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February 19, 2006 - 7:38 pm

ATTICUS FINCH, WHERE ARE YOU?

Iíve noticed something over the past few years. Men have been marginalized in this society to the point of becoming, for all intents and purposes, ineffectual.

Am I right, or am I right?

Women now ďdo it all,Ē as they say, (not that thereís anything wrong with that - just hear me out for a minute) from Martha Stewart style entertaining to professional success to uber-parenting (dad optional!); but, rather than go to a lot of trouble redefining himself in this changing feminist landscape, the average man has decided itís far better to simply capitulate and remain a boy than to address the painful fact that he no longer carries much weight in this modern world of ours. I call it ďPeter Pan Syndrome,Ē and I demand to know why so many men are stuck in Neverland and why their girlfriends/wives havenít reported them missing.

Now before you guys get your tighty-whiteys in a wad, let me explain what Iím talking about here. Iím NOT talking about guys participating in what might be considered ďchildishĒ activities like watching cartoons or action movies or listening to punk rock or snow boarding. Thatís all totally fine, and, in fact, Iím all for cartoons, action movies, punk rock, and any potentially dangerous sport at any age Ė and any sex for that matter. Actually, throw in a few beers and a barbecue pit, and it sounds like a party I wouldnít want to miss. Grown men who regularly play video games, however, are another story entirely and might even deserve a whole page to themselves, next to the page on Dungeons and Dragons players, but whatever, Iíll save that for another time.

Iím wondering today about men who neither make responsible ďadultĒ decisions nor take responsibility for their actions. Instead, girlfriends/wives coddle these mannish boys, making all their decisions for them, from what they wear to when to take out the trash. Girlfriends/wives play mom by cleaning up after their ďboys,Ē mopping up muddy boot prints on the kitchen linoleum or calling a plumber to do the job right (Finally! What a mess!!). Itís pathetic and disrespectful to both sexes.

Television commercials and situation comedies are typically great snap shots of popular culture at any given time and really illustrate this phenomenon quite well. Lately, men are portrayed either as a) incompetent Neanderthals led around by their smart, beautiful wives (who hold all the household purchasing power), b) fun-loving boors just trying to enjoy the game/play poker/go golfing appeasing their nagging, frigid wives (with most of the household purchasing power - damn them!) just to make them shut the hell up, or c) the fattest, laziest, baldest schmos (with no girlfriends/wives and therefore all the purchasing power necessary to buy beer and video games) ever to land a doting, 90 pound supermodel. A few examples off the top of my head:

+ Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom - Indescribably annoying. That man is a child and his wife is a fool for putting up with him.
+ Lays Potato Chips ad Ė Blue collar guys are sitting on the couch watching the game, and the wife of one of the guys nags at them from the other room and the one guys says something about marriage being about compromise. What the fuck? She's doing chores so he agrees to turn down the TV? How is that a compromise?
+ The Family Guy sitcom - Mildly funny, I'll admit, but still. Peter is way out of his league here. What is she doing with him?
+ Any one of a thousand cleaning product ads Ė Because surely no man would think to pick up a fucking sponge.
+ Two and a Half Men sitcom - So not funny. That boy is going to grow up a rapist who writes thank-you notes.
+ Some other Crispy Fried Orange Snack Food ad Ė Office-type men stare out the window eating said Orange Snacks criticizing the construction workers below for being lazy, while the one non-snack-eating office-type woman does all the work.

Iím sure there are more, but I donít watch enough TV to think of any more.** But I think you probably get the gist.

Three obvious questions arise:
1. Why do both women and men tolerate this current popular portrayal of men as stupid and incompetent when Iím sure women would never put up with the same thing if the roles were reversed?
2. Is it possible men really are that idiotic and/or inept, or do ads just flatter women because they have more buying power?
3. Why do women have more buying power than men?

**Okay, there is the occasional Volvo-driving single man donning black, rectangular-framed glasses and a crisp oxford shirt, but we all know heís probably gay and therefore exempt from the rusty scalpel of this self-indulgent sociological dissection of mine. Let us continue.

