My son Buster’s pet peeve is the way fathers and young men are portrayed on television either by advertisers or in sitcoms. Overall it seems to Buster that in sitcoms men are fat, sloppy, stupid, lazy, sex-obsessed and unable to function without the help of the fit, very together, stylish, driven, educated and sex-sensible woman. In ads, young men are brain-dead, game-playing couch-potato louts or stupid, monosyllabic Jeff Spicoli knock-offs, and in ads fathers are routinely portrayed as profoundly mindless, deceitful, immature and yes, stupid.
But no matter how stupid young men are in these ads, or sitcoms, their fathers are always stupider, and in some commercials, both parents are completely vapid and need to be set straight by their lecturing, Superior Lifeforce Children.
“Don’t buy stuff from those advertisers,” Buster would tell me. “Don’t patronize businesses that make men look like bums and idiots. I’m all for women and girls being portrayed respectfully, but I’m tired of it being at the expense of men. And don’t buy stuff that uses kids to lecture at you.”
Yes, I do note the irony of my child lecturing me not to allow myself to be lectured by “children.”
Needless to say, this is not something Buster had to say to me more than once. I’ve never much liked the idea of celebrating women by slamming men – it always seems counterproductive, divisive and hypocritical to me – and bring raised as a classical liberal, it goes against my grain to be expected to look at a woman and think, “ahhh, a woman! A superior creature!” If a product is marketed to me as “by women, for women” I do not buy it, because a) I hate being pandered to via my vulva and b) just because a woman is involved with something does not make it great, or even better.
I was raised to see people as people first, not as genders, and I have long, long since grown weary of being preached to about it. In fact, it was when Buster was about 2 or 3 years old that I turned off Sesame Street because nearly every episode had some Muppet carrying on about how “women can be anything.” I realized that my generation was preaching to a generation that did not need the conditioning or the indoctrination – they were not being raised with the same reality as my generation’s, or the ones before, of women being held back by gender expectations. This generation is being raised differently — they already has the female scientists, doctors, astronauts, journalist, newscasters and politician role-models –, I thought, so who are these puppets singing for – the little girls and boys who have never heard of gender discrimination and therefore do not need the lecture, or for the women who cannot stop defensively “celebrating” themselves, like an old scratched record that can’t move past a skip?
I’m thinking of this today partly because of the – to my way of thinking – insulting, near-scandalous playing of the gender card by Sen. Clinton – who needs to decide if she’s a tough woman or a shrinking violet and then stick to it – but it’s also because last night I was finishing up a prayer shawl and decided to flip on the television only to see two successive ads which aggravated me for Buster’s sake and for my own.
The first commercial had the Stupid Spoiled Father stamping his feet and holding his breath (literally) outside of a Subway because he wanted the meat-and-cheese whatever. The Insufferably Sensible Mother said, “no, honey, we have to take Chris to his soccer game.” When Stupid Spoiled Father began whining and holding his breath, Superior Life Form Child said, “yeah, Dad, grow up!” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist of it. The whole commercial was appallingly insulting and had me muttering that if I did eat Subway sandwiches, I’d have to stop because of those ads.
Directly following that commercial came one for the Chrysler Town and Country, a minivan I once considered purchasing. I have to be honest, I was counting stitches (I had dropped one; I am a deplorably bad knitter) and did not see the commercial, but I heard about how parents who buy a Town and Country, will almost be as smart as their kids. Almost.
Excuse me, but even if my kids are smarter than me, which is entirely possible, I’m still not dumb enough to give my money to a company that dares to tell me so. Idiots.