Saturday, April 10, 2010

Infantilizing Men, Cont'd

I have written before about the current trend in mass culture that legitimizes and celebrates male immaturity. Two recent commercials by At&T (I think) fall squarely within this trend and don't cease to amaze me by the incredible double standard they promote.

Commercial I: A man, a woman, and their toddler come to a restaurant. The woman gets up to go to the bathroom. The man looks terrified and bereft. Of course, the idea of being left alone with HIS own child for 5 minutes must be intolerable. The little boy starts whimpering, and the father feels completely lost. Then, he gets a brilliant idea. He whips out his phone, downloads a video and sticks it under the toddler's nose. The child immediately acquires a suitably zombified look and starts staring onto the screen. Problem solved! Can you imagine a commercial where a woman is similarly traumatized by the necessity to spend five minutes alone with her small child? Something tells me that this kind of commercial is not likely to appear any time soon.

Commercial II: A woman, a man and their two children come to an amusement park. The woman stops to check her phone. She needs it to work in case the kids disperse and she needs to find them. The kids are waiting patiently for their mother to figure things out with the phone. The middle-aged father, however, has disappeared. He has run off to take a ride on the merry-go-round, leaving his wife to deal with THEIR children alone. Once again, can you imagine a similar commercial where the gender roles are swapped?

Male immaturity and irresponsibility are often presented as cute and adorable. Remember this horrible Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom? For nine years we sat there enjoying a show about a middle-aged man being more immature than any teenager, who was babysat by his competent and domineering wife. Unsurprisingly, this couple's sex life was too pathetic even for American television.

As I stated in my first post on this subject, creating this image of men as inherently inept in the realm of interpersonal communications, romantic relationships, and child-rearing is a way for society to compensate women for infantilizing them in everything that pertains to the public sphere. Women are not supposed to be competent and powerful at work, in politics, or anywhere in the public sphere. Men, in turn, are not expected to be mature, competent, and responsible in the private sphere.

What we get as a result is the perennial division of the public and the private along gender lines.


Jennifer said...

I hate those kinds of ads/shows. Ironically my husband loves them, which I do not understand. Can't he see how insulting they are? I have given up, and just leave the room when a show like that comes on.

Anonymous said...

It's not so insulting, really. For the most part, the things that men are portrayed as being bad at are not valued by society and not something men want to do, anyway.

(Bill Cosby as much as admitted this in a joke about men's brilliance in being so incompetent they can't be expected to do work.)

Clarissa said...

Anonymous: when you talk about things "valued by society", it sounds like you are excluding women from "society." We represent half of the world's population. In the US, women make 80% of all purchase decisions. As a result, television definitely does care about what women want.

As to things that "men don't want to do anyways," in Everybody Loves Raymond one of the main storylines was dedicated to how Raymond keeps egging his wife for sex in a variety of humiliating ways, and she keeps refusing until he proves himself with good behavior. Then, she accedes while rolling her eyes and showing how much she despises him. So what is it that "men don't want to do anyway"? Have sex??

Lainey said...

Interesting...I've recently begun to notice the extent to which women are infantilized in society (I give you the breast cancer's pink ribbons and teddy bears--for grown women--as Exhibit A), but I never considered a corollary with the male side of things. I think you may be on to something here.