Tag Archives: Men

Leaving Men Behind

I recently read an interesting article in the New York Times called “The Men Feminists Left Behind” by Jill Filipovic (see here). You should read it in entirety, but here is a synopsis:

Women have evolved, men have not. While women have soared, men have remained stuck in the past. Donald Trump is representative of far too many men, and they are a threat to our country. Women cannot reach their full potential unless men change. If men feel left behind, disrespected, and ignored, they need to follow the example of women and move forward into a new and more flexible gender role.

womanvsmanA lot of what is says is well-taken tough love, but it does generalize too much. It paints all men as Dodo Birds, and all women by implication as enlightened beings. Certainly there are far too many men, largely Trump voters, who absolutely need to go extinct as quickly as possible for the good of all humanity. But huge numbers of men vehemently reject Trump and all he stands for.

Conversely, the author seems blind to the fact that far, far too many women support Trump the candidate and the hateful rhetoric he spews. Kellyanne Conway, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin and his army of female surrogates are not anomalies, but are examples of a disturbingly large number of female Trump supporters. These are hardly luminous beings of exemplary wisdom. Their support is particularly inexplicable and disturbing given how much of his rhetoric ought to be especially horrifying to women.

Here’s another thing. The author is correct that men do need to adjust. We had been driving in our station wagon together as families for many generations. The man driving, the woman knitting while occasionally checking the map for directions. Recently, the woman has demanded to drive and the man has had to relinquish the steering wheel. But he loved driving, doesn’t know how to knit, and is constitutionally and philosophically opposed to maps. So what does he do now? Maybe he sits in his passenger seat and reminisces about the good old days when he got to drive as he drinks lots of beer.

Back when I was in the Peace Corps, I used to walk by construction sites in my village. Each one was “manned” exclusively by female construction workers doing heavy labor. I knew full well that the corner bar was filled with men sitting around drinking. I was infuriated by this. It offended my sensibilities in every possible way. What was the matter with these lazy, good-for-nothing men? Unfortunately, my ire couldn’t have been more myopic. It turned out that, in a well-intentioned effort to encourage equal opportunity, the government provided generous incentives for these companies to hire women. Almost over night, that put men out of work with absolutely nothing to do, no prospects, no opportunities, and no self-respect.

I tell you this story to suggest to you that situations are seldom simple. Yes, women have made great strides and that is good. In fact, to the extent it is a competition, they have clearly won. Jill’s article could only be written by someone that has internalized the fact that women have won. They are on top now, if not in every measure, in every measure that portends future trends and prospects. She knows women are driving the train moving forward, and feels confident enough to warn men that they need to get on-board or get left behind.

Let’s be clear, there has been a strong element of competition here for a largely fixed pie. Women flocked into previously male jobs and these well-paying jobs have not doubled over this period, rather the number of these jobs has shrunk dramatically over this same period. So you do the math. To tell men in America that they simply need to “get with the program” is as naïve as my thinking that those African men simply need to “get out there and work.” It is as short-sighted and callous and indifferent as it is when we tell impoverished Blacks to simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or immigrants to stop just complaining and get to work, or displaced coal workers to just evolve.

These social upheavals, while good and necessary, do cause real pain. Major social transitions to create greater equity do cause localized inequity and in this case men have been the losers. When feminists like Jill ignore this and chide men into “just get over it,” they ignore the systemic and emotional challenges involved. It is not that simple or easy. Necessary, yes of course. Easy? No way. Men are not Neanderthals. They are actual people with feelings who are trying their best to adjust to real loss and change. Sometimes part of that adjustment includes clinging to the past or getting belligerent. But these things are normal stages of adjustment. Women have had generations to adapt and grow. Men need and deserve some time.

Despite the fact that men have been hit hard, they have adjusted a great deal. You seldom hear sexist language in most workplaces. Many men find that they are suddenly a minority in largely female workplaces and many report to women. Lots of men are thriving house-moms today.

So women, you deserve to celebrate but try not to gloat. Refrain from telling men they are Neanderthals or treating them that way. Try not to discount the unprecedented social barriers and challenges that men have been adapting to. Maybe try to give them some support and encouragement rather than getting impatient with them, demeaning them, and issuing Conservative-sounding “get on the train or get left behind” ultimatums.

And as you give your men the time and understanding they need to adjust, maybe you can work on evolving the many women who have adopted all the worst traits associated with the old school males you deride as Neanderthals. I, as do many males, desperately want to see female compassion and sensibilities provide real leadership to help to save this planet, not merely share equally with men in exploiting and plundering it.

