Who Wears the Pants?

by Jennifer Sey

 

Over the last ten years, Dockers Khakis, once imagined as an expression of Boomer individuality, have become synonymous with the soulless office cubicle and suburban capitulation. As the newly anointed marketing lead for Dockers, I’ve found this challenge squarely in my sphere of accountability.

 

I’ve been at Levi Strauss and Company for more than ten years. It is no mistake I’ve chosen to stay there. The company has a long standing history of philanthropy and it makes durable, common sense products for a reasonable price. There’s nothing exorbitant, frivolous or tooth decay inducing about a quality pair of pants. My latest stint on Dockers has been the most fun I’ve ever had, professionally, in my life. When work, creativity and personal passion merge, it’s a jackpot of sorts.

 

We introduced our new ad campaign on December 1st to quite a bit of fanfare and robust conversation in the “blogosphere”. A nerve of sorts, appears to have been touched.

 

The campaign can be summed up with the tongue-in-cheek tagline “Wear the Pants”. We’re talking to men, the primary wearers of khaki pants, and trying to do so with a bit of sass.

 

While researching, we learned that men are a bit off their game these days. They’ve suffered 80% of the layoffs in the last year. Women outnumber men in the workforce for the first time in history. Women also outnumber men in higher education. Our culture heralds the “man-baby” - best represented by the leads in beer commercials (he always chooses beer over his girlfriend) or Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover, or Seth Rogen in anything – as a hero. He doesn’t conform. He doesn’t wear a suit. He does his own thing, which is apparently nothing. He loves video games and bongs and he shuns obligations. These pop culture man-babies are unkempt, unfit, have no direction and seemingly no pride. Sure they are funny. I laugh as much as anyone. But our culture has elevated this type of immaturity amongst men to unconscionable heights. Aren’t men insulted by this man-baby phenomenon? We thought they could use a little encouragement.

 

As we continued investigating, we were heartened by the fact that women have come so far. Women put forth viable female presidential and vice presidential candidates last year. Two of the three national nightly news anchors are women. Women work, mother, give money and time to good causes. They have positions of leadership while continuing to nurture in the home. They have maintained sensitivity while projecting authority and bringing a new sense of collaboration to the workplace. So why not encourage men to stand up and do the same? Women across the country told us: “I just want men to meet us where we are.”

 

Is it a lot to ask a company to be at the forefront of social change? Maybe. But I’d venture to say that companies have an obligation to be a part of it. Levi Strauss and Company has done so for many years: first company to integrate factories in the south in the 1960s before it was legally mandated, the first Fortune 500 company to offer benefits to same sex partners in the early 1990’s and the only company in California to file an amicus brief with the courts against Proposition 8.

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sgsilver
02.01.10

I was rather shocked by the blatant sexism behind the ad campaign and the attempt at promoting traditional gender roles, especially for men.

I am even more troubled by reading this post attempting to explain this sexist campaign as way to encourage men to take more responsibility by being more "masculine" and "manning up".

It seems like Dockers is taking a page from the "Carl's Jr." burger ads, but going even further. The Carl's Jr. ads were sexist but sophomoric, something that seemed to be created by a bunch of frat boys. This ad campaign seems to be much more ambitious -- it is making a broad anti-feminist political statement, and it seems to be attempting to brand itself as "masculine" by attaching itself to anti-feminist backlash movements. Much of the language it uses parallels what one can read on various "men's rights" or fundamentalist Christian websites. (Even this writer acknowledges that many Christians are praising the campaign as promoting traditional gender roles.) It appears to me that Dockers is going for much more than just a tongue-in-cheek kind of ad campaign. I can't recall seeing anything like it in recent memory -- it is quite astounding.

It is bad enough that Dockers is trying to rebrand its image as more "masculine", but to do it in such a sexist and reactionary fashion is deeply offensive to me and to many others. I simply don't understand why a company would want to launch a campaign that would offend so many of its potential -- and current -- customers.

