Geography & Environment Publications

Signs of Masculinism in an 'Uneasy' Place: Advertising for 'Big Brothers'

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Gender, Place & Culture

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'Big Brothers' is an international, philanthropic fraternal organisation dedicated, in its own words, 'to match boys seven to seventeen from lone-parent female families with mature male role models over eighteen ... toward contributing to the healthy development of these children'. A primary objective of this 90 year-old institution is thus to instil a masculine culture and nurture a masculine identity in male children by providing an adult male presence, 3-4 hours a week, in the lives of boys without a male role model. This article asks, which kinds of masculine identities are promoted as acceptable and why? Drawing upon the geographies of feminism, masculinity, and advertising, the article presents a socio-semiotic analysis of the format, content and signs employed by 'Big Brothers' of Canada and the USA in their recruitment campaigns. Using printed promotional material spanning the institute's history, as well as an interview with the Marketing Director of a recent Big Brother recruitment campaign, the slogans, icons, and gender-myths used to represent males and same-sex friendships in the symbolic spaces of their advertisements are critiqued. Results exemplify the instability of the 'masculine gaze' and suggest that the discourse of patriarchal masculinity situates the Big Brothers institute itself in an 'uneasy' place, one where the masculine gender-myths may be collapsing but are nevertheless evoked to ensure volunteers and society at large that a 'legitimate' form of homosocial masculinity prevails, one that does not transgress 'out of bounds' and into the 'homosexual'.