The irritating double standard in gender portrayal in advertising continues.  If an advertiser dares to portray a woman as slow-witted or lazy or as a total slob, the person responsible is liable to be horse-whipped and the newspapers and airwaves are filled with the shrieks of hyper-sensitive gender police.

But men are fair game, it seems.  There is a crass advertising campaign running in Ireland at the moment which seeks to promote the services of (I think) a buy/sell website.  There are different versions for radio and television, but the basic premise is that the husband is an ignorant, lazy slob and his long-suffering wife decides to sell him for whatever she can get.   Here is a sample on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjNcFwXh5XI&noredirect=1

It’s always the same now.  The moronic bloke can’t understand the financial services ad so the bright and lively girlfriend/wife puts him right in a thrice.  The sub-literate man can’t get the tumble-drier to work (he’s probably shown holding the instruction book upside down), but the sassy young girl presses a couple of buttons and all is well, leaving Joe Six-pack scratching his head.

Reverse the genders and there would be war. Yes, women were subject to similar advertising stereotyping at one time, but this (rightly) stopped about 40 years ago.  No, I am not just suffering from a sense of humour failure. The effect of such stereotyping must be insidious and highly damaging to the self-regard and the feelings of young men and boys growing up.

This double standard has been around for a long time now.  In 2005, the New York Times ran a thoughtful article headlined “Men Are Becoming the Ad Target of the Gender Sneer”:

Are today’s men incompetent, bumbling idiots? Judging by portrayals in some advertising, the answer seems to be yes – much to the dismay of some men.

The portrayals began as a clever reversal of traditional gender roles in campaigns, prompted by the ire of women and feminist organizations over decades of ads using stereotyped imagery of an incompetent, bumbling housewife who needed to be told which coffee or cleanser to buy.  As those images disappeared, the pendulum swung, producing campaigns portraying men in general, and husbands and fathers in particular, as objects of ridicule, pity or even scorn.….  The “man as a dope” imagery has gathered momentum over the last decade, and critics say that it has spiralled out of control. It is nearly impossible, they say, to watch commercials or read ads without seeing helpless, hapless men.

In the campaigns …..  men act like buffoons, ogling cars and women; are likened to dogs, especially in beer and pizza ads; and bungle every possible household task…..

“You can’t routinely denigrate a given segment of the population mercilessly,” said Richard Smaglick, a founder of an organization known as the Society for the Prevention of Misandry in the Media ….. “We’re trying to wake up the industry to get business leaders to recognize that this isn’t the way to build relationships with their customers.”

Some critics label the campaigns a reaction to the political correctness that makes it no longer permissible to use stereotypes of women.

Paul Nathanson, who wrote “Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture,” with Katherine K. Young, said the issue was larger than just what was presented in advertising.  “Negative imagery in advertising is part of negative imagery in popular culture in general,” Dr. Nathanson said. “If you add up the way men are presented in popular culture, then it is a problem because the message is that that’s what men are.”

Then there are the longer-term effects, Dr. Nathanson said, asking, “How do boys form a healthy identity?” if they are constantly exposed to anti-male stereotypes.

Enough already!  Men and women are pretty much equally useless at most things, so let’s see advertising that reflects a fair balance of stupidity!