Friday, October 01, 2010

Man's World

(By request, a repost of a 2005 post)

Of all my pet peeves, this is my peeviest. My friends will be amazed it's taken me this long to bring it up here. But the truth is, I didn't bring it up, The Washington Post did.

In an article recently, the Post addressed what they perceived as a shift in marketing strategy. They used the 2003 Miller Lite ad wherein two guys fantasize about two women getting into a wrestling match in a fountain as an example of how ads used to appeal to men's egos. Then they use several contemporary examples to illustrate how men are ridiculed and belittled in today's ads. They question the wisdom of this approach, and rightly so.

One problem: they missed a key point in those Miller Lite ads.

Beyond the fact that they arguably mocked men by reducing them to their baser impulses -- impulses I readily admit to heartily sharing -- the ads were, in fact, female-friendly. Like all ads.

Don't believe me? Think back.

Sure, the guys were imagining the girls in the fountain, or in the bedroom with Pam Anderson, and yeah, it was hot, and a male fantasy...

...but then there was "the obligatory shot."

The girlfriends rolled their eyes. Pathetic, the girls said.


Yes. These men must be mocked for their lustful thoughts. Ridiculed. Scorned.

Now, let's compare and contrast with another commercial that ran at the same time. It was for the Outback, and it showed three women, laughing and chatting. Suddenly, three hunky waiters show up. The women stop talking and gape, unable to talk, unable to even breathe. They just nod, speechless, and drink in how cute these three waiters are. Obviously, this is why they come to the restaurant in the first place.

Or another commercial, for Diet Pepsi, where a hunky guy walks down the street, and women, including Cindy Crawford, turn to check out his ass in wonder.

Or a much older commercial, for Diet Coke, where women gather in an office window every day at the same time to watch a construction worker take a break and drink a soda in the hot sun. They pant and part their lips with desire, then agree to meet same time tomorrow.

In none of those commercials is there a man rolling his eyes and mocking them. No one calls them pathetic. If anything what they're doing is treated as fun.

See for yourself. When a man ogles a woman on television he is a loser. When a woman ogles a man on television she is "getting her groove back."

Even the beer commercial tied in to Wedding Crashers featured a beautiful woman showing clips of the movie to other beautiful women, and explaining that these two guys like to show up at weddings and scam on beautiful women. "What should we do?" one asks. "What we always do," the ringleader says with a sly smile. "We let them." And then they all laugh.

How stupid men are. Children, really. Women must be reassured that even men who think they're deceiving them really aren't.

And this is a commercial aimed at men!

But sometimes it seems like nothing is aimed at men anymore. I have to confess, as a man who is not a big sports fan, the popular culture seems to have no interest in me at all. I simply don't exist. Without a NASCAR hat or a tailgate party, I'm a non-entity. The entire rest of the television landscape completely panders to women. Usually at the cruel expense of men.

You can see it in the depiction of how men and women spend their leisure time. When women shop on television, it is always depicted as a smart, sophisticated afternoon of fun and conversation and lunch and just a wonderful, carefree time.

When men shop on television? Check out a Best Buy or Circuit City ad sometime: the wife trying to reign in her husband, who is drawn like a gorilla to shiny objects. Or the schlub so hyper and/or hypnotized by the big-screen TV's that the blue-shirted salesperson has to gently and condescendingly talk him back to reality. Again, these are ads supposedly aimed at men.

Or even the statements made about men -- like Katie's -- which would be absolutely unacceptable if made about any other minority.

How many times have you seen a commercial where the man was the dunderhead, the loser, the simpleton... the guy with a cold, unable to figure out what to do about it, until his wife tells him to take a cold medicine? "Thanks, honey," the Big Dope says, while the wife lovingly rolls her eyes, and women everywhere understand what she's going through, because they have their own big, dumb King of Queens at home.

