“Be a man.”
That is the primary slogan of Birell, a beer company which came to the Egyptian markets in 1986 providing non-alcoholic beer, which has been running “man up” advertisement campaigns since as early as 2009.
What does ‘manning up’ entail? In one advertisement, the customer is told to forget about “what colour is the dress” and focus on the woman who is wearing it.
In a country where 99 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, the advertisement appears to promote cat-calling, staring and maybe more. The latest campaigns have even attracted the wrath of social media users who have accused Birell of sexism and the promotion of sexual harassment.
Birell’s ad campaign is so disgusting and it makes me want to burn their company down ☺
— Noha. (@nohapls) March 25, 2015
— Sarah Naguib (@Sarahngb) March 24, 2015
Yet, is this merely an oversight by the non-alcoholic beer company? According to its company overview, Birell has a strong and bitter taste that can “only be handled by men.” Self-titled “Birellman” on Facebook, the company promotes its drinks to men, warning that unless you “man up”, you cannot handle the golden coloured drink.
One of its latest ads that has been criticized for promoting sexism and gender discrimination concerns ‘skinny jeans’. The advertisement states that if you are to wear skinny jeans, you might as well take a taxi, go to national registrar and change your name to “Maysa” (which is a female name, but, with the change of the ‘s’ in Arabic can refer to ‘being a sissy’).
“It basically says wearing skinny jeans makes you a woman,” explains 23-year-old feminist and blogger Enas El Masry, “The issue lies within the frame they draw for what a manly man should be like. That is what the image plays on. Men don’t wear skinny jeans. If you do, it’s better if you change your name to a female one.”
“If affects women indirectly in several ways: only men are tough enough to do certain things. If you can’t live up to that, you’re as good as a woman.”
The result of this is that, not only are women targeted, but so are men, who are expected to be ‘manly’ in ways that Birell prescribes. In a 2009 advertisement, Birell declares “the personality of a woman is the last thing you should comment on,” when a man in the television ad compliments a woman’s personality. Another 2010 advertisement depicts women as constantly nagging and ends with “being a man is not easy.” Meanwhile, a 2012 campaign run during Ramadan declared that a “man should not cross his legs like a woman” and implied that a man should not be sensitive or cry.
“It is unacceptable and infuriating that Birell has continuously released ads that promote sexism and gender discrimination,” says Farida regarding the latest ad.
“It is sexist. It is offensive. And more than anything, it is socially irresponsible. As a company with its popularity, promotion of social issues is not only a duty but an obligation.”
The President of the women’s initiative, based at the American University in Cairo, adds that both men and women should protest the blatant gender discrimination, “Birell’s ads speak loud and clear of what type of company this is. It is a company that will do anything to make profit even at the cost of promoting a culture of discrimination and sexism.”
“It is clear that the values Birell upholds are values that are against a society where women and men are respected; a society where equality of all forms exists. As citizens of this society, we must stand up to gender discrimination, sexism and all forms of prejudice.”