Iíve been talking this stuff over with men and women for a while now, and, while we by no means have a consensus, weíve come up with some ideas. Letís try and tackle these one at a time.

1. Why do both women and men tolerate this current popular portrayal of men as stupid and incompetent when Iím sure women would never put up with the same thing if the roles were reversed?

I think the answer here is simple enough but carries slightly more complex implications. Sure itís easy to boost our own feminine egos by making the men closest to us look and feel like dolts. But what does that really do except give the appearance that we are either bad decision makers where life partners are concerned or desperate enough to be shacking up with a dolt? Seriously. Are we women really so fragile that we have to look like the winners all the time? Men certainly donít seem to care about looking like winners. They usually look more like whipped dogs or deer in the headlights to me. Or, alternately, they might appear patronizing and smug, hinting at the glory days of yesteryear when men were kings of the castle, and their word was law. I may sound like a sappy old lady for saying so, but when women ridicule men they ridicule themselves as well (see my last entry for proof).

2. Is it possible men really are that stupid and/or inept, or do ads just flatter women because they have more buying power?

The short answer to this two-part question is yes, it is possible that men really are that stupid (again, see my last entry... or my ex-husband), and yes, ads and sitcoms irrefutably flatter women. The longer, less punchy answer is, in most cases, that men probably are not that stupid, but yes, ads and sitcoms still flatter women. The argument gets interesting only in admitting that the flattery is an illusion, as explained above, and in questioning to what degree we can rely on the accuracy of media images of ourselves. Have marketers merely exploited our true nature as men and women, or do we all, at least in part, get our social identities from these 30-second prime-time reflections? I guess itís the tired old question of Art vs. Life, and Iím not really sure what the answer is there. This brings us to the last Ė and most difficult Ė of the obvious questions.

3. Why do women have more buying power than men?

One friend thinks thereís a cartel held by men who say, ďYou want someone to take half the responsibility around here? Fine. But it wonít be me, and I challenge you to find someone who will. Iíll be here on the couch when you get back.Ē While I sort of understand how she arrived at that theory, I have a somewhat less conspiratorial point of view, focusing more on why it is men donít seem to WANT to take more responsibility for things affecting their lives.

Remember our grandparents? Iíll bet the majority of us grew up hearing stories of a great-grandfather or a grandfather working his butt off to come up from nothing. Remember our parents? Iíll bet most of us grew up with moms who, unlike their moms, worked ďoutside the homeĒ yet still managed to come home and take care of most, if not all, the domestic chores as well. Women, traditionally the decision-makers where groceries and other minor household purchases were concerned, were beginning to make more of the familyís decisions, possibly even managing the money and paying the bills every month. And, unlike men of the 1950ís and Ď60ís, men were beginning not to mind so much. Husbands/dads, if they were even around, worked too, but once they got home, they sat on the couch and watched television until being called for dinner. Sure they worked in the yard on the weekends, but for the most part, division of labor was nowhere near 50%, was it?

It has only become more pronounced today. With more than 80% of the buying power, women have the final say on nearly every major and minor issue a household might face, and rather than being upset or feeling marginalized by this, men actually seem to expect this of us. That article cited above supports what Iíve found anecdotally, which is that women decide for the couple where to bank, what house to buy, whom to socialize with, how to invest joint money, what kind of insurance to buy, and where to send the kids to school (again, the one exception being the purchase of the manís carÖthatís all his). The more women do, the less men do.

Buy WHY? Why are men okay with this? It makes me crazy because no one seems to know, and, whatís worse, not enough of us women seem to think thereís anything wrong with this! Am I alone here? Is this thing on?!

Iím not familiar enough with womenís studies to say for sure whether this makes me a feminist, a post-feminist, or something else entirely, but I donít need to carry a manís balls in my purse to prove Iím the boss of him. I think real power comes in mutual respect and sharing of responsibilities, not just regime change from patriarchy to matriarchy. I expect to share power and responsibility equitably with someone.

But my question still remains unanswered: Arenít there any men out there still willing to carry their own damn balls?

~Samantha

recommended:
reading -Adam Bede by George Eliot
viewing - Do the Right Thing
listening -"Umi Says" by Mos Def

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