I am one of those current customers. Rather, I should say "was" one of them. No longer. I have several pairs of Dockers pants and some Dockers sweaters. I have liked Dockers -- the way they look, the way they feel. However, after seeing this campaign, I will never buy anything from Dockers ever again. In fact, I have begun removing any visible Dockers labels from my pants and sweaters, as I don't want to even give that little bit of advertising for them or appear that I am supporting them in any way. I have spoken out against the campaign and have encouraged others not to purchase Dockers products. That is how strongly I feel about this shameful marketing campaign.

I simply fail to understand how a self-described "feminist" and intern for NOW could lead this campaign. It is one of the most anti-feminist campaigns I have seen.

runner
01.26.10

It's unbelieveable that you manage to take statistics on job loss during the recession and see this as an insult to men. Women are retaining their jobs because women are being paid less than men doing the same job - it's a a matter of economics.

Women earn less than 80% of that earned by a man in the same job. According to the Global Gender Gap Report, the United States is not in the top ten nations supporting gender equity, nor the top 20.

Looking at your ridiculous assumption that having Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton as viable candidates means women have cracked the political glass ceiling. Women constitute 17% of the U.S. Congress. Less than 24% of state legislators are women across the country. And, we rank 84th in the world for representation by women in elected office.

In business women fare even worse. Although the workforce is nearly 60% female, women hold less than 15% of executive management positions in Fortune 500 companies.

Roughly 14% of architects and engineers are women while nearly 90% of dieticians and nutritionists are female.

Congratulations, you have successfully managed to defend and promote myths about women and push us back a few decades.

I would suggest that a review of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics may assist before you put your foot so firmly in your mouth. The ad campaign is insulting to both men and women. And, if the Facebook chatter is any indication, I am far from being the only to find it offensive. How you've managed to insult both men and women in one ad is astounding - for that aspect you should win an award.

chalkedup
01.24.10

I believe firmly that one can be grateful that women are finally afforded the parity that they've strived to gain (not always, but more often now than ever before) and, simultaneously, question the content of their views. Which is why Palin pained me. I am ever so grateful that she, and Clinton, could do what they did in this recent election. But, I had personal issues with Palin's lack of experience and her platform. (On the other hand, I was a Clinton supporter) When there are plenty of women in positions of influence - Conservatives, Liberals, Centrists - we will be free(r) to debate their actions and not simply "be grateful" that they are where they are. I look forward to that day.

Wamser
01.22.10

I'm a straight man, rather comfortable in my role as an Alpha Male, frankly. I am single, professional, a gentlemen and believe in chivalry. I am athletic, fit, handy, outdoorsy, self-sufficient, I run my own company and have exceptional leadership qualities. I work hard to live with as fierce integrity as I can muster in the face of the challenges of a world that often lets you off the hook if you don't.

At Thanksgiving I carve the turkey.
When someone needs help moving, driving a truck, hanging shelves or building something, they often call me because I am good at all of those things. I help women carry their strollers up the stairs and offer the elderly my seat on the subway. I smile and tip and work daily, actively for a better tomorrow.

Also...
I eat salads
I am an artist
I am a pescetarian
I hate dockers

I agree with the ad's sentiments that it is time for PEOPLE to let go complacency, however, I also think it's the thinly veiled "only sissys do/eat/like/are fill-in-the-blank, real men eat meat" mentality that is RESPONSIBLE for the crumbling of societies.

This reminds me of a story about my friend's brother, a Marine, who was in his barracks sewing a button on his uniform. A fellow Marine came in and, seeing him, mockingly said "You know how to sew?" To which my friend's brother responded "yeah, I know how to fucking sew. I'm a Marine. What, are you gonna sit around the front missing a button waiting for your mom to sew it on for you?"

Real men don't give a crap about what it means to be a real man. They just live it.

