Alex Blaze

Is It Wrong for a Bank to Call Gay Men Feminine?

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 31, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: ad standard board, Australia, representation

Some gays in Australia have complained about this ad, although the Ad Standards Board has said it's OK:

I don't think that we can really just complain about every time a gay person is portrayed as feminine in an ad - feminine gay men do exist (despite some people's concern about their reproductive capabilities). It may seem out of balance because masculine gay men are never read as such in ads so people assume that there are no portrayals of them at all. But if these two actors played the role in a way that wasn't recognizable as a gay stereotype, would any of the people complaining now have given them credit for portraying gay men as straight-acting?

The real problem isn't gender expression, but the desexualization of gay people on television. There's nothing implied here between these two men, which is fine, but maybe other ads that show a couple could show a same-sex couple every now and then? That's unlikely because, while gay people don't get turned off by the sight of an opposite-sex couple, straight people do get turned off by the sight of a same-sex couple. A least-common-denominator industry like advertising knows that that power imbalance exists and they're only going to reify it.

Here's one of the complaints, which is insulting to me as a gay man who loves feminine men:

One complaint to the ASB said: "The two characters were being portrayed as gay men with horrible stereotypes that inaccurately portray gay people and is both inaccurate and offensive to gay men."

And here's Westpac's response, which is insulting to me as someone who doesn't like to be bullshitted by PR flacks:

It said: "Since launch, we have had some resounding positive feedback, with very high preliminary awareness and recognition figures especially from the gay community who have embraced the humour and its intent and congratulated Westpac on our depiction of these characters."

Yes, I'm sure the humor has been "embraced" and they were invited to grand-marshall pride parades and dozens of gay people have already told them they're naming their first-born children "Westpac" because of this truly ground-breaking performance that could quite literally end all homophobia.

What are the chances they've heard from even one person who doesn't work for them?

On a related subject, is this ad for a collection agency? Why are "business solutions" ads always so vague and new-agey that it's hard to know what they're selling?

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Chitown Kev | January 31, 2011 5:53 PM

Well, here's somewhat of a companion piece to the SNL skit (difference being this is not a skit...although the fact that it's Australian gives it some distance).

There is nothing wrong with the ad.

Well, here's somewhat of a companion piece to the SNL skit (difference being this is not a skit

No this is not a "companion piece to the SNL skit." This is about gender expression, which is interpreted differently across cultures.

People are very poorly informed about people who reject a sex assignment. Operative word -SEX-. This thread should be about gay men. I don't want to hi-jack it. It is a subject for gay MEN to work out among themselves.

This kind of confusion would not exist if people were better informed and the difference between behavior and embodiment were not obscured by patronizing manipulation of sex and gender distinctions.

Om Kalthoum | February 1, 2011 2:12 AM

I just thought they were acting like that because they're Australian.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | February 1, 2011 8:27 AM

Isn't the main issues here the question of whether or not "feminine" (whether behavior or embodiment) is considered a perjorative, whether applied to an individual or used to paint a larger class with an overly broad brush?

That's kind of what I was saying above - if these men were a different kind of gay man, would they have been recognized as gay in this short ad? The broad brush isn't an issue in these non-sexual ads, but the ones that deal with relationships that make sexuality known, independent of gender expression. But there don't seem to be as many of those, just yet at least.

I once had a phone conversation with an ad man, who told me that most companies wouldn't want to put gays in relationships in their ads out of fear of "alienating 2/3 of their consumers." I hated the inflection he put on the world "alienating." I'M THE ONE BEING ALIENATED JERK

"the question of whether or not "feminine" (whether behavior or embodiment) is considered a perjorative"

Well, in the U S it seems to be. I am reminded of Kate Bornstein's famous quote, "in America we like even out women to be macho".(I think she said that) I am friendly with a person who describes himself as a man of transsexual experience. He is sexually oriented toward men, had a column in the local gay publication and was very involved with the local gay community until he left. He's from an Iranian background. I believe his family was uprooted after the revolution and spent some time in North Africa and countries in the Middle East before they ended up in the U S. One of the things he tries to emphasize is the difference between what is considered masculine in this country and how different the expectations for men are in the middle east. For instance, it is common for men to where kohl pencil to line their eyes. Public displays of crying are considered the norm, and there are other things.

I often encounter men in the area where I live who are very "refined" to the point of being obviously effeminate who are ostensibly heterosexual, married to women, have children and are very caring fathers. On the other hand, I often encounter men shopping together at the supermarket who I find intimidating in a way I usually find men when I initially encounter them. I am better at picking up the cues, now, but it still takes time for me to do the translation. They could just be guys from the firehouse picking up provisions to make dinner for them and their buddies.

I don't know how you get the point across when people assimilate well. I don't find anything wrong with that. Is it that important to emphasize there might be something a little unusual about someone? I grew up part of the Woodstock Nation. I am a passionate advocate for people's right to express themselves the way they feel. I am mistrustful of conformist behavior, whether it is in gay or straight people but I am fairly straight in the way I present as a woman. If you think about it, however, the opportunities for expression for a woman in this culture are enormous. A lot of fashion choices are simply adaptations of outdated fashions for men when fabric choice and tailoring was much more flamboyant by today's standards.

I could spend a lot of time on this subject. Before I came out I was constantly accused of being gay for as long as I can remember. I am married to a woman. My sexuality is complex. I am open to all sorts of accusations about how genuine I am for a multitude of reasons. The most obvious question would be did I get married to hide my homosexuality. No, it isn't like that at all. Attraction has never been and issue of exclusiveness for me. I've been in a relationship with my spouse since I was nineteen. It was an open one for the first few years.

I don't think it is for me to have an opinion on this ad. I think the situation is much different here than it is with the problems the SNL skit presents for transsexual women. Sorry to ramble on about this. Those are my observations, for whatever they're worth. I am interested in how those who this ad concern see the situation, though.

Sorry about the typos. I meant to say >> Kate Bornstein's famous quote, "in America we like even our women to be macho".

I suppose "out" would work almost as well but I wanted to be inclusive of those "grizzly mamas" out there, too.

I'm gay. I know all types of gay men and women, faminine, masculine, etc. These two men portray one of the many "colors" we come in. To say there is something wrong with this ad is to say there is something wrong with their "femininity" if that's what we want to call it. To me they're acting naturally, as many of my friends do.

Paige Listerud | February 1, 2011 1:00 PM

These guys are fine. There's nothing wrong with the way they talk or dress or anything.


I'm gay, and I live in Australia. Lately there has been alot of ads for banks that are pretty silly (like BankWest's 'A Bank' ads). To me, it just seems like they are doing a normal ad, with two guys that are a bit more effeminant than usual. There hasn't been any real attention to the ad here. it's just like any other bak ad, which you have a snicker over, then go back to cooking your dinner.