Or the commercial where the father comes home, all excited, because he got all new cell phones for his family. And the kids look at him like he's trying to hand them a fistful of ebola... until the mother tells them it's okay to take them. Nice.

Or any one of a thousand commercials or bad sitcoms where the punchline is a little girl shaking her head, rolling her eyes, and saying, "Boys!" As if that explains everything.

Last week I saw a Conan rerun where Tea Leoni, an actress I like very much, did three minutes on how weird it is to have a son after you've had a daughter because you look at a boy baby and you think, "Are you retarded?" and girls get smarter but boys never do but it helps because then you realize why men are the way they are. (And if Tea Leoni is complaining about her husband being stupid, she is really expecting too much, because the guy's a freaking genius.)

And I'm watching this, and I'm imagining substituting any other minority group for that baby and wondering if any TV network would let this on the air.

Now it is usually at this point that women who aren't paying attention to what I'm saying jerk their knees and call me a misogynist. I am not a misogynist, as my friends will (I hope) testify. I just think that when we level the playing field, everyone has an equal chance to score.

Seriously, you may think I'm crazy, but watch TV with this in mind and you may realize how many hundreds and hundreds of times each day we send the message that we expect less of our boys. That we don't think they're as smart, they're not as capable, they'll never be as evolved as girls will.

Count the number of movies you've seen where a man learns to be a better man by pretending to be a woman. Now count the number of movies where a woman learns to be a better woman by pretending to be a man. None. (I know, I know, you're thinking of Just One of the Guys, but remember, she didn't learn to be a better woman, she was the smart one in the story; in fact, she was the best and coolest "man" of all of them. That's right: If they choose to, women even make better men.)

Remember Clara Harris, the woman who ran over her husband because she suspected him of cheating? Remember the media coverage? "Betrayed wife"... "cheating husband"... "years of suffering"... Oprah went to her cell to let her tell "her side of the story." The women of The View had a gay old time with got-what-he-deserved jokes. Sure, he was cheating, he deserved to die, right?

Can you imagine if a man had run over his cheating wife? Would any of the media coverage have been as sympathetic? Would anyone be talking about his years of suffering? No, they'd be interviewing her parents, her brother, her sisters, her friends. I don't think the women of The View do a lot of "You go, O.J.!" jokes.

(It's like the outrage that erupted when the second or third Rambo movie came out, because he killed a woman. Never mind that he also killed 400 men... he killed a woman!)

Murder is murder. But somehow someone got the idea that it's funnier when a man dies than when a woman dies. That men are somehow worth less.

We've traded our boys' self-esteem, and for what? So Joy Behar can get a cheap laugh on The View? So Maureen Dowd can sell a book asking if we're even necessary?

What kind of message is that to hammer into our children all day and night? I'm not worried about our children getting occasional messages of sex and violence, I'm worried about their getting unrelenting messages of men being lesser.

Think sometime about how much the media covers breast cancer, then think about how little they cover testicular cancer. (When's the last time you saw a yogurt lid for prostate cancer?) Think about the last time you saw someone on a talk show saying little girls were stupid compared to little boys.

When the President of Harvard wondered if men might not be better at science than women, there was a huge public outcry for him to be fired merely for asking the question. Now I challenge you to Google the following phrase: "women better at" and see what comes up: better at driving, better adjusted, have better emotional recall, and are better at hand hygiene... and that's just the first page. Oh, and men who marry are more intelligent and less neurotic than single men, merely by proximity to women.

A British show actually enlisted a dog trainer to teach women to train their husbands. A dog trainer. Imagine the message that sent out to the already-disenfranchised young men of Britain. And are our messages much better?

I think if boys come to believe society expects less of them than girls, we shouldn't be surprised if they become the kind of slack-jawed losers we see hanging out in malls or in parking lots. We shouldn't be surprised if they develop an inner rage and insensitivity that comes out in songs about "bitches and ho's."

We create the next generation we'll get, and we'll get the next generation we deserve.

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