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What Boys Think of Girls

“Dumb Men” Commercials: We Still Lose

A popular trend in commercial advertising is the “dumb man” premise — men (or more specifically, husbands) who are unable to complete a simple household task that usually involves a form of cleaning or food preparation are saved by their domestic goddess wives. And as women, we are meant to watch these commercials and think, “Oh, those dumb oafs! They wouldn’t last a day without me!”

Here’s a news flash: they would and they do. There are quite a few single men who do not live with female significant others who can fend for themselves when faced with a pile of dirty clothes and dishes. Because men are not helpless idiots. (And by this logic, I suppose we’re left to assume that households with male same-sex couples are just toxic hazard wastelands. Yeah, probably not the case.) Why commercials for household cleaning products are not being targeted towards all humans desiring a clean toilet and dishes riles me on a daily basis. But here’s my beef: the “female empowerment” these advertisers are trying to convince us of? Bogus. Gee, thanks, ad men. Thanks for further establishing women’s center of power as the home. Not as a breadwinner, but as a maid. And that’s not the only reason we lose despite being “empowered.” It’s the comedy.

As someone who writes and performs comedy, something I often run into is how some men have a hard time writing good comedy roles for women. Please note that I said “some” and not “all” men. So, when I make generalizations, please keep in mind that I am making generalization only about these men who can’t write for women. Because a lot of men can write great roles for everyone. Anyway, back to my point.

Generally, when these men write a part for a woman, the woman is not the funny one. The woman serves to make the man look funnier. If we aren’t cast as a completely one-dimensional prop while the men get to tell all the jokes and take the pratfalls, then we’re cast as the crazy/bitchy/gross ex- or current girlfriend of another man. (They exist to garner sympathy for the man and get the audience on his side.) The former example is what is happening in these “dumb man” commercials.

A woman watches her husband’s utter befuddlement over putting a shirt in the washing machine. She rolls her eyes, goes, “Oh, you!” and then what happens? She does his laundry for him! She returns to her husband who is sitting on the couch, watching TV, and she unfurls his freshly pressed shirt. She not only washed and dried it, but she also ironed it. Because she’s the only one who can do that. Then he goes out with his buddies — in his clean shirt — while the wife thinks she just showed her dolt of a hubbie who runs this joint. Guess what, Laundry Queen? He does.

That’s a very basic example. But here is a less subtle example of how the men end up being the ones who get to have fun and be the real source of entertainment while the women have to be the responsible, demure ones:

Here is a commercial that I actually like because it’s about butt-dialing (and because Danny Pudi from Community is in it), but again, here is another frustrated woman trying to save her stupid man from himself:

They seem evenly matched, humor-wise. They’re both pretty much mocking each other. I can live with that.

But then there’s this ridiculousness, in which a man tries duping his wife into believing the pizza guy caused the mess in their living room:

First, the man looks like a total jerk for trying to get away with lying so blatantly to his wife, just so he doesn’t have to get off the couch and clean. Then, breadsticks??? Maybe he isn’t lying about the pizza guy! Hey, wait a minute … d’oh! She found the box of DiGiorno pizza! Oh noez, now the men have to clean! The poor men have been degraded while that mean, mean lady eats their breadsticks.

Yeah, that’s not female empowerment. That’s men being punished by doing “lady work.”

Basically, a lot of these commercials involve men getting to be the stars of the show while the women sigh and end up with the to-do list. You have not fooled me, ad men. Now go clean your own toilet.

This post was prompted by this post on Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.

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  • Rebecca Eisenberg

    Women in advertisements are incredibly frustrating in general, imo. I hate when ads feature a really seductive woman selling a product to a man (or to men and women) because the premise of those is basically that the men want to be *with* the woman and women want to be *like* the woman. It’s so ingrained into our cultural and societal psyche to work that way that I don’t know if it could ever be flipped.

    Another portrayal of women in commercials that I find really aggravating is the crazy stalker — like in those phone plan commercials with the woman sitting in the tree outside her ex-boyfriend’s window. If you flipped the gender roles and had a man sitting in a tree, it wouldn’t be as “funny”…it would be creepy. But when it’s a woman, the ad implies that she’s crazy and psychotic, but obviously not a real threat to the man. Every time that commercial comes on, I change the channel. I can’t stand it.

