My husband and I watch a lot of tv. When I am home alone I watch less than I do if he is there, but tv watching is a major activity in our household. Something we enjoy commenting on is the advertising for different shows that we enjoy. Over the time we have been together my husband often bemoans the casting of men in commercials as stupid, do nothing jerk-offs who either do nothing to improve the state of a woman’s existence or they actively/accidentally do things to make it worse.

One commercial has a husband on a porch with his wife, who has just set their picnic table on the deck for a barbecue with cute plates, silverware, place mats, and flowers in a vase in the center. She turns to him and says:

“Oh! You’re going to wash the deck?” (He has a rather large tank with a hose sticking out of it.)

And he responds, a la Tim Taylor of Home Improvement: “Not wash… (flips down protective glasses) Power wash!”

Then he proceeds to turn on the power washer, which goes out of control in his hand as if it was a fire hose, knocking everything off the picnic table. The wife puts her hand to her head and the announcer says: “You have enough headaches in your life. Solve it with *insert pain medication here*” Honestly I couldn’t remember if it was Advil or Aleve or Tylenol.

Now, this commercial makes me ask several questions. One, why would the wife set up the deck for a BBQ if the husband had to power wash it first? Two, how wimpy are the husband’s arms if he can’t handle a power washer? Three, why does the husband cause the headache? Lord knows that a stereotypical wife would have given him enough grief after these shenanigans to give him a use for Tylenol or Advil as well.

A second commercial has a husband and a son putting together the makings for chips and salsa in the kitchen. The son has put salsa in a bowl and slides it across the island to the dad. Dad then looks around conspiratorially and slides it back to his son. This begins a game which ends in, you guessed it, a Big Kitchen Mess!TM Mom swoops in, shakes her head, the boys look sorry, and she rips off a piece of Brawny or whatever other paper towel might have been being advertised. This makes me, as a woman, ask only one question: Why didn’t you make them clean it up themselves?!?!

The answers to my questions are all rooted in the need for American marketing to cling to 1950s stereotypes. The woman holds all sway at home and the husband isn’t expected to do anything but cause headaches and make messes. In most cases my female friends would become angry at the stereotyping of the American female as the sole caretaker of the house. I know for a fact that Supernanny would have none of the enabling in the second commercial. She would have had the mum make the child and dad clean up the mess and they would go straight to the “naughty spot.” (Okay, so maybe the dad wouldn’t. But we can dream, right ladies?)

As much as I hate to go down the road where the white suburban male is somehow victimized, I have to travel that path here. My point is not so much that he is victimized but more that he is encouraged to keep up his own stereotype. Feeling tired after a day of work? Go ahead and sit back because you know your woman is neurotic enough to clean it before you “get around to it” because it has been driven into your head with commercials, sitcoms, movies, and your own home life since you were born. And women, keep cleaning because you don’t want to have that fight again right? Men are so lazy and stupid it’s probably easier to just do it right by doing it yourself because otherwise you’d have to redo it behind him.

A movie that shows this relationship perfectly is Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. The movie starts with the typical relationship: He works all day and does nothing at home, she’s a struggling realtor who runs into drawers he leaves open, puts down toilet seats he leaves up, and cleans up after his and the kids’ messes. The end of the movie finds them transforming their expectations so that he thinks about what he does that makes her life more difficult, and she lets go a bit and trusts him to help out. Give and take people. Realistic? Maybe, if both parties are willing to admit that they are (a) slobs and (b) control freaks that both need to meet in the middle somehow.

What I just described is what every product commercial wants you to believe. Silly husbands, you’re so cute and messy! Let me clean up behind you. Oh husbands, you’re so stupid, but instead of communicating I’ll just take this pill and it will be okay. Next time you are watching commercials ask yourself what they are really showing you about relationships between husbands and wives and their children. What are we “supposed” to do in our society? And is it all about feminism or is it a deeper issue which requires participation on both sides of the sex line?

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