Mum Men: How Men are Discouraged to SpeakPosted: February 8, 2011
Earlier this winter, I found myself staring sadly at the Johnnie Walker subway print ad campaign “Say it Without Saying It.” One short message read: “To never having to say ‘I love you, man'” and another: “We only shake hands. We call each other once a month max. I still think you’re adopted. And even though I would rather streak across a packed stadium than tell you this, you deserve it. You’re a great little brother. There, I said it.” Witty and charming, no? Kind of.
But, could the same effect have been achieved without playing on men’s inability to communicate with one another? This campaign confirms, embraces, and celebrates helplessness, passive aggression, and emotional and social underdevelopment. But it masquerades it as self-aware manliness. Brothers are only fodder for jokes or target practice for farts. Verbal and physical affection are saved for special (read: unavoidable) occasions. And now thanks to the negative encouragement of these ads, handing over a bottle of whiskey to a man close to you, is a substitution for any meaningful expression. It also acts as a rubric for seeing how far men need to go before they can wash down their unease.
Why are boys less encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings to themselves or each other? Mattel’s new Sweet Talking Ken Doll may help explain, but in the voice of a kindergartner. This toy is marketed to girls ages 5 and up as “…the ultimate boyfriend for every occasion. Why? Because this handsome Ken doll says whatever you want him to say! Just press the button on his chest to record your own voice for up to five seconds. Then play it back in a high, normal, or low pitch.” Before these girls start the first grade, they are taught to understand that if they want the “ultimate boyfriend” or any man to speak the things they wish to hear, they will have to feed their unspeaking partners the lines. Boys can resign themselves to act the dummies in their relationships with their (ventriloquist) partners.
These not-so-subtle hints to boys and men from pre-K to adulthood may be the reason why girls exceed boys in language skills. By relegating men to the roles of the non-communicators and encouraging inarticulate self-reflection and self-expression, the media and the culture at large are doing both men and women a discriminative disservice.