment for me. If Focus on the Family considers this a "victory" for their cause, it's very clear they're fighting a losing battle.

Posted by: Aya | Dec 11, 2009 12:28:10 PM

Offensive? Seriously? Making this into an issue is no different then Christian fascistos making an issue out of The Gap ads. As it has been pointed out Docker's is own by Levi Strauss one the biggest supporters of LBGT causes.

Posted by: Alonzo | Dec 11, 2009 12:41:20 PM

Alonzo: Just as your right to see this as a non-issue is supported, I would ask that you support others' right to get offended. As stated, I don't think it was ever *meant* to offend, and I see this as a teachable moment. But I do still find the text, in and of itself, a tad offensive (or at least misguided). And many others will as well.

Aya: Agreed. A desperate thing for FOF to see as a victory.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 11, 2009 12:50:06 PM

The add is stupid yes. Sexist and transphobic, definitely, but I think that claiming it's homophobic is perpetuating the stereotype that gay men can't be masculine. All the work we've done on how much variety exists among gay men makes claims that adds like this are inherently homophobic counterproductive.

Posted by: RainbowPhoenix | Dec 11, 2009 1:04:46 PM

Stuck between boyhood and androgyny? I don't remember that phase. I must have missed it.

Posted by: The Watcher | Dec 11, 2009 1:09:18 PM

Come on, Jeremy. I respect you a lot, and I like how your blog has never gone off the handle on stuff that isn't actually offensive. Don't make me change my mind.

This is a joke, and it's one that never actually mentions gays or trans people. It's so far from offensive that your getting offended at it offends me a little.

Posted by: Chris | Dec 11, 2009 1:12:22 PM

Hold the phone, Chris: I have hardly flown off the handle here. I raised this whole thing as a question, asking people's personal opinions. I said that I personally don't think that it was done in offense, and that we can use it as a teachable moment about "traditiona" gender roles. I'm not raising pitchforks, even a little bit.

Your characterization of this post is completely unfair. And the suggestion that we can't have a conversation about this, something that Focus on the Family sees as a "healthy sexuality" positive, goes against the very nature of this site. Discussing this stuff (and the social conservatives' reaction to the same) is kind of what we do.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 11, 2009 1:16:02 PM

Good call Jeremy. This ad is certainly hostile.

It perfectly demonstrates how feminism and LGBT rights advocacy are inextricably related. Focus on the Family and other purveyors of inequality want to enforce a strict gender code whereby men get to be macho manly men (read, dominant) who are supposed to have sex with women (who are weak, submissive, little ladies).

Both feminism and homosexuality subvert that gender code by (a) communicating that women (and men) can be something other than pink and blue boxes and (b) women and men can aspire to be something other than wife to a man, or husband to a woman.

These are the conversations we need to be having, and I appreciate Jeremy being an ally to feminist causes, in addition to LGBT ones. In my opinion, not enough gay men understand or care about how feminism relates to LGBT rights.

Posted by: fannie | Dec 11, 2009 1:32:12 PM

If we're to be offend by this ad then we should by the same token understand Christians being offend by the recent Gap ads. In both case I just feel people are getting offended just to be offended. Considering the product and the makers of the product this is ad is clearly being satirical and nothing more.

Posted by: Alonzo | Dec 11, 2009 1:35:02 PM

Fannie: I appreciate that. I was a feminist long before I was an LGBT rights activist

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 11, 2009 1:35:13 PM

Alonzo: I don't really see the correlation between the Gap ad and this one, other than that they're both ads that have come up for discussion. The whole "war on Christmas" meme is one that suggests that the only American consumer who any company should cater to is the Christian. This ad's basic (if jokey) idea is that the only kind of man who should be catered to is the "manly" kind. I actually see more of correlation between *getting* offended by the Gap ad and not see any potential offense in this one.

Yes, this ad is satire. But that doesn't negate it's possibility to be shortsighted or up for discussion. I say that as someone who has been HAULED ON THE CARPET for jokes that certain groups have found to be offensive (with varying degrees of merit attached to the claims).

But that all being said: I 100% respect your right to not be offended (just as Timothy Kincaid , who I respect greatly, stated his case for why the Gap ads/war on Xmas are a tad offensive to some). You're certainly not "wrong." I'm just asking that we *all* discuss this without saying others are WRONG, END OF STORY!

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 11, 2009 1:43:25 PM

I think most of you are missing the point. It's not about it being offensive to gays in particular, but to anyone who doesn't fit in some narrow definition of what it means to be male. And yes, there are straight guys who don't fit in this definition as well. But on the other hand, you are naive if you think that most of the straight world doesn't believe that gay men fall outside of this definition of "manliness" (even if it isn't the case). I think this ad is a less egregious version of the Old Spice ads from a few years back.

Posted by: dijiba | Dec 11, 2009 1:43:54 PM

Agreed, djiba. For me it's not really about LGBT, as much as it's about non-conformity in general (an undeniable ancillary to our fight). And you're right: Especially in urban areas like here in NYC, the "non-masculine" man and "non-feminine" woman discussion goes WELL beyond the LGBT population.

But then again, I tend to not approach ANY of this stuff from an LGBT perspective. Our fight is much larger, much more sweeping, and offends far more than just LGBT-identified people.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 11, 2009 1:46:58 PM

If I offended anyone who read this post by saying they're wrong for being offended by this ad I apologize. Other then that I will answer the original question of this post by saying once again this is a non-issue!

Posted by: Alonzo | Dec 11, 2009 2:03:45 PM

I find the add to be stupid and offensive. The basic message seems to be that feminine men are bad and the cause of all evil in the world. Which is wierd, since I can't think of any pants less masculine than Dockers. (not any that are made for men at least) I'm not saying boycott or anything, but I do think we should let them know thier add was ignorant and offensive.

