The XX Factor

If Kate Upton Told You to Shave Your Chest, Would You Do It?

In the “old horny ladies gather at the office window to ogle construction workers and drink Diet Coke” ad, the ladies were mostly breathy and appreciative when an anonymous worker hunk took off his shirt. What we did not realize at the time was that those ladies who seemed only admiring were also secretly judging—maybe not all of them, but at least one or two. Clearly visible, even from as far as that office window, is a sprinkling of hair on the man’s chest. And we know from a new Gillette ad, part of the razor company’s “What Women Want” series, that some ladies object to hair. Kate Upton doesn’t mind a little on the chest “but definitely not on the back.” Hannah Simone likes a smooth stomach to show off the six pack. Genesis Rodriguez likes them totally hairless. The women make these pronouncements at a pool party that Paul Farhi at the Washington Post likens to the “last days of ancient Rome,” where they are wearing evening dresses while the men around them wander around only in bathing suits.

The pleasure of these ads comes from indulging in a little reverse sexism. Finally, after all these years of men ogling women and parsing them into body bits, we get to have our turn! The ads even commit the same crimes as all lady product ads—showing the gain without the pain. (We see the man shaving his chest into Greek statue smoothness, but we don’t see the three-days-later shot when the little scratchy bristles start to poke back.) And already the ads have induced complaints of misandry: “The underlying message is that men are slobs, men are grotesque, men have hairy backs, and they need women to civilize them,” Scott A. Lukas, an anthropology professor and head of the Gender Ads Project told the Post. Point won.

Except that, somehow, these Gillette ads feel harmless and funny. No one really thinks that Kate and Hannah and Genesis are doing these men any damage. Why? Because the vibe they tap into is not really “last days of Rome, women rule the world,” but “first days of moving in together, girlfriend throws out my La-Z-Boy.” The ad takes for granted a truth that is sometimes overlooked: that men welcome their partners’ small interventions, the way we steer them through the endless set of never-done tasks that constitute women’s work. My husband even says, “Men like it when women tell them what to wear, because we don’t know.” Telling your man to shave, in other words, is not so far off from telling him that dishes left by the side of the sink eventually have to make their way under the water, etc. Listen to the outtake from the commercial, where Kate, Hannah and Genesis discuss what they were up to. “We have to help guide you along,” Kate says. Not much threat there.

Update, 4:20 PM:  Gentlemen, here is the best reason not to heed Kate Upton and keep your chest super hairy. It has to do with Papa Hemingway. Via the Paris Review.

This past Sunday, the eleventh of August, was the seventy-sixth anniversary of an amazing event. And we cannot improve upon the concise description of our diligent friends at Today in History. “Ernest Hemingway confronted Max Eastman in the offices of Scribner’s on Fifth Avenue. Because Eastman had cast aspersions on Hemingway’s macho persona, Hemingway pinned him on the floor, exposed Eastman’s hairless chest, then exposed his own hairy one and laughed.”