  • Gina

    I feel like it has been flipped in the Old Spice commercials with Isaiah Mustafa. However, that flip is seen as funny.

    But the creepy girl is really creepy.

  • Nicole Hazen

    I’m tired of the “dumb man” commercials as well. More so for the fact that it makes women seem like we think men are dumb. “Men” are not dumb. “People” are dumb. Individuals, ad guys. We are all individuals. I’m tired of “gosh men are stupid sometimes” comments. No, the person you are observing may be stupid, but them being male does not compute in the equation.

    I personally say something to females around me who use that or tell “stupid male” jokes. They aren’t funny and they just make us look bad.

  • Rebecca Eisenberg

    That’s true about the Old Spice commercials, good point! Except its a product for men, as opposed to a beer commercial which would be marketed to men *and* women but predominantly targets men. And if beer commercials do target women they do so as a low cal or low carb drink. =/

  • Fwoolley

    Excellent post.

  • Steve

    These commercials are a lose-lose for both genders or as Sheen would say it is “winning.”

    However, there are certain conditions that would induce this level of stupidity in men and that is if they are hungry, tired, or a combination thereof.

    I sure wish the ad writers would stop using the name Steve as much as they do too.

  • Thursamaday

    I can’t stand these ad’s, just like the invisible to only guys yogurt. The fact is my husband does our laundry, and needs no ‘help’ from me. These commercials suck because:

    1.) It really seems to be reinforce these false ideas:
    -Women like housework, it makes them happy & they are the only ones who know how.
    -Men are too stupid to do clean anything, they can’t do the simplest task
    -Men will get punished by their wife, if he doesn’t ‘help’ by putting his dish in the dishwasher.
    -If a man is married then he MUST be ‘whipped’

    2.) They are mostly just bad advertising, they usually make little sense.

    I’ll concede this one point. It’s must be hard to create desire for stuff that no one needs or wants.

  • Thursamaday

    One comment re: “And by this logic, I suppose we’re left to assume that households with male same-sex couples are just toxic hazard wastelands.”
    According to advertisers/mass media: A gay man care greatly about appearance & cleanliness, he’ll do a much better job cleaning (& decorating) than your wife.
    this logic seems to appear in TV shows also.

  • Sterling7

    Ever looked at greeting cards designed to celebrate Fathers Day or a male birthday? “We love ya, anyway, you farting, useless doofus.” Eugh. Isn’t there anything _good_ about being a member of my gender?

  • Sylvia Sybil

    That’s because gay guys are really women! They know everything about fashion and say “girlfriend” a lot, so obviously they can do other girly things like figure out which end of a mop is which too! /sarcasm

  • Anonymous

    All this does is foster a lack of respect for both sexes. It sucks.

    Why would a woman want to be in a relationship with a moron? She wouldn’t. Why would a woman want to do all the housework? She doesn’t.

    You look at what everyone woman says she wants out of a man (funny, intelligent, etc.). We want men, not babies in a relationship. caring after a drooling baby-man makes you his MOM not his wife. Does this strike anyone else as weird and Oedipal?

  • Nicole Hazen

    I’m with you here. It drives me crazy. I always go for situational funny if I can find one that’s similar to something that happened to us. But yeah, it’s all boobs, farting and beer.

  • Rachel

    I actually find the crazy-girl-in-the-tree hysterical in a way, but I in no way see her as harmless. But maybe I watch too many horror films. Either way, yes, I’ve tried to point out to my boyfriend how it’s gender stereotyping and a man in the role wouldn’t work, but he doesn’t get it. S-sigh.

  • RobP

    I won’t deny I sometimes wonder what it might be like to have a vagina… but I’m pretty satisfied with my penis. And not having a monthly visitor. I consider at least that on par, if not a plus.