Posted by: shivadog | Dec 11, 2009 2:28:45 PM

Definitely offensive, but I'd say it's equally offensive to women as it is to gays, and there are a lot more women than gays, so I'd say its sexism offends me more.

The whole holding doors for women thing? I'm embarassed for women who have doors held for them when it's obvious that it's being done because they're women. Equal rights means equal treatment, so if there's someone coming through a door behind you, keep it open for them, no matter their sex. If a man sees a woman 10 feet behind him and stops and opens the door and waits for the woman to go through - I cringe. That is (in my opinion) not what women fought for.

As for the heterosexism in the ad, it's reminiscent of the movie, Idiocracy. When the man from 2005 speaks using complete sentences, in an ordinary tone of voice, he sounds pompous and faggy. This ad appeals to that segment of the market.

Posted by: DN | Dec 11, 2009 2:42:18 PM

It is a tad bit offensive, on it's face. But when you factor in that Dockers are probably the most girly-manish of all the Levi's brands. Add to that their own marketing of pants to women has probably done more to blur the gender = clothing stereotypes than anything else, and it sounds quite satirical - and as satire, it is somewhat funny. As a joke, though, it does cross the line by suggesting that only "men" can be heroes. Though, with their satirical blurring of "men", basically anyone who wears Dockers (??? I mean really, Dockers?) could be a "real man".

I could see the "typical" John Wayne-ian cowboy-ish actor reading that commercial, as the camera pans around, and up from his boots, to his boot leg Levi's, then to the frilly tutu skirt around his waist, then the wide shot that shows a hairy chested torso, with a plunging neck sequined blouse as he pirouettes off into the distance. Of course, I have a wildly vivid imagination, with a twisted bent toward the FU / Fingered "gotcha" that they could be waving at Focus on THE FAMILY.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Dec 11, 2009 2:52:41 PM

Yea, Dick, if done as a commercial spot with some sort of FOF type reading the copy, that might work. For me the FAIL here, in terms of satire, is that there's no clear indicator. There's no comic payoff. There' no "play." No clear wink, wink. One can too easily read it at face value

Posted by: G-A-Y | Dec 11, 2009 2:57:54 PM

Why is sexist to hold the door for a woman or transwoman for that matter? It's called being a gentlemen and having a sense of manners.

Posted by: Alonzo | Dec 11, 2009 3:32:10 PM


I find going out of my way to open a door for a woman to be sexist because I think women are 100% my equal. If I'm perfectly capable of opening a door, so are my female friends.

Put another way, whatever I'm willing to do for my guy friends, I'll do for my girl friends.

I know that most people don't feel that way, but I find it belittling.

Posted by: DN | Dec 11, 2009 4:44:52 PM

DN - For me it's not a equality issues as much it's manners issue. BTW: I've open many a doors for my male friends, co-workers etc, etc, etc.

Posted by: Alonzo | Dec 11, 2009 5:56:12 PM

it's stupid and even taking it out of the GLBT context, its just a shitty ad.

I saw these all over Union Square in San Francisco and thought "they don't really know their target audience, do they?" Plus, who the hell wears dockers anymore anyway

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 11, 2009 6:13:02 PM

Alonzo, you are certainly entitled to your opinion regarding the offensiveness of this ad. What I find troubling in your comment ("Other then that I will answer the original question of this post by saying once again this is a non-issue!") is that it reads as though you believe you are the final, objective arbiter of what does and does not count as offensive in the world.

I hope you can respect that many women, men, gay people, and gender-nonconforming people do, in fact, find this ad offensive for valid reasons. I am reminded of anti-gays who "fail to see" homophobic ads as offensive and accuse us of being overly-sensitive PC police for criticizing them.

Whether something is or is not offensive cannot be approached like a scientific experiment that is either "true" or "false." Oftentimes, compassion and understanding is the more helpful response.

Regarding holding doors open for women, you may want to look up Benevolent Sexism. I agree that it's polite to open doors for both men and women. But oftentimes, "acting like a gentleman" comes off as condescending toward women because it implies women are too weak and frail to do simple, menial tasks like opening their own doors.

Posted by: fannie | Dec 11, 2009 6:15:54 PM

You know for all the talk about Levi's being gay-friendly, they continue to manufacture product in Egypt, where GLBT people live under continual threat of persecution and imprisonment.

Posted by: Mike | Dec 11, 2009 8:38:51 PM

As a feminine male and someone who does eat at salad bars and drink lattes with pride i find this ad certainly hostile to gender nonconformity and these are posted all around san francisco its sick

Posted by: Mark | Dec 11, 2009 9:04:56 PM

Do you just wake up in the morning looking for something to get pissed off about?

Posted by: scott | Dec 11, 2009 10:15:29 PM

Fannie the question is what we think - for me personally this is a non issuse - however clearly from the many comments on this story it isn't a non-issue and I've learn a lot today which I believe was one of Jeremy's intents in first place.

With regards to opening doors or pulling out chairs for women I do that and will always do that because it's good MANNERS period! Everyone woman I've ever done that for always says thank you follow by "Why don't men do that anymore?" or "your mother raised you right". If they don't find it condescending or sexist why should I?

Posted by: Alonzo | Dec 11, 2009 11:13:29 PM

I don't find this offensive at all. I find it sort of humorous. But then I'm not the typical uptown homo. I live in a small town and work a blue-collar job, and the men I usually f**k fit this description.

Posted by: Redneck Opera Queen | Dec 12, 2009 8:58:58 AM

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