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1: The Unisexification of Contemporary Society" (Part 1)
by Aaron Sean Bayley based on a concept and theory by Luigi Di
It started in the early 1990's. Sure, there
were hints of it in the 80's: Jordache, hair-metal bands, Benetton,
Duran Duran, spandex. But it wasn't until the height of the
so-called "sexual revolution" fueled by 'alternative
music', aggressive ad campaigns and equal rights grievances that
it really exploded into the cultural phenomenon that it is today.
There was nothing subtle about it- it hit us like a freight train.
And the frightening thing is, we accepted it. No, we EMBRACED it.
The phenomenon, the "it" that is
threatening to transform us into mindless, asexual walking
advertisements, is called UNISEXIFICATION. The term refers to a
desire by global corporations to blur the line between masculinity
and femininity by using ambiguous ad campaigns and marketing
strategies to create a larger, more general and easily susceptible
target demographic. To understand fully the impact and
consequences of unisexification, we must first dissect its
Sexual revolution of the early 90's
In Naomi Klein's "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand
Bullies", she states that the lack of representation amongst
feminists, rappers, gays, and lesbians sparked an onslaught of
grievances and a demand for visibility, which in turn, created the
term "identity politics". Women were stereotyped as
being weak and inferior. Blacks were stereotyped as criminals.
Gays were stereotyped as sexual deviants. And feminists were
stereotyped as lesbians. Lesbians were just plain
The strategy to bring about equal rights and
representation, was to subvert the media to better represent these
groups, since it was the media that was a source of the problem to
The idea, according to Klein, was to have a
rise in self-esteem, and a disappearance of prejudices, but the
movement fell "victim to its own narcissism":
"...transforming the world through pop
culture was second nature. The problem was that these fixations
began to transform us in the process. Over time, campus identity
politics became so consumed by personal politics that they all but
eclipsed the rest of the world. The slogan 'the personal is
political' came to replace the economic as political..."
When market researchers picked up on this cry
for visibility and demand for better representation, they realized
they had a new, potent target demographic to exploit:
"That's when we found out that our
sworn enemies in the 'mainstream' didn't fear and loathe us but
actually thought we were sort of interest- ing...Our insistence on
extreme sexual and racial identities made for great brand content
and niche-marketing strategies. If diversity is what we wanted,
the brands seemed to be saying, then diversity was exactly what we
would get." In 1997, a book written by leading U.S.
consumer researchers expressed that if "individuality"
was the defining idea for baby-boomers, then "diversity"
would be the defining idea for generation-xers:
"As we look towards the next twenty
five years, it is clear that acceptance of alternative lifestyles
will become even stronger and more widespread as Xers...become the
dominant buying group in the consumer marketplace...Diversity in
all of its forms-cultural, political, sexual, racial, social-is a
hallmark of this generation..."
It is here where we find the ominous nucleus of
unisexification. Since gen-xers were the most important target
demographic, corporations had to build empires around brand
identities, using "diversity" as their central themes.
ONCE THE WEAPONS OF IDENTITY POLITICS MARKETING
WERE HARNESSED, CORPORATIONS LAUNCHED A FULL-SCALE ASSAULT ON THE
Diesel ad posters featured two sailors kissing.
Abercrombie & Fitch ads showed guys in their underwear staring
provocatively at eachother. A Virgin Cola television ad showed
"the first-ever gay wedding featured in a commercial".
Wave Water's slogan was 'We label bottles not people". The
Gap featured a cornucopia of racially mixed people in their ads.
The Body Shop had red ribbons and posters condemning violence
against women. Tommy Hilfiger and Nike embraced African-American
athletes . Calvin Klein colognes stated that gender itself is a
But it was the slogan for Sure Dry deodorant
that really brought the message home and epitomized the underlying
meaning of a unisexified society:
"Man? Woman? Does it matter?"
(In part 2, we will discuss the harrowing
consequences and attitudes brought about by the sexual revolution
with regards to the current status quo).
to Part II