  • Carlie Myke

    Excellent post. The whole “women in advertisements” thing has been bugging me for a while too. A few of my most hated commercials include:
    – KFC “Mom’s night off” – a) mom does all the cooking, b) cooking is an expectation and employment of women/moms c) only moms who cook deserve a night off (further implication of universal imperative: families without mothers die of starvation, but I digress)
    – Bounty commercials where doofus dad and jerk son play table hockey with a bowl of salsa and spill it all over the damn place: Mom is only too happy to clean it up for them as jerk son smirks at her.
    – Cleaning commercials that display how easy the product is to use by showing a DUDE using it to clean the house, complete with approving nod from overbearing wife (a few brands use these; swiffer comes to mind)

  • Koni

    A new trend that I have noticed recently and which annoys me also, is the “dumb parents” commercial. Parents are not up to date with the current technologies and need their annoying, know it all 5 year old to tell them what internet or TV plan they need. Are they trying to encourage kids to convince their parents, or are parents supposed to see the ads as “cute” and go with it? Because I would feel insulted.

  • Alli Rense

    Thanks for posting this, because I can’t stand these commercials (although you’re right, the butt dialing one is funny, but that might be because my dad pocket dials me all the time). I really can’t stand them when they’re “mom’s smart and dad’s one of the kids” because it shows men as being children that men have to take care of along with the actual children.

    No offense to anyone, but I wouldn’t want to be with a guy that required being treated like a child. I think most women would agree!

  • Hillary Lauren

    Good article. Ads tend to rely on inaccurate social stereotypes to get their point across (“you need this product to be happy,” which is also inaccurate).

    This reminds me of a research article (the citation escapes me) about parental care and spouse interactions. The study showed that when women discouraged the father’s interaction with childcare, for example through comments questioning his ability to change a diaper, etc., he was more likely to not be involved in his children’s lives when they were older.

    Although the results of the study seem obvious, I think the point is that both genders are taught that women are the only gender who is a ‘natural parent’ and this is the flip-side of what is perpetuated by the ‘stupid men’ commercials you discuss in the article. Sad thing is, do we want children to miss out on a dad?

  • Nicole Hazen

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. I can’t stand that “only women are the natural parent” crap. But look how we treat guys from the get go with regards to kids. Once a woman is pregnant, the guy might as well not even exist. There’s no party for him congratulating him on the kid. The entire time he’s pretty much a side thought. When I was pregnant, I didn’t want a baby shower. I had a get together that involved “everyone,” including my male friends.

    We tell them they should be there for their children but we make no move to include them much, right out of the gate.

  • Kat

    Does anyone else hate the yogurt commercial where the woman on the phone mentions all the decadent dessert flavors while the dopey husband searches the fridge? Her condescending use of the word “babe” drives me nuts. This is the best (worst) example of a commercial making both sexes look their worst.

  • Anonymous

    The old spice commercials are funny because the tickets are now diamonds, not because of role reversal.

  • damndirtyaliens

    I agree: a lot of the women I know can’t cook for shit. I make sure that whenever I’m home (which is whenever the fuck I feel like it), I do the cooking because a bland white-rice-broccoli-chicken “casserole”? Fuck that. Oh, and her fat-ass, post-menopausal cunt of a mom can’t cook either (neither can mine); guess that’s where she got it. Fat, stupid, lower-middle class, white bitch.

    I, on the other hand, have an extensive repertoire of awesome edibles. Last night I made some fried stuffed avocados with spiced shredded chicken topped with a nice suiza sauce. Shit was off the chain. Of course, she didn’t appreciate it ’cause, well, she’s a cunt with no taste—in anything. Holy shit, what an asshole she is.

  • Nicole Hazen


  • Marc

    I boycot the ads that are men-dumbing (as I do for commercials aimed at showing women weak, helpless, etc.).

    I do not speak of PMSing and would appreciate not hearing about a ‘man’s cold’. Good article!

  • Rori

    Thank you so much for this article! This is a conversation I’ve had with many people.
    I swear, advertisers are so damn lazy. It’s a shame, there are better ways to sell things, ways that uplift without tearing down.

    This is also shared by nearly every recent sitcom I see. It really turns my stomach to see my gender regarded as shrill stick-in-the-mud harpies and the gender of a lot of people I love represented as stupid, puerile screw-ups. And it is LAZY writing and character development!

