Year of the Dude: Hyper-Masculinity in Marketing, Media and Mega-church

Any time i post an especially pro-woman bit of commentary, i get feedback saying that i clearly–clearly–have a problem with men.

For the record, I love men. My husband, my brother, my father, my good friends and male colleagues in ministry, the male members of my church, the stranger at the grocery store…men are great. They are important to me, and to the world in general.

So no, I don’t have a problem with men. Who I’ve got a problem with is ‘dudes.’ More specifically, the many ways that affluent, western culture  caters to dude-dom, giving that demographic power and relevance it does not deserve. The language and imagery of the Dude diminishes all–men and women alike–and it seems, increasingly, that we are helpless to stop it.

By “dudes,” I mean guys who live by the bro-code. They embody Donald Trump by day, Barney Stinson by night, and some combination of Tim Tebow and Mark Driscoll come the weekend. They love boobs, sports and money, and they are really uncomfortable around women. Unless the woman is there to feed and/or sleep with them. These are the guys for whom Hardee’s commercials are made, and apparently, they are guys who rarely watch the Academy Awards.

Enter Seth Macfarlane. Somehow embody The Dude as the face of Oscar night, and reach a whole new market-rich audience.  Suddenly Oscar night is SuperBowl II for advertisers.

Thing is, those dudes we’re talking about? I don’t know any of them in real life. The men in my life, they might like sports and boobs and beer. But they aren’t threatened by powerful women, nor are they are afraid to watch a little Downton Abbey after the football game. The men that I know value their wives and daughters, sisters and mothers too much to relegate them to the punchline or the sideline. Men I know get het up about human trafficking and domestic violence, and their gay friends are still their friends.

Why, then, is The Dude taking over marketing, media, and mega-church culture?

I keep hearing that we should not be shocked or offended by the flavor of Oscar night. I mean, it was Seth Macfarlane. We knew what we were getting. Why are we surprised?

Oh, I was not a bit surprised.

Just like I’m no longer surprised:

When our national leaders say appalling things about legitimate rape, or rape that might somehow be the will of God.

When i hear statistics that one in three American women has been beaten or sexually assualted.

When women are passed over for promotions, or make 70-some cents on the dollar to their male counter-parts.

When i learn how many forms of human trafficking are legal in my state.

I’m no longer surprised when I make the case for women being empowered for church leadership, only to have strangers tell me that i clearly–clearly–have a problem with men.

I’m no longer surprised. But that doesn’t mean I’m not pissed.

I’m not a prude, and I have a pretty diverse and sophisticated sense of humor. But we have empowered The Dude around here for far too long when a famous personality can say such appalling things about women in primetime, and we take it as ‘just what we should have expected.’

Selma Hayek is coming out to speak now, but none of us will hear what she has to say, because she’s so hot.

Translation (in case you’ve lost your dude lexicon): very hot women need not be talented or say anything smart, because their physical beauty overshadows all other contributions to the world. We won’t hear you anyway. And you less attractive ladies need not apply; you are silent AND invisible.

Overreacting? How about his nod to the actresses who ‘gave themselves the flu” last week in order to fit in those dresses? That’s a fantastic message for teen-agers struggling with eating disorders.

But the one that most outraged me was the joke about George Clooney’s affinity for younger women. And I’m not being protective of Clooney. I’m mad for the young girl who was a prop in the joke… In case you missed it,  Seth referenced Quvenzhané Wallis, the nine-year-old best actress nominee. He said “How young is she? She’s so young that she’s got 16 years before she’s too old for Clooney!”

Translation: This beautiful young girl–whose outstanding performance earned her the honor of youngest nominee ever in this category–is just the right age for an old man to want to have sex with her.

Did i mention this child was actually in the room? I don’t condone violence, but had that been my child? Macfarlane would have met the Kentucky side of my slapping hand, on camera and in prime time, y’all.

But, this is just the sort of humor that we’ve ‘come to expect’ from the dude sector.

Meanwhile–much like the Academy–large suburban churches are learning that women are the most likely audience for their product–and that if they can just figure out how to get the men coming, the women will follow. And so, they direct the message, the music, the space, even the  entertainment (think football on the big screen) at the men.

Numbers don’t lie. It works.

For years, I have not been able to articulate what bugs me about the manly marketing movement of the megachurch. Until i saw what it looks like in primetime.

