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"Gender 1: The Unisexification of Contemporary Society" (Part 1)

by Aaron Sean Bayley based on a concept and theory by Luigi Di Serio

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 origins.

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 "invisible".

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 begin with.

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.


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 construct.

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). 

Go to Part II

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