Monday, December 24, 2012

Nail Polish For Men. Hmpf.

A while back a friend of mine e-mailed me and alerted me to the existence of Alpha Nail. This is nail polish that's designed specifically for men, whatever the hell that means. Apparently it's officially a thing for guys now, and he asked me to respond in the form of a blog post.

I'll admit that I absolutely hate their marketing technique. The vibe of the website is the same you get from Axe Body Spray and Maxim magazine, which is to say that consuming their product means you're a bad ass who wins fights, parties "like a rock star," gets laid 365 days a year by 365 different women (except for Leap Year, of course), and sees himself as an alpha male who has no reason to give a damn about what anyone thinks of him because he's so, you know, alpha.

This kind of advertising turns me off because I feel like it appeals to stereotypes of straight guys as being macho and sex-obsessed. I will never buy these products or recommend them to anyone as a result of this, but there's an interesting gender-role question going on here that should be addressed.

Nail polish is traditionally a woman's thing, and Alpha Nail knows this; they go so far as to mention that their applicators aren't "dainty" like the ones used by women. While the idea of a guy wearing nail polish seems ridiculous, they make a decent case for it by mentioning that some UFC fighters wear it, and I am certainly not going to call a UFC fighter out on wearing nail polish. In fact, I'm not going to call out a UFC fighter on much of anything because I value my physical well-being. Also, Dave Navarro wears nail polish, and he happens to be one my favorite guitar players ever. Seriously, listen to the solo in "Been Caught Stealing" by Jane's Addiction and tell me that it isn't amazing. It starts right at the two-minute mark.

My gut reaction is, "This is maybe the most ridiculous, tacky, Jersey Shore-inspired abomination ever," but why do I feel that way? There's an interesting theme in gender role reversals: when women do masculine things, it's acceptable and sometimes even sexy. The classic example is a woman in an over-sized white dress shirt, loosely knotted necktie, and little else. Hot, right? But when a man enters the realm of the feminine -especially with anything related to cosmetics and grooming- we view it negatively as effete and/or see it as a symptom of the gay gene.

So women acting like men is fine, but men acting like women isn't? We've come a long way in terms of gender equality, but this is a more subliminal case of femininity being viewed as less desirable than masculinity. Homosexuality, while rightfully gaining more and more mainstream acceptance, is often perceived as worse than being a woman. To prove my point, compare how often we see lesbian sex scenes in movies and TV versus how often we see gay men having sex. I can think of the movie Milk and HBO's The Wire, but that's it. It's sad, but it's still too taboo for mainstream consumption.

Parodoxically, Alpha Nail is breaking down gender barriers ("Guys can wear nail polish too!") while simultaneously reinforcing them ("We don't make you use those dainty little women's nail polish applicators so that way you maintain your alpha male badassery!"). And while I hate to admit it, they've forced me to do some introspection on how I really feel about those gender roles, and it seems that I need further enlightenment. Thankfully, self-improvement isn't impossible.

Some advice: at the very least, don't wear this stuff to an average job interview.

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