    It would be horrible to live in those situations, that anyone finds that crap completely enjoyable is beyond me.

  • Ms. Taken

    Right now I’m telling myself this is a quote from some movie I haven’t seen, posted for ironic lulz., and I’m just some jackass that’s missing the joke. Just in case, tho:

    Um, kudos or whatevs for posting a clicheed hate-filled sexist Mother-In-Law rant… extra points for insulting your wife, too! (first graph… it kinda gets lost behind the vitriolic “fat-ass, post-menopausal cunt of a mom” part). While I have no doubt your mother-in-law (it’s always the fuckin’ MIL, amirite?) is, in fact, both a “white bitch” and “a cunt with no taste” (which brings to mind something rather different than I think you intended, when taken out of context), I’m not sure your personal anecdote adds a FUCKING THING to the conversation. Except, of course, to remind us all how so many insulting epithets are female.

  • Corey Bean

    It’s sad that people in real life buy into these stereotypes. I remember sitting in a training class for a job I had a few years ago & the women started going on about how incompetent their husbands & sons were at doing laundry. One of the guys in the class agreed & “confessed” to being a dope about cleaning. Then our trainer asked me- a single 27 year-old male at the time- if my mother had to do my laundry for me. I explained to her that my mother taught me how to launder my own clothes when I was about nine or so & that I had been completing the task effectively since. Apparently no one found this interesting & I was excluded from the rest of the discussion. Thinking about the people in that class, I can see why these ridiculous commercials continue to be made.

  • Belinda D. M. Locke

    I absolutely loved this article, because it’s something my husband and I have ranted about since my move from N.J. to England 2 years ago to be with him. We have a pretty good 50/50 split of “chores” and everyday tasks, so constantly being fed this “men are stupid and useless pests; girl power!” nonsense is not only tiresome, but pretty damn depressing. The sad part is that most British commercials (not to mention programming in general) DO shove that sort of rhetoric through your eye sockets, as well. One oven cleaning product (because women never leave the kitchen, amirite?) even had the slogan, “So easy even a man can do it,” which was widely complained about but ultimately ignored.

    Even sadder is many women here (not all, of course) agree with the “stupid men” stereotype, while still wanting to be seen as equal themselves… Equal does NOT mean being able to tear the other side down and make THEM feel inferior.

  • Anonymous

    On the other hand, I can bleed for five days and not die! Doesn’t that count as a superpower or something?

  • Anonymous

    Ugh, I know. I haven’t had TV for several years, and you know, I don’t miss these type of commercials at all. (Of course, now I get my depression from reading news stories online, but that’s a different matter.) Can’t we all just treat each other with respect, dammit?

  • guest

    It’s really great how this article can take one of the examples of sexism against men in pop culture, and show how it’s apparently sexist against women. Really just great.

    Flip the roles. Woman is a silly dolt who can’t work a washing machine, man smiles at her endearing failure and takes over. How many people on this website would be up in arms? Not a small number.

  • etango

    I mainly hate these commercials because I feel they are one of the leading causes of HIMS (Helpless Italian Male Syndrome, as my mom calls it) when a dude actually tries to convince you he doesn’t know how to boil pasta/run the dishwasher/anything, in an attempt to be so tiresome you will eventually give in and do it for him. Yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s real.

  • Etangora

    If you don’t see these commercials as sexist, than I get how you don’t realize your ‘counter-example’ is also sexist. The issue isn’t competence v. incompetence, it’s how women are shown as living to serve.

  • damndirtyaliens

    To be fair though, I made sure to also include the epithet “asshole” for equity’s sake. A couple other points of order: My partner here, which I realize I hadn’t alluded to as either a girlfriend or a wife, is not actually my wife. Nor is her mother my mother-in-law (is all that stuff I said still cliche?). The father “in-law” is also a dick, but I couldn’t include any commentary on his cooking, which I’ve never experienced ’cause they run a very patriarchal Mormon household (you know, woman does all the cooking, shitty though it is).

