It’s not often that I am offended on behalf of men everywhere by their portrayal in entertainment media, but it does happen from time to time. A while back (I can’t find the post) I complained about TV shows and commercials which constantly show men as id-driven, incompetent oafs whose all-knowing wives are showing him up. When I posted on it, Becky responded that she’d noticed that, too, but she was actually offended that the commercials imply that as long as he acts stupid and lazy it’s her job to pick up the slack. I hadn’t really thought about it, but she had a good, point, too. What I had previously thought was mildly sexist in one direction could easily be interpreted as mildly sexist in the other, depending on how you looked at it.

I’ve been running into that again with some television shows I’ve been watching and listening to. In at least three cases there is an instance of a woman going either crazy or completely selfish and then lashes out at her man that has the audacity to point her immature and selfish behavior out. In two cases the woman allows an ex-boyfriend to stay with her while hiding it from her boyfriend. When he gets mad, she gets indignant. In another case a woman freaks out when the man proposes and then gets upset with him for getting so upset about her refusal to answer the question or even acknowledge that it was asked.

My visceral response is actually being kind of pissed off that the man is being subjected to this mistreatment and is expected to just take it because if he doesn’t he is unreasonably trying to control her. She’s essentially hiding behind feminism in order to leave her man twisting in the wind while she regresses to… I don’t know… to something less than she should be. This may hit a little bit close to home because in at least a couple times in my life I was put in a not-dissimilar position when I was asked to accept behavior that is clearly unacceptable. Sometimes I overreact to situations where in retrospect I was being unreasonable or unfair. But sometimes, as in the cases I’m thinking of, time and distance has told me not that I overreacted but that I underreacted by simply complaining and getting mad rather than leaving them or shutting them out entirely.

Anyway, I thought about the above thing with commercials and it occurred to me that there are two sides to this common thread in the shows I’ve been consuming lately. Whereas I’m upset at how these shows seem to imply to me that a man should be a man by putting up with rotten behavior, I could easily see a woman being upset at women being portrayed as batspit crazy. I could see this dovetailing quite closely with previous complaints about how women in media are portrayed as over-emotional, erratic, and self-centered.

So I guess the lesson here for myself is to chill out. The characters names are Johnny and Sharon, not Eva and Will. Sometimes a silly plot is just a silly plot.


Category: Theater

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11 Responses to Double-Edged Sexism

  1. Peter says:

    Those idiot-male commercials really annoy me. No ther form of such blatant stereotyping would ever be tolerated. What makes them even worse is the likelihood that the ad agency people who produce them are predominately male.

    A recent one for microwaveable cakes and brownies called Warm Delights has to rank among the worst ever. A man and a woman are riding on an elevator when the woman begins thinking of Warm Delights, causing her to close her eyes and make soft moaning sounds in what is obviously intended to be an orgasmic manner. She then opens her eyes and catches the man staring at her. The man is left humiliated and looking like a childish idiot.

    Of course, one could argue that the ad actually demeans the woman, for nearly having a public orgasm over the thought of high-calorie junk food, but I’m sure that subtlety is lost on most viewers who laugh at the doofy man.

    One possible explanation for these idiot-male commercials (and sitcoms) is that the viewership for almost all non-sports TV programming is predominately female.

  2. trumwill says:

    It’s more than just a matter of who’s watching, it’s also a matter of purchasing power. When it comes to a lot of the things that these commercials are selling, it’s the woman that makes the arrangements and so she’s the one they want to pitch the sale to.

    As far as no other group being so regularly portrayed so consistently in a negative light, that may be true, but that’s in part because guys generally have more of a sense of humor about these things because we’re not nearly as vulnerable to sexism as women are. The same goes for whites that can laugh at Chris Rock jokes aimed at whites (or the existence of the The Hughleys). Some object, but generally we’re not as vulnerable, so we can afford to laugh.

    Cutting humor is less funny to those that bleed.

