If a person from a remote, foreign nation wanted to visit the United States and first researched our culture solely by watching television and reading magazines, they’d probably think that most American men are hopeless idiots.
There’s the popular glass cleaner commercial in which a balding man with a pronounced gut wakes up in his easy chair and thinks he must be in the wrong house. His thin, beautiful wife smiles patronizingly on as he franticly runs around the house until he runs stupidly into the glass paneled wall. Then there’s the Kohler commercial in which a married man spies a hot female plumber next door, so he proceeds to pour everything but the bathroom sink into his own toilet. His, of course, thin and beautiful wife surprises her open-mouthed husband as he’s pouring dog food down the drain. And then there are the not-so-funny commercials, like the one Snicker’s manufacturers recently pulled in the U.K. In the commercial, a man is speed-walking down the street when 1980s icon Mr. T comes barreling around the corner, firing candy bars at him and calling him a “disgrace to the man race.” The ad ends with the tagline “get some nuts.”
From Homer Simpson to According to Jim, today’s media men are often depicted as bumbling, lazy, incompetent idiots who drink beer and nosh on nachos, have no clue how to cook, clean or rear children, and who will buy most anything if its sold by a cute girl in a bikini. And I’m not the only one to notice.
I read a health magazine while at the doctor’s office last week. It’s one of those kinds of magazines that is obviously underwritten by corporate interests and distributed only in doctor’s waiting rooms. There was an article geared towards women who are concerned that their husbands have gotten fat and lazy. I don’t have the article to quote and it’s not available online, but here’s the gist of the tips they give to wives:
1. Remind your husband that he can’t enjoy that vacation or retirement house in the Bahamas if he’s dead (presumably from the dread fat).
2. Tell your husband he’ll have sex more often and enjoy it more if he’s in shape.
3. Sneak vegetables into your husband’s meals.
The patronizing undertones and gender stereotype reinforcements are obvious, or at least they should be. Outside of the assumption that fatness and fitness are exclusive, the first two tips assume that a man cares more about status, money and sex than he does about his own general health and that only by dangling carrots of ostentatious wealth and the implicit threat from a wife to withhold sex will he be goaded into eating better and exercising. The last tip assumes that men will not eat vegetables of their own free will and therefore are in need of their naturally nurturing and maternal wives to covertly sneak broccoli florets on their pizza or spinach in their burritos. Once again, we’re reaffirming gender stereotypes through our associations with food.
My (thin) husband happens to fit the stereotype: He’s vegetarian, but he hates most vegetables and he’s one of the laziest people I know. Oh, he works very hard at what he does professionally and he’s a dedicated and talented musician, but if given the chance to go running or to sit at home playing video games, John Madden Football wins hands-down. He likes corn and French Fries — all the “bad” vegetables — but he rarely eats anything colored like Kermit and has an especially visceral reaction to raw tomatoes. But this isn’t just a ‘man thing;’ his mother also hates most vegetables and overall, my hubby eats a fairly healthy diet. I do worry sometimes about Brandon’s diet and inactivity, but I’m his wife, not his mother or his doctor. He knows what his body needs to be and stay healthy and doesn’t need me hem-hawing over his weight with reminders about our future beach side retirement house or threatening a cessation of conjugal relations until he sports a six-pack. Nor am I going to insult my husband’s intelligence by “sneaking” vegetables into his food.
It wasn’t that long ago that male-dominated advertising firms paternally marketed products to women using over-the-top stereotypical imagery instructing women on what kinds of coffee to buy to please their husbands or the best products to land or hold onto a man. Not that such marketing still doesn’t exist, but thanks to feminism, most advertisers today refrain from caricaturing women as downtrodden housewives or hare-brained office girls. Sadly, instead of working to eliminate stereotypical gender roles altogether, it seems the pendulum has only swung in the opposite direction.
What are some other ‘man as dope’ type commercials, TV shows or other depictions in the media you’ve noticed? Do you find them offensive? Is there a double standard in the media in how men and women are portrayed?