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Toyota’s Androgyny Ad

Late this summer, Toyota began airing a very provocative commercial in Japan for their snappy little 2013 Auris hatchback. The spot features a saucy topless model supposedly drawing our attention to the car, but of course the commercial could be hawking second-hand thumb-tacks for all the viewer cares. Only the sultry car-model exists:

Yes, dude looks like a lady.

I deal with the issue of gender in light of our larger culture, communities, and children quite a bit in my day job. I have increasingly come to laugh at offerings like this commercial, not because they’re not serious or cause for concern, but because they’re actually far less radical than their creators imagine. Take the nice folks over at ThinkProgressLGBT as they explain their excitement over the ad because it’s so “revolutionary”: “In a creative swipe at the gender binary, the car company cast Ukrainian-born model Stav Strashko in its new advertisement, utilizing his androgynous looks to create a typically sexist expectation, only to reveal something quite different.” (emphasis added)

Our enlightened over-lords desire to awake the rest of us brick-headed dolts from our dogmatic slumber that male and female are real, objectively meaningful, and the only two ways that humans come shipped from the factory.

In viewing this ad, the main character is clearly a woman, or so we think. How do we know?

Because we know a woman when we see one. But the “gotcha” moment of the commercial is precisely that this is indeed a man. Curveball. But any and every viewer, regardless of their cultural experience, knows what’s going on here. It is really no curveball at all. The piece’s power dwells nowhere else but in the fact that there is indeed a way that men and woman are and that we can universally distinguish them from each other. Our ease in recognizing the oddity affirms the rule.

There is no group of people — as ideologically or culturally distinct as they might be from any of us — who see our Mr. Strashko in this ad and merely shrug as if such sights are a natural, if rare, part of human experience. Not even the gender-studies folks. Think of this example: Our albino neighbor, classmate, or co-worker doesn’t challenge — much less obliterate — the truth and reality of distinct ethnicity revealed in skin color, hair texture, etc. He amplifies the norm actually, for it is in the absence of these very real and universally recognizable traits that such individuals strike us as so powerfully unique and curious.

It is sad when our teachers cannot recognize that the students are not really confused about such things in the first place.

And besides, regarding the ad as a device to sell cars, doesn’t this message really end-up saying: “The Auris: You think you’re getting one thing, but it’s really a bait-and-switch”?

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