This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
There he is, running triumphantly across the soccer field, with his perfectly moussed hair held in place with styling mousse just for men. There he is, smiling confidently in the mirror, after moisturizing his perfect jawline with a facial cream formulated especially for male skin. And there he is again, standing in the middle of a blazing wildfire while he marinates a giant hunk of steak. He's hugging his screaming fans on the red carpet after dousing himself in a brand new cologne. He's hammering away at a iron rod with his huge, manly hands somewhere in a steamy barn, with an ice-cold bottle of beer by his side.
He is the Ideal Man. Created by—or at least shamelessly propped up by—the advertising industry. For nearly every single product that is marketed towards men, he is there: the heterosexual Adonis who, dressed in nothing more than a tiny white towel, explains what type of shaving cream and soda men should get to attain ultimate maleness.
But is identity formation really as simple as pressing the button on a deodorant can? As a woman, I am on the opposite side of the marketing game. My shampoo is a yellow bottle of L'Oréal and there are mint green Venus razors in my shower. Admittedly, I do feel like a woman, but I'm not sure if that's because of these products.
So I came up with a plan: I would only use men's products for a couple of days. I would fill my bathroom with men's deodorant, men's shampoo and men's hand cream. I would only use men's razors. I would stave off hunger with barbecued bacon and wash it down with Jupiler ("men know why!") or Coca Cola Zero. It is International Men's Day, after all.
Would a complete immersion in the world of male marketing help me understand what it's like to be a man? Would I start to appreciate soccer? Would starting a fire be easier? Would my tendency to show emotion every once in a while be replaced by the unstoppable urge to catch a fish with my bare hands? It's time to find out.
It's not that hard to find the male beauty products in the supermarket. They're all in one place, and can be recognized by the packages which are all boring similar in their clean design: dark colors—black, dark shades of blue or grey—with simple fonts, and every so often a picture of a smooth guy with a fiery look in his eyes. Most bottles are pretty heavy and hard to carry with one hand—a little like I can imagine what guys would want for their penises.
This is what I bought:
Lynx Instinct deodorant
Schwarzkopf shampoo for men
Dove Men + Care shower gel
Nivea hair gel
Day cream for men
Nivea shaving cream for men
A pack of 15 disposable razors
Yogi Men's Tea
Steak, bacon, sausages, eggs and barbecue sauce
A six-pack of Jupiler
Three cans of Coke Zero
A hand cream called 'The Ritual of Samurai'
A $30 samurai-scented candle
An eau de toilette called The Rich Man
Real men eat an extreme amount of meat, according to the advertising industry. That's why I started my day with three eggs, ots of bacon, and two sausages. With every salty, meaty bite I took, I thought: it's happening. Any moment now, an unbelievable primal power will rush through my veins. Instead, I felt a little nauseous.
Because manliness literally has to be rubbed in, I went to take a shower. I felt my biceps flex as I pushed the shower gel out of the big fat bottle. It's true, male shampoo makes you stronger.
As I was starting to smell like every man I've ever met, I shaped my hair into a mohawk on the top of my head. That might not be what a Real Man would do, but it was fun nevertheless. There was also a lot more foam than usual, and I suddenly understood why men so often pee in the shower. It must take some practice to pee the foam towards the drain, or to make a small drawing, because I had to soap up my bottom half twice.
Afterwards, I walked back to my room naked. You're supposed to do that all cocky and confident, without a care in the world, and with a penis dangling between your legs. I figured I could do it. I thought this would be the magic of men's products: that you can let out your your silly little-boy-antics inside the walls of the bathroom where no-one can see you, and then walk out a confident, grown-up person. I'll admit I felt a certain recklessness and freedom coursing through my veins as I walked, completely naked, through the living room. But I was still very much aware of the fact that I live on the first floor, and have half-broken blinds instead of curtains.
So I wrapped myself in a towel, lit my men's scented candle, and brushed my tangled hair while inhaling the scent of cedar wood. It was more tangled than usual, but I sucked up the pain. It felt like the right thing to do.
I sprayed clouds of Lynx under my armpits and smeared Samurai cream on my hands, smelling not unlike my 13-year-old cousin. I headed to the park, ready to destroy some outdoor fitness machines with my cold, solid muscles. Men always look busy here, but it's hard to figure out exactly what they do since all the devices look like pieces of postmodern art. I downed two cans of Coke Zero to motivate myself, then took my place on one of the devices and waited until the magical liquid kicked in and I transformed into a roaring gladiator.
Nothing happened, so I sprayed a little more Lynx, and walked back home.
I was wondering how much more of that stuff I'd have to use before someone would finally dry hump me.
In the afternoon, I shaved my whole body. I thought I'd need aftershave, or at least little bits of toilet paper to put on the cuts, or that my skin would go all raw and stubbly, but so far, so good. The shaving companies had been tricking me with their patriarchal marketing tricks into buying overpriced female razors for years. But I didn't get worked up. Today I was part of that patriarchy.
Instead of getting angry, I decided to answer some messages, just as the men that I had opened up to in the past taught me to:
— Heeey Stephanie! I really had a great time with you yesterday hehe, had so much fun with that dog after you left. Let's do this again soon, shall we?! Xxx
— ?? Haha you weirdo.
I slept all night with the scented candle burning. When I woke up, it felt like the scent had actually crept into my lungs. I was at the top of the patriarchy.
I ate bacon and sausages as I checked the results of the football match of the day before. Northern Ireland won the game against Azerbaijan with a whopping 4-1. I couldn't say it excited me much. I drank a cup of men's tea, sprayed a little eau the toilette on my neck, applied some more Samurai cream and then tried again. Nothing happened. Not even a tiny spark of interest. Never mind.
I decided that if I wanted the male products to have the maximum effect, I should give them a bit of a push. That's why I spent an hour in my man-cave, the little corner in the house where men go to practice manly hobbies, away from their wives. I looked at some pictures of really big motorbikes, shiny cars and the latest gadgets—like a hairdryer in the shape of a gun and a portable barbecue that looks like a speaker. It wasn't not interesting, but I didn't exactly get an erection from it. Every 15 minutes, I drank a beer from a brand that "men know why" they're supposed to drink, according to its slogan. I must say, I did enjoy the woodchopping YouTube tutorial I watched a bit more after I got slightly buzzed.
I tried to cook some meat over a homemade barbecue in my garden. I failed. My clothes smelt of ashy yet undercooked sausages and I decided to try and camouflage the smell with some more Lynx, some face cream on my jaw and a bit of hair gel on my head. I went to the top of my building and glared down. I was still afraid of heights. Then I ordered pizza and drank more beer.
To run from my emotions, I went to a nearby sports bar to eat ribs, have a beer and watch some rugby. I yelled when the other guys did, and drew some penises on a napkin.
When I was on my way home I pulled down my pants and pissed on my left shoe, which was the straw that broke the camel's back. I didn't feel brave, nor powerful or successful. Despite all the creams, sprays, booze and food I had stuffed myself with the past few days, and the fact that I had become a puppet of all gendered marketing strategies, I was miles away from the man on my shampoo bottle.
Did I come closer to the core of manliness using all these products? Not really. But I did come closer to the fragility of manhood. That's exactly what advertising—and male branding—thrives on: the longing for something unreachable. As long as that longing exists, those products will be sold in an attempt to create a non-existent and completely unrealistic version of masculinity.
The thing is that all these so-called products for men (except for the eau de toilette, which was absolutely terrible) could also be used by women. The main lesson I learned? That men could use my deodorant, women could shave their legs with men's shaving cream, and the world wouldn't stop spinning on its axis. We just wouldn't need most of these products to be so strictly gendered.