    But all trolling aside, I feel I at least brought some fresh perspective here. Yes, I was being kinda prickish, but in an ironic subversion of the patriarchal tendencies in question: namely, that a man employs his female partner to do household chores like cooking, laundry, and the like. I do most of those things my damn self. And yet I still managed to put a condescending, misogynistic spin on it? Well yeah, that’s just crude humor. I was, on some level, blatantly “missing the point”.

    And the fact that some epithets are female specifc? Uh-huh, well about half of the population are female, many of whom are ass-hats of sorts. We also have many derogatory terms that are generally considered specific to males—dick, asshole, prick, bastard, etc. Sure, there are words like “slut”, “concubine”, “whore”, whatever, but I’m not defending those. And “bitch” and “cunt” are sometimes just appropriate and hilarious. But personally, nothing’s funnier than calling a dude a cunt—it’s just jarring on more levels.

    Not to give merit where it isn’t due to what was little more than a troll’s comment, but I really do want to clarify where I stand. I’m with you gals (and guys) for the most part, and that was really just sort of a character that I thought was funny. But seriously, my girlfriend’s cooking is awful.

  • nympholepsy

    There is so much wrong with this comment I don’t even know where to begin.

  • Nndaia

    I dunno, I found the role reversal the appealing thing. The exact lines are a bonus.

  • Nndaia

    There’s a Mitchell & Webb sketch that shows the difference between advertising aimed at men & women. When the woman’s on the screen, the voice-over starts with comments like, “do you have a headache? Are you looking tired?” as the woman looks increasingly concerned, and morphs into accusations like “your house is a mess and your children are filthy”. Cue exhausted-looking woman with bags of products, declaring “now I’m free to be me!”

    The man commercial? “Men: drink beer and shave, because you’re already great.”

  • damndirtyaliens

    Oh, well thanks for your input.

  • netgk

    Great column, Jamie!  I was so certain I’d find others who had noticed this male-bashing in commercials, that I did a search for the terms “ads, ‘stupid male” and got many results, including this page.  Here’s another great one, which includes more of the offending ads:

    Please check it out and spread the word.  We need to awaken our society to this problem ASAP.

  • Brian Kerrigan

    I was actually just going to write a commentary about that DiGiorno commercial and while looking for the clip I found your article.  So true! It implies that even if the tale he told were true, it would have been the wife’s responsibility to clean up the mess while they ate the pizza (that they ordered, and that they let the guy track mud all over the floor)… not to mention, who would marry a dick that let’s his friends (and himself) track mud all over the floor?! Terrible advertisement, its like it was written, edited, and approved by a bunch of 11 year old boys.

  • Anonymous

     When I see TV ads nowadays, including in the Superbowl which is on right now, I try to envision how the writers sit around the drawing table and come to brainstorm: “OK, you guyz, we need to make the guy character in this ad be white, with messed-up bed-hair, in an untucked striped dress shirt, and make sure he is unshaven.  Yeah, that’s what we need, because this is original and something that nobody else had done or is doing..”

    WTF, who writes and gets paid for these ads, botched lobotomy surgery former patients?  Is it that there’s a law against, or they’ll get fired for, imagining or portraying guys to look and act in some/any different way than this same image they have been using, annoyingly so, over and over and over and over for the past almost 10 years now?  Geez.

  • Anonymous

    “I want to share my case, this is intended to be a huge recommendation to every reader of your testimonial section. My son needed help with his studies cause he was losing his year at college, and we are not what you can call a wealthy family. I am amazed with the luck spell priest casted for me, he started to focus somehow, and finally got a full scholarship. I want to scream of happines cause gave us more than I could even imagine.  (Nadine, D.C., USA)

  • Anonymous
    my situation was critical before when my boyfriend broke up with me. but gave me another life by briging the love of my life back again. We had lunch together today and he said he has been confused by the arguments we had but he’s missing me also and hope we can reconcile. We agreed to meet in a couple of days and try to work things out.

  • Ro Gal

    Great points about observations of total idiocy from Ad companies. These companies who are selected by P&G, and other corporations THINK they’ve done research that points them to higher sales by reaching a market that in reality is not what they think it is or buy into their humor. I usually make a point not to buy products that portray this stereotype. OBTW you cite the gender side and the race equation is even more maddening.