There–dressed up in Hollywood makeup and lighting– was the Dude’s bottom line message to women everywhere: We will let you in the room. We will let you on the stage. We will let you out of your wife/mother/’biblical womanhood’ roles…but we don’t have to like it.’

While many folks still struggle with the whether and where of women’s leadership, hyper-masculine churches got there for a different reason. They might cite scripture. But if you get an honest mega-church pastor, he will tell you that men are “uncomfortable with lady pastors.” And if the business model (which works) is to target the men, well, then dudes win. Even in church.

Thing is, the Jesus that I follow is a man. He is not, in any universe, a dude. He did not encrypt a secret message into the parables for only the guys to understand (and relay to the wives); he did not make crass boob jokes; and he would be turning over some tables in our governing bodies if he knew how many forms of abuse were  socially acceptable today–not to mention legal.

So no, I don’t have a problem with men. I love men. With the help of my husband, my father, my brother and my friends, I am raising my son to be one. He will probably grow to like women’s breasts–I mean, he sure loved mine for the first year of his life. Under the influnce of his father (and mine,) he will likely be an athlete. I look forward to enjoying a beer with him, once he is of an age. But on my watch, he will not be a dude. He will not reduce women to supporting roles, body parts, or cheap punchlines. He will not be afraid of strong girls.  He will love his sister, his female friends, and even his mother enough to stand up for their voice and their dignity.

I hope the world has changed by the time he’s old enough for that beer. I won’t be surprised if it hasn’t…but I aim to keep not liking it, for as long as it takes.

Other people saying smart stuff about Oscar night…

Why Macfarlane’s Misogyny Matters

We Saw Your Boobs” Celebrates Rape on Film

(Disclaimer: i’ve got no problem with Tebow, and i dearly love me some Barney Stinson. I’d just rather we didn’t build the whole dang world around them, you know?)

 

 

 

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • ric

    Thank you thank you thank you.

  • ABF

    I was all prepared to like this, until I saw the examples from the Academy Awards, which just seemed like classic oversensitivity/reading too much into things. Other groups are up in arms about the Oscars, too… the Anti-Defamation League is upset about the Ted/Mark Wahlberg skit where Mark is advised to pretend that his name is Jewish in order to “still work in this town.”

    Here’s the thing: the Oscars are always somewhat of a big inside joke. Everyone in Hollywood knows that it is full of Jewish people in positions of power and influence. Likewise, many of his other jokes, like the jokes of hosts every year, are poking fun at Hollywood itself, like the “boobs” song. If anything, it was pointing out that Hollywood films so often require actresses to show their bodies. Couldn’t that be seen as a feminist protest?

    Re: Salma Hayek: he gave the names of 3 Spanish-speaking actors before she came out: two were women, one was a man. His point was that every year, one of them comes out and speaks in such a thick accent that we can’t understand them. That’s true, and it’s funny. It’s also true that we just enjoy looking at them. In fact, if they weren’t good-looking, probably none of them would have had the careers they have. That goes for most movie actors. If anything, I felt his comment about their attractiveness was an apology for his insult that we can’t understand a thing they say. Reading it as somehow a commentary that looks trump talent is really farfetched, IMO.

    I also don’t feel the way some others seem to about the Clooney joke. It was a joke about Clooney dating young women. It wasn’t a commentary on the young girl. He was calling her out as the youngest performer and a fine actress… all notable things. To *keep it light and funny* the way he was doing with everything, he made a joke poking fun at someone else. If Demi Moore were still a running joke, and the young actor of the year was a boy, he could just as easily have joked that the boy was only a few years away from being too old for Demi Moore. So, not sexist, not exploitive of a child, not any of those things. He wasn’t saying she’d be having sex with Clooney, just that she wouldn’t be the right age. So what? Again, you could see it as a feminist slight to men who date women/girls much younger than them.

    Overreacting like this doesn’t help feminism; it merely makes us look oversensitive. Like I said, I wanted to like this, but…. instead I’m just cringing.

    • Erin Wathen

      thanks for the thoughtful and honest feedback. i agree with you that overreacting/being hyper sensitive does not help feminism. but i think in this particular context, it was joke after joke that after awhile, no longer felt like a joke. sorry to make you cringe, and i hope you’ll continue the conversation–on this site and elsewhere.

