WE ARE LIVING in the Golden Age of Rebranding. Dunkin’ Donuts, among the most potent brands in food service, is now Dunkin’, so consumers won’t make the vestigial connection to delightfully delicious and dietetically deleterious doughnuts.
The great brands are under siege. The Kardashians have just hired a new “branding guru,” and residents of three Trump properties have stripped the president’s name off the buildings they inhabit, fearful of declining property values.
But the brand that has suffered most of late represents about half of the world’s population and accounts for about 80 percent of global mischief. I mean men.
The male brand now is where ValuJet Airlines was in 1996, when a horrible crash in the Everglades killed 110 passengers and crew. ValuJet immediately rechristened itself AirTran, which had a fine safety record and was eventually folded into Southwest Airlines.
Men dominate the newspapers, websites, and airwaves with lurid tales of groping, workplace harassment, pedophilia, and divers sexual whatnot. If we were a stock, you would sell us, though at this point your return on investment would be knee-high to a caterpillar.
Like Dunkin’, the Kardashians, and Trump, we don’t really plan to change; still, it might be nice to have a new name to hide behind. If only Hillary Clinton had challenged the Filet ’o Fish doughboy to an arm-wrestling contest during the 2016 election, we could have emerged as the Weaker Sex. Sadly, that never happened.
I think the Gentler Sex is a discarded brand name waiting to be reclaimed. But you take one look at Harvey Weinstein, and you think: “Naaaah.”
The fecund world of academic gender studies has generated any number of euphemistic sexual workarounds that sublimate masculinity: cisgender, agender, and the gender-neutral pronouns ze and zir, which sound like honorifics from a Fritz Lang movie. Maybe they are.
We could go back to the way we were, or wer. “Wer” used to be a universal prefix for male; one of the few surviving examples is the word “werewolf.” “Wif” was the female equivalent, and “wifman” eventually morphed into “woman.” Maybe my sex could start calling ourselves “wermen,” although the constant reminder of “vermin” would alas be omnipresent, putting us right back where we started.
I have seen the suggestion that “mankind” (get me rewrite!) might fare quite well if men simply disappeared. This is not a new idea. Five years ago, biology professor Greg Hampikian asked, in The New York Times, “Does mankind really need men?”
His answer: no. “If all the men on earth died tonight, the species could continue on frozen sperm,” he wrote. “If the women disappear, it’s extinction.
“Women are both necessary and sufficient for reproduction, and men are neither,” Hampikian argued. “If men were cars, who would buy the model that doesn’t last as long, is given to lethal incidents, and ends up impounded more often?”
So if we were a car, we would be an Edsel.
Perhaps you could call us Brand Y, in recognition of our unique sexual chromosome? But then people like Greg Hampikian might ask: Brand Why? That leads to all kinds of uncomfortable questions.
Call me werman, call me cisgender, call me ze. But the ways things are going, I suspect you are not going to call me at all.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.