Opinion

Movember, masculinity and man-wives

Eric LeongIn this guest post, Eric Leong looks at the growing phenomenon of the househusband and wonders what this means for marketers.

It is that glorious time of the year again when men all over the world grow their moustaches, raise money for men’s health, and make excessive use of the prefix ‘man-’ (as in ‘man-date’, ‘man-cave’, ‘man-points’ – the possibilities are endless).

Movember is upon us and what strikes me as most fascinating about the annual event is what it says about the state of masculinity in our world today.

Simply put, Movember is an event for our times.

It reflects the ambiguity (or liberty if viewed from another angle) of what it means to be a man today. The fact that we have this month where us men get to act manly, look manly and celebrate all things manly tells me that being ‘manly’ is no longer a natural state for men.

So what of the growing global phenomenon of househusbands, where it is the man of the house who stays at home and looks after the kids while the woman goes out to work? This is today’s biggest challenge to the traditional concept of masculinity, and established beliefs of the family unit held in different cultures.

Hong Kong househusbands

In Hong Kong, we spent time hanging out with this new species of man to find out what life was really like as a househusband, their views on masculinity as well as how others in society viewed them. In the neighbourhood parks, local Starbucks and cramped apartments that we met them in, here’s a few things we learnt about Hong Kong househusbands:

1. You don’t choose to become a househusband, the role is chosen for you.

None of the househusbands we spoke to initially desired to become a househusband – it was simply a pragmatic decision. As one of them put it bluntly: “Someone’s career must be sacrificed for the family. It’s just about mathematics – whoever earns more goes to work”.

2. Househusbands are a trend, but not trendy.

Despite images of trendy new age dads seen in US commercials such as Tide’s ‘Dad Mom’ (see video below) and celebrity househusbands like David Beckham, Hong Kong men still hold traditional views towards masculinity and the role of the man in the household, as Confucianism asserts that ‘Men are breadwinners, women are homemakers’.

3. Being a househusband is the toughest job in the world.

When you consider that many of these men became househusbands as a result of their relatively lower earning power, the role of househusband is not an easy one. In Hong Kong, where saving one’s ‘face’ or reputation is paramount, local slang such as ‘eat soft rice’ deride these men who do not earn their own money.

So what could we, as an industry, be doing for these househusbands?

Dadvertising

In recent years, marketers have acknowledged the emergence of the househusband by both targeting and featuring more domesticated males in their advertising, most noticeably in commercials for household goods, which traditionally focused on housewives.

The Beckham boys

The Beckham boys

Taking a look around the region at this recent form of dad-centric advertising, or ‘dadvertising’, we are able to observe the various approaches that have been taken so far to portray this new species of man:

Some ads, such as this spot for stroller brand Cybex in China, create the image of the super-trendy and stylish dad whose lifestyle bears virtually zero resemblance to that of a real househusband (unless you happen to be David Beckham)

Another approach, as seen in this spot for household cleaning brand Swipe in Hong Kong, essentially replaces the beaming, all-too perfect housewife image with that of a man.

While the above two approaches do not appear to show a solid understanding of what being a househusband truly entails, thankfully there are signs that this is not always the case, such as with this great spot from McDonald’s in the Philippines, which playfully captures both the sacrifice and joy of being a domestic dad.

Being a househusband is damn tough and the time is right for advertising to once again lead from the front – to understand but not patronize, to respect but not glorify – for this emerging segment in today’s society.

Not even moustaches could help with that.

Eric Leong is the planning director at Grey Group Hong Kong. His moustache has helped raise thousands of dollars during Movembers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

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