Proud to be a sissified, spiritual, cooking, ironing, sewing, dancing, strong, athletic, leader of a man who likes puppies, cries at sappy movies, thinks sunsets are pretty, thinks smart women are sexy and that vegetables taste good.

Mike

flossie7
01.21.10

Philanthropy? On the forefront of social change? I guess if the social change is to close all of your American factories, fire thousands of blue collar workers and ship their jobs overseas. As a mother, how do you feel about the fact that their overseas factories employ women and children who work 18 hour days for about $30 a week, in deplorable conditions?
Do you see the irony of a company that presents itself as geared towards "the American working man", but then fires all of its American working men and women? As a so-called American fashion leader, Levi's could have done a lot to reverse the decline of the clothing industry in America, but instead, it chose to save some money. It should have set the standard, but it didn't. And now it's trying to say it supports the chivalrous, respectable, dignified, caring, responsible male? It does not embody any of those qualities through its actions, and the idea that you think that by creating a humiliating atmosphere for vegetarian men, gay men, strong women and gay women is just sick and loathsome.
I do adore the fact that you try to make it personal, by saying you are a mother with children and a strong husband, and then also state that in the last two years, we've had two viable female candidates for president and vice president... and yet on your blog, you completely destroy Sarah Palin as a candidate - which is it? Can you keep up with your own contradictory statements? Do you just use certain facts to whichever advantage suits you, whether or not you personally believe them? How can you be trusted? I smell a hypocrite.
I'd like to congratulate you on the vitriolic atmosphere (the "nerve of sorts" that has been touched) this ad has created, which has spawned hateful, sexist arguments amongst men and women and become a tool of divisiveness among people across the country and around the world.

Congratulations. I hope that check was worth it. But stop trying to push some greater moral agenda, when what this really comes down to is, you got PAID for this. This was done for MONEY, to sell PANTS. For all the ideals you spout on your personal blog ("We’ll keep sexy jeans, small apartments, big city values, intellectuals, peace rallies, organic food, public transit, best in class restaurants, fantastic shoes and handbags, good colleges, small churches, mixed race children, gays, art films, city streets and free love. Red states – take Jesus."), which, by the way, are full of some of those frivolities you claim we need to rid ourselves of (shoes? handbags? sexy jeans??), you really aren't towing the line. In fact, if you really believe all that stuff, then you are actually betraying a personal truth, something you actually adhere to and believe in, and for that, you should be ashamed.

ndobner
01.13.10

"glued to the couch playing Xbox in jeans that have never been washed, an ironic tee-shirt with pit stains, unmatched socks and old-school canvas kicks" -- were you peeking through our window as you wrote that?

vlarson
01.13.10

Jennifer, I'm almost embarrassed to be standing behind a corporate campaign — old hippie in new clothes that I am — but, yes, men have gotten the short shrift of things. We've made them the butt of jokes and demanded that they be more like us. Well, I prefer men to be men and women to be women, and for each to appreciate and embrace the differences instead of seeking sameness.

And, as a mom of two boys, I went them to grow up in that world. But, I also want women to see that for every man-baby, there's a princess, wanting to be taken care of (yes, despite out numerous degrees, our career, etc., many women still want the option of staying home, at least part time, once they have kids; would they let the men do the same? Not sure about that).

Partnership means men need to feel that they're able to do that, and for women to let go enough to let them do it in their own way. We still have a ways to go on that one.

krivera
01.12.10

Great post - and I love your new campaign and the sentiment that surrounds it.

Sounds like we have very similar situations when it comes to family roles. My husband is a teacher with better hours, so he does some heavy lifting with the childcare. Still, the beauty of our relationship is that we appreciate one another and BOTH bust our butts.

I do think over the past decade we've started to see a cultural shift and it has become increasingly OK for guys to slack. In fact, there are a number of media shows that highlight this trend.

Totally agree though. Hope young men start to pick it up, see role models on how to do it right, and our sons aspire to be great partners who embrace work with a passion.