  3. Peter says:

    I understand your point, but there’s a distinction between (a) good-natured, mild humor and (b) malicious ridicule. As far as I’m concerned, the Warm Delights ad is much closer to (b) than to (a).

  4. trumwill says:

    I’m actually not familiar with those ads in particular.

  5. Spungen says:

    Cutting humor is less funny to those that bleed.

    A little menstrual humor to lighten things up, very nice.

    My dad gets cranky about those ads, too. But a lot of those caveman portrayals on TV are actually directed at men. Think about The Man Show. Or a lot of those couples shows, like “King of Queens,” or “Everybody Loves Raymond,” that a lot of men watch. I think a lot of men like that stuff. Maybe because they relate? Or it makes them feel like they’re not so bad in comparison to those guys. Or at least like it’s not so bad to be like that.

    I remember many years ago, there was a popular morning DJ group in L.A. called The Baka Boyz. It was two overweight Mexican-American guys, and their slogan was “Two Fat Mexicans!” They got some heat for portraying Mexicans in a racist, demeaning manner. The thing is, the majority of the station’s audience was Hispanic, and that’s who they were targeting the ads to.

  6. trumwill says:

    I don’t think it’s the “caveman” aspect of it that bothers people as it is the “incompetent” aspect and the emasculation, though you do raise a point. I’m inclined to think that part of the draw to King of Queens is that you can look and act like that and still end up with Leah Remini. Stuff like that puts a lot of bad ideas into people’s heads.

  7. logtar says:

    What is scary to me is that the TV is at times and educational tool for our society and people that see that behavior think of it as appropriate or even normal.

  8. Peter says:

    But a lot of those caveman portrayals on TV are actually directed at men. Think about The Man Show. Or a lot of those couples shows, like “King of Queens,” or “Everybody Loves Raymond,” that a lot of men watch. I think a lot of men like that stuff. Maybe because they relate? Or it makes them feel like they’re not so bad in comparison to those guys. Or at least like it’s not so bad to be like that.

    It could also be, at least on a subconscious sort of level, that TV’s doofus dads (a Steve Sailer term) are not without their redeeming values. Most of them support their families single-handedly, even one as doofy as Homer Simpson.

  9. Spungen says:

    Let’s face it, there’s no humor in being ideal. Humor is in screwing up. If you are writing a comedy where you’re the star, you want to have some major flaws in your character, hopefully magnified versions of those that exist in your target audience.

    I think one of the big reasons men are portrayed so negatively is because men get the good roles. One of the reasons I like “King of the Hill” is because the wife is so arrogant and clueless sometimes. Which makes her an interesting and humorous character. She’s not some two-dimensional saintly superwoman who’s holding her doofus of a husband together week after week.

  10. trumwill says:

    I think one of the big reasons men are portrayed so negatively is because men get the good roles.

    That’s a really good point. I think it’s the same on Law & Order, where a lot of people complain about the fact that the bad guys are almost always white and it’s a sort of politically correct racism. I think it’s sort of the opposite: it’s really cool to be the bad guy on L&O and those parts are being given to white people.

  11. Peter says:

    One of the reasons I like “King of the Hill” is because the wife is so arrogant and clueless sometimes. Which makes her an interesting and humorous character. She’s not some two-dimensional saintly superwoman who’s holding her doofus of a husband together week after week.

    Such as Marge Simpson, whom despite being given some plot lines of her own is arguably the weakest and least interesting of the major characters on the show.

    While not a wife, Elaine on Seinfeld was a rare example of a flawed female comedy character, being so self-centered and neurotic.

    I think it’s the same on Law & Order, where a lot of people complain about the fact that the bad guys are almost always white and it’s a sort of politically correct racism. I think it’s sort of the opposite: it’s really cool to be the bad guy on L&O and those parts are being given to white people.

    Count me as one of the complainers. While I still believe the show is racist, another theory behind its casting has to do with audience preferences. Audiences for most crime shows are largely white, and supposedly they find it depressing and/or uninteresting to see a real-life parade of black and brown criminals.

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