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“Dumb Men” Commercials: We Still Lose

What Boys Think of Girls

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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