Mutant Wrangling

I’m a huge X-Men fan.  The X-Men were my “gateway” comic. I used to steal them from my brother so I could read them and draw pictures with them.  In fact, a lot of my artistic style comes from those early days drawing X-Men like Storm and Rogue.  It wasn’t just the art that I loved though, it was the stories, the idea that this team of mismatched social outcasts could work together to protect the very people who were prejudiced against them.  These stories featured strong men working alongside equally strong women. I found characters in those pages that I wanted to aspire to be, that I related to, that my little teenage heart totally flipped for.  I am definitely an X-Men fan.

I’ve seen all the X-Men movies and Wolverine spin-offs.  I was excited to see the now-released X-Men: Days of Future Past.  And then I saw the Hardee’s commercial featuring Mystique.  In the ad, Mystique is attempting to eat the new Western X-tra Bacon Burger, but she has to turn into a man to do it.  This commercial is incredibly offensive on many levels.  Indeed, the only nice thing I can say about it is that Jennifer Lawrence is not playing Mystique in the ad.

Why am I so offended by this commercial that I won’t be seeing the movie, you ask? I find this ad offensive on three levels:

1. The ad does not reflect the world of the X-Men, much less the strong female character of Mystique.

2. The ad promotes a culture of misogyny that leads to discrimination and even violence against women.

3. The ad continues the extraordinarily harmful message: man up.

 

The World of the X-Men

One of the most inspiring aspects of the X-Men brand is the premise of equality.  In the world of the X-Men, Professor X’s mutants–people that are born different and therefore feared and even hated for those differences–fight for equality, the right to live in the world and be treated like everyone else.  The X-Men are a team formed of men and women of equal strengths and abilities that work together to fight bias and inequality, but they also fight to protect the very people that discriminate against them.  Because, for the X-Men, equality means that EVERYONE is equal.

Mystique, of course, is a villain.  And though her idea of equality means mutants are more equal than the rest of mankind, she too fights for the right to live, to not be mistreated or discriminated against because she was born different.  She’s a strong, independent female character with extraordinary abilities.

Equality has nothing to do with the Hardee’s commercial.  That ad, one in a LONG line of offensive and misogynist Hardee’s advertising that objectifies women and somehow sexualizes burgers, clearly implies that women aren’t “man enough” to eat their new burger.  The idea that a woman needs to change herself into a man in order to do anything is deeply offensive.

 

A Culture of Misogyny and Violence Against Women

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, someone in the US is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes.  60% of those assaults will not be reported.  97% of those assailants will not see the inside of a jail cell much less be punished for their crime.  Chances are, if you know five women, one of them has been sexually assaulted.  One in five women have been sexually assaulted.  And that’s just the statistic for women.  Sexual violence doesn’t discriminate based on gender like so many people do.  Plenty of men (one in six) have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences.  I’m too depressed and sickened by all this to even look up the numbers on children.  And all of these statistics are for the US alone.

Is Hardee’s responsible for this? Of course not.  But this ad does perpetuate the media’s objectification of women.  When a woman is reduced to a body to be looked at, when her worth is defined by her body alone, then why treat her as anything but an object for gratification?  Not only is Mystique a sexualized object in this commercial, she’s also not good enough for the burger.  She has to turn herself into a man to eat the sandwich.  Is it any wonder that women continue to make $0.77 to every dollar made by their male counterparts?

This type of media representation and treatment of women is so prevalent we don’t even question it.  How many people saw this ad, or any other ad where women are demeaned (try that Direct TV ad where the woman is literally an object, a puppet), objectified, and insulted, and just shrug it off.  How many people think and say, “That’s just how it is.” or “What’s the big deal?” or “Stop being so sensitive.” or  “It’s just a commercial. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the burger.”

You’re missing the point.  Of course I can just turn the TV off and not buy the burger, or even patronize Hardee’s at all.  But ignoring this type of representation of women in the media will not stop it or change it.  Until we have a real discourse about the harm media’s continued portrayal and treatment of women does to our culture, we’ll never have any real change in that culture.

Man Up

How many times have you heard the phrase “Man up”? Or any of its derivatives: “Don’t be a girl”, “Don’t be a pussy” , “Grow a pair” , “Get some balls” , “Be a man.”

Our cultural perception of masculinity is just as harmful as the media’s representation of women.  The idea that you have to “man up” to eat this burger should offend men, not just women.  Those statistics I cited above about sexual assault?  You might look at that number, one in five women, and think: That’s a lot of women.  But what you should be thinking is: That’s a lot of men sexually assaulting women.  Culturally, we value dominance and strength as masculine traits.  But where do strong, independent, and even dominant women fit into that model? They don’t.  There are too many men out there who will label such a woman as a “bitch” or worse, who think those women need to be “put in their place”.  We’re missing half the conversation if we’re not questioning the representation of masculinity in the media as much as we question the media’s misrepresentation of women.  Violence against women is definitely a men’s issue too.

They are Connected

The more I think about this ad, the angrier I get.  And, the more disappointed I feel.  This ad uses the X-Men brand to promote deeply offensive and harmful ideas. It may be that the movie makers have nothing to do with the commercial, but the fact is that the X-Men brand is still being used.  Someone, somewhere sold the rights to Hardees so they could use the X-Men brand to cross promote their product.  These types of deals are done all the time.  That’s nothing new.  And, despite the fact that the commercial and the movie may not have similar origins, the reality is they are connected. The implication is that the X-Men movie is, if not supportive of these offensive ideas, it is at least complicit in promoting them.

That’s why I’m not seeing the movie.  As a consumer, my only way of combating this is to not buy it, not spend my money on it.  Do I want to see the movie? Yes.  But I’m not spending my money on a ticket.

 

What Can You Do?

I’m not asking folks to boycott the movie.  That’s never going to happen.  And maybe it shouldn’t, I don’t know.  But what I can ask folks to do is talk about this type of imagery, the media’s representation of women and men, and how it informs our everyday thinking, our everyday actions.  Simply talking about the media’s representation of women and men will lead to meaningful changes in our culture, especially our consumer-driven culture.

I’ve linked above to some sites that discuss the statistics I’ve pointed out here.  But here are a few more links that you might find useful if you’re interested in furthering the conversation about the media’s representation of women, about our cultural idea of masculinity, and about media literacy in general.

How to Teach Media Literacy in Real Time to Kids (article)

On Parenting and Rape Culture (article)

Beauty Redefined (website)

The Representation Project (website)

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