      • ABF

        Erin, I just want to say, I’m a feminist, and I completely agree with everything you said about dude culture and marketing, etc. I’m not trying to tear you down. But, as a feminist, I wasn’t offended by anything at the Academy Awards (although I didn’t much care for the boob song). I don’t know anything about Seth McFarlane, so perhaps I didn’t have a negative lens to view him through going into it? I actually thought he did quite well. I really did see other dimensions to the things he said so I didn’t take them as anti-feminist. Hollywood itself is no feminist, but the awards shows are usually hyper-sensitive and politically correct (for example, they changed “and the winner is” to “and the Oscar goes to” so that it wouldn’t seem so competitive and “mean.” If that’s not oversensitive and politically correct, I don’t know what is), such that sometimes they feel they need to make fun of that in order to preserve some sense of sanity. And, perhaps because I grew up in LA., I can see how so much of this is really just inside jokes.

        • Cyndi

          I’d love once for some bright person to give a definition of “politically correct” that does not require the phrase “well, you know, um, it’s like when. . . ” A real definition, that gives a precise description of what is being defined, as well as its boundaries. Whenever I see someone whine about “political correctness” it seems they are whining about people being sensitive and caring. I still don’t know exactly what this dreadful thing named “political correctness” is . . . except that its opposite seems to be something like care, affirmation and thoughtfulness. If my choice is between care, affirmation and thoughtfulness vs. something else, I’ll go with the former every time.

    • MMM

      If you have to argue every point in this ways ladies…you have missed Erin’s point – and most likely have not experienced first hand the Bro-Man Dude culture she is referring to.

  • revdave

    I thought his jokes were cheap and inane, but what else are you gonna do for 4 freakin’ hours of parading people in front of cameras who are all about the surface image of what is seen on a two-dimensional screen?
    I understand what you’re saying here, but this is Hollywood — quite possibly the most unabashedly- superficial place on the face of the earth, and the movie industry — an admittedly two-dimensional art form. if you’re looking for depth, you’d probably be better off scrapping the Oscars altogether. Dudes are two-dimensional and superficial — like the movies — which, themselves, generally pander to the cultural lowest common denominator.
    I hope you continue to speak out against dude-ism — it is cheap and demeaning. But dissing the Oscars for superficiality is kind of like dissing your cell phone because it receives phone calls.

  • http://clevertitlehere.blogspot.com Teri

    See, here’s the thing. I don’t think it’s oversensitive to be frustrated and offended that our entire cultural narrative is based on what makes men happy, or what makes men laugh, or what makes men feel powerful. The reality is that the joke about Quvenzhane and Clooney was a joke about statutory rape. And the song about boobs wasn’t a feminist protest about how women have to bare their breasts in order to get a part, it’s a revelation of the reality that women’s bodies are objects perfect for using to make money, and we allow that. Joking about eating disorders isn’t a commentary on the fashion industry.
    The other jokes about minorities were also offensive, so I’m equal-opportunity offended. But for real, only when we stop saying “it was just a joke” can we ever move forward into equality. “It was just a joke” is also what a lot of people say when someone who’s being bullied finally stands up and speaks out. It’s not a joke. It’s a symptom of the reality of our cultural discourse and the underpinnings of our society: women are jokes. Maybe if you tell us we’re pretty, we won’t notice.

  • Scott Budlong

    Very interesting article. Got me talking about it with friends. Most interesting point from our discussion: you note the hyper-masculinity, media, and marketing. It sounds like this does not match up with your “real” life. It has been my experience that the Disciples seems to be a self-selecting “Dude-Free” zone. While there may be some areas of gender discrimination amonghigh paying churches and positions of leadership roles, the way the Disciples practice church seems pretty un-dude-friendly. All of that is to say, if you dislike “the dude,” fear not, they aren’t interested in our tradition.

