AskMen has the ten worst male-bashing ads on television from a variety of big names (Pizza Hut, Sony) to companies I’ve never heard of (Megasin, Roomba). I’ll go into a commercial-by-commercial below the fold, but the overall sense I get is… is this the best you got? For all the complaining that a lot of guys do how they have giant target on their backs and so on, you can’t find anything more incendiary than these ads? The only two that were was completely derogatory towards men were either really lame or funny as hell and a lot of them didn’t really match the description gave.
Then again… that’s the way that these things work, isn’t it? Sexism (whether aimed at women or men), racism, and so on is rarely a case anymore of people coming out and saying “These people are stupid, malicious, or otherwise worthy of contempt!” Rather it’s things that we do that we sometimes don’t even realize we’re doing, don’t realize that it might be out of line, or believe that it’s justified for one reason or another.
I remember a sexual harassment seminar recently where we were lectured by lawyers as to what was and was not sexual harassment. It was all kind of frustrating because sexual harassment in the abstract was whatever the women decided that it was. Legally actionable sexual harassment, on the other hand, came down to what could be completely devoid of sexual intent. In a sense, I’m not sure that either could be any other way. After all, in the abstract what is harassment beyond being harassed which is a feeling and subjective from individual to individual. On the legal side of things, how do you prevent sexual harassment without having some sort of line that needs to be crossed? Unfortunately, this sort of ambiguity gives a lot of men the wrong idea that sexual harassment is a myth or something simply used as a bludgeon against men in the office environment.
One of the problems with subtle sexism is that there are always alternate explanations. I have an alternate explanation for every one of the ten anti-male ads except one. Some of them are nudged towards making women feel better about themselves at the expense of their husband and kids, but that’s not the whole gist of it. It also gets more complicated because you can’t ask the question “Would things be different if the genders were reversed” because the genders wouldn’t be reversed. Ads where men are running mental circles around their spouse wouldn’t particularly interest men. Men even prefer ads where they are dopes (Cedric the Entertainer’s beer ads come to mind). On the other hand, the sexual objectification that frequently occurs with women in ads (particularly beer ads) wherein a woman’s value only exists in her ability to please men is considered as unoffensive among men as dopey anti-dad ads are among woman.
Getting all worked up about it seems like an over-reaction, even if there are underlying issues of merit. It makes these issues really difficult to talk about. Any time you try to point to an example there is almost always some other explanation that may be true. It seems exceedingly unlikely that the alternate explanations are always true, but any time you point to something specific it is easily dismissed or it can be shrugged off as an isolated incident because all the other examples are dismissible.
Anyhow, those are the thoughts bumping around in my mind. Below are my takes on the specific ads:
10. Pizza Hut - My wife and I complement one another all the time on our great cooking whenever we order in. Things would get awfully abrasive if I suddenly decided to take offense. Yeah, the ad itself is a bit dismissive of the ability of fathers to cook, but it’s an ad about one guy who ultimately is the family hero. A more offensive ad might be when the All-Knowing Mother has to call Pizza Hut because he burns whatever it was that he was trying to cook.
9. Megasin - The cavewoman is at least as manipulative as the guy is dumb. Who is to say which is worse?
8. AT&T - The blurb says that the guy doesn’t realize that the chips are actual dollars. That’s not really how I see the ad. It seems to me that he’s trying to ineptly put one over on his wife. The ad is humorous and somebody has got to the butt of the joke. Yeah, when this is the case it’s usually the guy that is the butt, but I don’t think that this is an example of their going out of their way to make men look like dopes.
7. Whiskas - This is really too silly to be taken as social commentary. It’s a guy pretending to be a cat.
6. Domino’s - I agree with the AskMen folks that this commercial is lame. And I guess it is going out of its way to make the guy look like a dope.
5. Sony - Here we have an ad that shows a father taking a pro-active role in the life of his kids. The whole point of the ad is that he isn’t a horse’s ass.
4. 1st For Women Insurance Brokers - Okay, this one is pretty sharply anti-male. But it’s also funny as hell.
3. A man gets hurt doing something stupid and kind of funny in an ad about pain ointment? NO WAY! That’s OUTRAGEOUS!
2. Roomba - The same ad in which the husband is a jackass has children that are bigs. Is it really Askmen’s contention that Roomba hates children, too?
1. Dairy Queen - She’s prostituting herself for ice cream. Her own mother is disturbed.