Aspirational Advertising

angieHave you seen the latest Angie’s List commercial called “gutter?” Of course you have. Jeff is the inept husband who cannot even clean out his gutters because apparently he’s got a debilitating fear of ladders and an overwhelming aversion to touching yucky gutter gunk. His wise and sensible wife calls Angie’s List to hire a contractor to clean out the gutters for hubby. Jeff hugs her with joy and relief for saving him from the horror of gutter-cleaning. Another happy family thanks to Angie’s List. Nice good-natured humor, right?

Well first let me point out that this pro gutter cleaner obviously isn’t all that pro. Sure, he came equipped with the requisite work gloves, but then he set his muck-bucket on top of a slanting roof, reaching up over the edge to toss in the leaf-rot. The pro technique would be to safely hang the bucket from a rung. It would have been hilarious if he had tipped the bucket and it came sliding down in comically slow motion to dump the muck onto Jeff’s head.

But I’m not here today just to make fun of the Angie’s List pro gutter-cleaner guy, rather to illustrate a much bigger problem. Here’s the reality. It is overwhelmingly females who make most purchase decisions and most purchases. So naturally companies craft most of their marketing to influence women. Their typical formula to accomplish this has long been to depict men as big dumb babies and their wives as the smart, wise, and sensible ones who of course demonstrate their competence by choosing their product. This Angie’s List commercial just follows this tried and true marketing approach for consumer advertising – the stupid, incompetent guy and the smart, competent woman. Not picking on Angie’s List here. This ad merely follows the industry norm and is far from the most egregious example.

Is it any wonder that so many American women have the view that men are children who need a mother? One could argue that advertising doesn’t create culture, it just reflects it. But we all know that is a simple-minded cop out. Advertising amplifies and normalizes the cultural hot-buttons that they press over and over to instill the attitudes that become our culture.

Imagine the reverse. Image if Swanson had a campaign that essentially said, buy our frozen dinners because your wife is a cute airhead who can’t cook crappy Salisbury steak!

And I’m not merely defensive about the way advertisers portray men. I also get equally worked up by their typical caricature of elderly people and other groups. I’ve railed since my youth as a teacher about how advertisers contribute to our terrible anti-education culture here in America. Think back a moment. Think of all the famous ads targeting kids. Most of them sell their products by communicating anti-education messages. School is boring. Teachers are dumb. Bueller… Bueller… I’ve got the back to school blues. Quick get to Six Flags before your fun summer ends!

There is no reason that these companies could not sell their products in a socially conscious and responsible way that does not engrain negative cultural images through catchy jingles. Angie’s List could come up with plenty of good reasons to market their services without making men look like idiots. Lifeline could sell their emergency beepers without making the elderly look pathetic. Levi’s could sell jeans without making school look like a gulag. How about showing how well you’ll be able to focus on your great teacher while wearing those comfee new loose crotch jeans at your desk? I’ve occasionally seen a few companies like McDonalds sell their products through positive messages about education, but even they are sporadic.

So why do they all do it? Because it’s easy and it works. If advertisers can leverage the widespread feeling that men are idiots, that old people are pathetic, and that school is stupid, then they can then count on those campaigns working every time. But it amazes me that they do work so well. Do women really like to think of their man as such a pansy that he cannot even climb up seven rungs and pick a few leaves out of a gutter?  And do we really want to see our beloved father as a zombified husk? Do we really want our kids to see going back to school as some kind of cruel joke on them?

Apparently most do and advertising has spent decades reinforcing these memes to ensure that they will move product every time. But advertisers could do so much better as an industry, we could do much better as a society, and each of us could do much better as consumers. Advertising should be aspirational, emphasizing and reinforcing the most noble of cultural attitudes. I think it would sell product just as well, even better.

All we need to do is motivate them to change. We need to start rejecting cheap stereotypes that pit groups against each other and demand more positive, aspirational advertising campaigns. More fact-based arguments and fewer emotional ones. We should start by boycotting any company that sells their products to kids by reinforcing negative feelings about education. That is the most important priority.

Advertising both reflects and shapes our culture. But we can shape advertising too. If only a few more of us stop responding to these stereotypes, even start to actively boycott the offending products, companies and advertisers will change. And those changes in advertising tone will in turn snowball into an avalanche of widespread cultural transformation improving our attitudes about education, about men, about the elderly, and many other important issues and groups.