Read Part 1.
Here, absent the continuity I usually strive to provide, are my final random thoughts on the male-bashing that is now institutionalized in advertising (and American culture as a whole). Some of these graphs represent my responses to thoughts that emerged in the Comments section of my previous post on the subject.
1. It is true that role- and power-reversals generate humor. It is also, I think, true that any scriptwriter or ad copywriter who reversed the current politically correct paradigm even once (i.e. elevating men at the expense of women, especially in the no-holds-barred manner in which advertising now treats men) would be picketed, crucified, denutted (even if she's a woman), and perhaps would be subject to formal sanctions of one type or another. That's if the ad first got past Standards & Practices at the major networks.
2. The larger point is that the sorts of ads described above are just a more comical rendering of society's "authorized" attitude toward men: As we saw in last month's breast-cancer discussion, men are insensitive, callous, boorish, and generally unworthy of our sympathies. When there is some intrigue or disharmony between man and woman, invariably it's the man's motives that are suspect by default. (And in the end, certainly on TV, the man is almost always proved wrong, with the lone exception of the "evil vixen" plot line.) Though much progress has been made in divorce and visitation laws, the family-court system continues to overwhelmingly favor women. And, of course, we have the appalling reality of paternity fraud, which attorney Jeffery Leving aptly characterizes as "the only sex crime we don't punish." (Read some of the associated stories, including my own. It's unreal, in the most literal sense.) Although thankfully laws in some jurisdictions now limit a man's ongoing financial liability for a child he didn't father, not one state imposes criminal penalties on a woman for the catastrophic damage paternity fraud inflicts on a so-called "duped dad." She goes on her merry way, retaining custody of the child. He's left, often, with an empty bank account and a giant hole in his heart, with nothing to show for the years of love and financial support he provided.
3. Sitcoms are also excellent metrics for anchoring these discussions, as they reflect what the broad culture accepts and embraces—and finds amusing, which is important here. I don't think America would accept a sitcom about the bin Laden cell that featured regular beheadings of abducted U.S. tourists. That's just not funny. Yet even the most callous male-bashing clearly is. The whole point of citing ads and sitcoms is that they give wider validity to the issues we discuss. They tell you, for better or worse, what America thinks, or at least what Hollywood and Madison Ave think America thinks.
4. You can't justify today's male-bashing by arguing that "you men had it your way for centuries, now it's women's turn." My rebuttal is the same that applies whenever someone revives that old argument for slavery reparations: To the best of my knowledge, I have never owned a slave. Even if my ancestors did (which I tend to doubt, since no one in my family tree really owned anything), what the hell does that have to do with me? Besides, I've worked at companies where I know for a fact that behavior was tolerated from a woman that would never have been tolerated from a man. (I was part of management and privy to the decision-making process.) An incompetent, intransigent man risks being summarily fired. But today, with an incompetent, intransigent woman, management—fearing a back-breaking discrimination lawsuit—takes a wait-and-see attitude, especially when the woman is also (a) older or (b) black or (c) a single parent. If the woman is (a), (b) and (c), she'd practically have to kill her boss and dismember him during a staff meeting to invite reprisals (which likely would consist of a short probationary period...at full salary).
5. Even if you do continue to insist that I (and my male contemporaries) deserve this treatment as some all-purpose, non-specific comeuppance for the myriad crimes of Boomer-generation males, I ask you: What did my 9-year-old grandson do to deserve it? Why should he be forced to watch his gender habitually portrayed in such a cynical, demeaning manner? And if you're going to tell me that kids don't really pick up on this stuff or take it seriously, then I ask you in follow-up: Why all the concern about black and female role models depicted on TV?
And the assault on the gender identity of young males doesn't end there. As noted in SHAM, the dominant administrative mindset in elementary schools for some time now has been: "Wouldn't it be great if little boys could be remade so that they all acted like little girls?" The phenomenon has been studied and reported at length, notably by Christina Hoff Sommers in her compelling book, The War Against Boys; therein, she outlines the many ways in which the educational brain trust in recent decades has pressed the utter eradication of all behaviors and tendencies that are traditionally identified with masculinity. Although evidence of this movement is everywhere, and its goals are explained in great pedantic detail in any number of esoteric journals, the phenomenon has its simplest, most accessible expression in the widespread banning of dodgeball—the schoolyard activity in which, to many feminist-minded educators, all the unforgivable sins of manhood come to a head. For starters, the game is viewed as "too violent." It also places far too much emphasis not just on winning, but on individual excellence. Schools aren't quite as down on team sports, which encourage partnership and the aspiration to collective success, both of which are viewed as female in nature. And even there, the 1990s witnessed a broad movement to play such games without keeping score. (I would also note: Anyone who thinks that girls don't want to win needs to spend more time watching softball tournaments or Serena Williams' approach to Wimbledon.) I'm kicking myself for not saving the citation, but early in the research phase of SHAM I came across a jaw-dropping passage written by a female educational administrator in which she condemned dodgeball for its "obvious war metaphor": the way competitors would be "killed off one by one like soldiers under sniper fire."* The woman particularly objected to the way the game encouraged players to take delight at "inflicting pain" on their targets. (Notice too: The author clearly assumes that men in their natural state enjoy inflicting pain on others.) The whole thing would've been laughable if it weren't written in dead earnest.
Overall, this movement represents the ongoing institutional endeavor to mold a bland, denatured version of Boy who's not permitted to express his innate curiosity, restlessness, competitiveness, etc. This also explains why today's schools have kids journaling ("open up to others about your feelings!"), team-quilting ("find a creative, social outlet for your energy!") and the like. The tragicomic irony is hard to miss: We're ohhhh-so-worried about kids' self-esteem...but we're willing to write off, even attack, the self-esteem of an entire gender by denying its members their natural biological essence.
* I can't promise that this is a verbatim quote, but it's close.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Read Part 1.