This iPhone App Helps You “Man Up”

Nearly every day someone sends me some link to a YouTube video, a new commercial or a blog post that lowers the bar even further for men. In these media bits, we’re variously depicted as 1) emasculated wimps who need to “man up” by wearing khakis (has anyone told Levis that khakis are about the wimpiest pants going?); 2) such henpecked weenies that we went shopping with our partner instead of watching the Super Bowl game (which is, really, any game); or 3) so downtroddenly politically correctified that our recompense for being nice to [our girlfriend/wife’s] friends and her mother by recycling and putting the toilet seat down should be an utterly retrograde “muscle car” straight out of Miami Vice.

Clearly Madison Avenue believes we need help in retrieving our manhood from the dustbin of emasculation.  And they have just the restorative products for us!

Ordinarily, I see such cultural effluvia as signs of progress. Advertising is often a rear-guard action to recapture something that has already changed.  There’s an old axiom that what we lose in reality we recreate in fantasy. So, as our world is becoming more gender equal and as we men–for the most part, with some noisy exceptions– are increasingly and quietly accommodating ourselves to it, we’re fed a steady stream of sexist and homophobic images as a running commentary on how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.

I said “ordinarily” I see this as progress.  But someone recently sent me an app for an iPhone that pulled that smug rug out from under my feet.

Here’s the pitch:

Tired of looking forward to a night out with the ladies, only to wind up scuttling home clutching nothing more than your limp ego? [The nudge-nudge about what really is limp is pretty obvious.]

Introducing AMP UP BEFORE YOU SCORE—a handy, free app from AMP Energy that’ll change your game and raise your expectations.

The app, which lists 24 different types of women–from athletes and married women to princesses and women’s studies majors–provides handy bon mots to enable you to seem smarter and more interesting than you really are, so as to better get over on them.

Here’s the description:

Is she an Artist? Quote some Picasso. Indie Rocker? Here are her favorite songs. Sorority Girl? Good thing you know the Greek alphabet. Know what makes her tick before you open your mouth, so she’ll like what she hears when you do.

The part that really stands out is that after you chat her up, and after you score, you can also use the app to keep a list of all your conquests–the brag list–and then use it to contact all your bros and tell them who you got.

Consider this in context.  The app is intended for college-age guys, and colleges are a locus for sexual assaults. And how prevalent is sexual assault?

In the single largest study of U.S. sexual behavior, performed by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (The Social Organization of Sexuality, 1994), researchers found that roughly 3 percent of men said they had forced a woman to do something sexual that she didn‘t want to do and about 1.5 percent of women said that they had forced a man.  Not such a big difference, really.

But when respondents were asked whether they had ever been coerced, 1.3 percent of men said they had been coerced by a woman (almost exactly the number of women who said they had coerced a man), but 22 percent of women said they had been coerced by a man–a figure more than 750 percent higher than the number of men who said they had been coercive.  That’s called predation at best, assault at worst.

So the Amp Up app, inviting you to score so you can brag to your bros, is basically an invitation to sexual predation.  It’s obviously insulting to women, who are categorized into “types” instead of people and set up as fair game to conquer so you can have something to tell your buds. This isn’t what the phrase “man up” should mean.

I think it’s also insulting to men.  It’s male bashing.  It assumes that all we want is sex, and that the only point of sex is to lubricate our relationships with our male friends.  It assumes we are neither interested nor capable of actual conversations with real live human beings; we are imagined to be utterly dim-witted slothful sex-crazed morons who can’t string subject-verb-object together without a cheatsheet.

Surely we men are capable of much better than that.

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Michael Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today. He is distinguished professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.