  • Dan Monson

    Busy day, so I just have several disjointed bullet points. 1) Hollywood treats minorities and women worse than any workplace I’ve ever been in. 2) The Clooney joke was hilarious because it did mock his “dudeness”. C’mon man, half plus seven is the rule. 3) The civilizing effect of women has been lost on a generation. Young women have somehow been convinced that being a man’s fantasy was more important that holding him to a standard, see rate of unwed motherhood and that online act of Kim’s that made the Kardashians famous. 4) I think in some way, this dude culture is guys wanting to grow up to be men, but not understanding how to do it as the rate of fathers in the home drops. John Wayne and Gary Cooper, we need you now. 5) The line about Selma Hayek also made me laugh because women are more likely to devalue and diminish what a beautiful woman has to say than men are. My wife was denied leadership opportunities in college by female administrators who said she was too intimidating, too perfect. Nice. 6) The equal pay bit can be overcome if you’re willing to sacrifice. The typical CEO can’t tell you the name of his kids’ elementary school because he’s not involved in there lives. Of course there is one hell of a woman at home. And by the way, many men aren’t willing to make those sacrifices, either. Looks like you got folks talking about something other than The Bachelor. That’s a victory in itself!

    • melissia

      “The civilizing effect of women”

      I don’t know if I can agree with this; it seems to be a statement made under the assumption that “men are assholes, and women help men become not-assholes”. The thing is, I know and knew, from my teenage years to my adult years, both boys and men who were both single and not-assholes, so I don’t think that’s accurate to my real life experience.

  • Angela

    Thanks Teri – I have been trying to find the words to pull back the layers and state how I feel about and why naming this show as offensive is important, and you stated it clearly and concisely.

  • Maggie Wellert

    Thank you for articulating so clearly what was running in my heart and spirit as well. I have raised a son and am now assisting in the raising of three grandsons. I have the same hopes and dreams for them–and the same caveat about not being in the “dude” culture. You can have fun, crack jokes, and even poke fun at one another with respect and honor. The sadness is how few people even noticed the dishonor and disrespect that shaped the undercurrent of Macfarlane’s humor.

    As a pastor I get a lot of advertisements for the big training and evangelizing events sponsored by the mega-church culture. Before reading the hype I turn to the page that pictures the presenters–inevitably it is only men…or one token women. I’m grateful Jesus welcomes us for all that we are.

  • Gretchen Cornwall

    Thank you so much for your candor and honesty! Did I also mention sound judgement and integrity? Thank you again!

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  • Worthless Beast

    I am ashamed to admit that I did laugh at the boob song on the Oscars (I’m female), but it was out of shock more than anything else. I occasionally watch McFarlene’s cartoons – I used to watch Family Guy quite a lot and… before it went from LCD to bottom of the latrine. The shock-value is most of the reason why people find them funny – the whole “They got away with that?” and “What?” (with some of the jokes being so surreal that it makes the evil funny for a moment). It could have been worse… he could have had Glen Quagmire singing it… But, yeah, if you found the Oscars aggrivating, don’t look up the man’s cartoons if you haven’t seen them.

    He doesn’t even have the “excuse” of trying to back it up with Scripture becasue McFarlene (despite the line about being Catholic) is actually a pretty robust atheist. It shows up on Family Guy a lot actually – Christians get almost as much sh*t on it as females (though sometimes, the nastiness is combined, like the infamous episode in which his talking intellectual dog character convinces the family’s teenage daughter that God cannot possibly exist because if there was a God who loved her, why would she, as a female, inhert her father’s ugly looks instead of her mom’s hot looks? I’m dead-serious, you can look up the episode: “Not All Dogs Go To Heaven” – It starts out with the resident atheist-character reasonably not wanting to be preached out only to end on “There’s no God because you’re a girl and are ugly”).

    Eh, the guy’s jokes were tasteless, but of course the Oscar comittee had to expect that, because they hired a comedian who made his bread and butter through tasteless shock-humor.

    I’m not defending it in the least. I kept thinking the whole time, after the intial shock-laughter left my system, “I wonder if a woman singing “We Saw Your Ass” pretaining to male actors would pass the bar…” About the only thing that redeemed it for me is that while he was singing and joking, I thought it was an annoucment to the world of “I’m a sophomoric jackass who cannot help but think with my dick becuase I have no brain!” – a performance that reflelcted more poorly upon him than upon any of the actresses he made his jokes at the expense of.

    I like to think that when people do this, fewer people are laughing any more at the butt of the jokes as they are at the fool who is announcing his own foolishness.

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  • melissia

    “I don’t condone violence, but had that been my child? Macfarlane would have met the Kentucky side of my slapping hand, on camera and in prime time, y’all.”

    I laughed that more than I did at the Oscars trash. Great word choice :D


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