I keep the ads running on my Twitter client even though I have license — every so often something jumps out at me. Typically it’s software for optimizing the research experience, but this time it is Manpacks.
The idea behind Manpacks — which appears to not be a joke — is simple: you sign up for their subscription service, and every three months they will send you fresh tshirts, socks, and underwear. The site describes itself as ‘girlfriend approved’ and touts its service as ‘more efficient’ than shopping for clothes, and ‘easier’ because you ‘don’t have to think about it’. I am fascinated by what this says about contemporary masculinity in the US.
What does it mean that a business believes that men are willing to pay to have someone clothe them, and that they are unable or unwilling to decide for themselves that their underwear, socks, and tshirts are too dirty to continue to wear? To a certain extent the site reflects a sort of passive consumerism in American culture that critics of consumerism have rallied against for decades — the penetration of very basic personal and household reproduction by the market, the obsession with convenience, and so forth.
But the site is clearly also about masculinity — the founders “believe in working with human nature, rather than fighting against it. Encouraging men to more regularly shop for underwear is not the answer.” Despite their claims that the site fosters ‘self reliance’ (by not having to wait to receive socks as gifts) and that men are ‘fully capable’ of buying underwear, but that they do not because it is a low priority, I find the overall message here one that men have trouble keeping track of their cleanliness or appearance.
On the one hand, such an idea is about masculine power and privilege: effortless comfort, not having to deal with the burdens of everyday life, the idea that you are entitled to (or should be able to purchase) a solution to all of the mundane problems in life so you can get on with the real business of living. But too often in contemporary American culture masculine privilege has flipped over into infantilization as men come to see themselves as incapable of even the most basic tasks, reliant on mothers, girlfriends, and of course the market to provide for their needs.
I see Manpacks as part of this broader trend in American society — one that resonates for me particularly as a teacher. It is now widely accepted that men struggle more and more in school, caught between learned helplessness on the one hand and peer pressure to appear effortlessly successful (when, that is, academic success is considered a good thing at all) and women have outpaced men in education and earning (although we still have a long way to go before full gender equity is achieved).
As a professor living in Honolulu who only distantly remember what ‘socks’ are, I imagine myself to be in a different demographic than twenty-somethings who expect a free ride out of life and tons of sex with scantily-clad women who love their choice of light beer. Am I wrong to find something sinister and enfeebling about Manpacks, or did they just catch me checking my Twitter feed at the wrong moment?