I was watching television the other night when an advert for a travel company came on. It starred the normally excellent James Nesbitt as the hapless and helpless father of a family on holiday.
He did what all white, western, middle class, middle aged, heterosexual men do in such adverts, he made a bloody idiot out of himself while his wife and daughter sat, like smug little know-it-alls, a short distance away, sneering at the barely-sentient oaf as he yelled and gurned his way to an international incident, comedy salami in hand.
The messages were as obvious as they were appalling; white male man father stupid bad (with comedy cock in his hand, as if the message needed hammering home any more, you may as well have given the poor sap a bladder on a stick for Christ’s sake), woman good.
Oh how they must have roared in the latte-snorting salons of the more salubrious quarters of Islington and all parts smug. Oh I can hear them now; “Where’s your sense of ‘umour?” they will caterwaul in their best faux estuary, a chorus of bright militant liberal indignation. Well I’m sorry but fuck you and fuck your sense of humour. This is way beyond a joke.
I guess, perhaps, maybe, if this had been the only time the same bloody stupid, lazy stereotype had been reeled out onto our TV screens then perhaps yes, if only for novelty it may have raised a chortle. Perhaps I could have been persuaded to even stretch to a titter but I can tell you here and now, it most certainly wouldn’t have been worth anything as serious as a giggle. It’s not just adverts of course, though they are in our face and in our culture more than pretty much any other form of media, it is everywhere. I was equally appalled to see Dr Who being hijacked by the woman smart, woman good/man stupid, man bad mantra in the Christmas special “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”. It was horrendous but then it was the BBC and see… even that sentiment is awful because we should expect better, we pay for better.
My partner tells me that I take these things too seriously, that it’s all a bit of fun and perhaps she is right but I don’t think so. I think it is serious, very serious indeed. I think that in today’s world we desperately need positive role models for our children, boys especially. Boys learn to be men from the men around them; if, as is sadly and increasingly the case, there are no men – at least no permanent men to learn from – boys will turn to the TV. If all that they see on the TV is that men are stupid, what then? What does it say to a male child to show him such stereotypes? Here you are son, you too can be a stupid, socially autistic, shouty idiot married to a smug know it all – and by the way, you’re welcome? Otherwise they have footballers, video games, social media and their friends. Essentially kids teaching other kids how to be men. You know, that just sounds a little bit moronic to me.
How much better then to present positive images of men in the first place? Men in situations where they are objects of respect rather than ridicule, problem solvers instead of problem causers, than to deal with the consequences of not doing so later. In other words, encourage our kids to want to grow up to be responsible, respectful adults with a stake in society and in whom society also has a stake.
I was lucky, I grew up in a household where the patriarch, my grandfather, was a successful engineer and businessman, my grandmother was a businesswoman in her own right but gave up her day-to-day role when I came crashing unceremoniously into their lives. I was lucky, I didn’t need to go looking for positive male role models; I had an honourable, decent, hard working, intensely proud and practical one at home and that’s my point. So many kids do need to look and fail.
I grew up reading books by and about great Englishmen and great English women, William Shakespeare and Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Robert Clive, Florence Nightingale, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Dickens. I never grew up thinking that men were stupid, not once, not for a single second. Men were funny and brave and clever and creative and stout hearted creatures, heroes, adventurers, thinkers and inventors who could knock you up a suspension bridge as quick as tying a sheep shank. They were just like women but different and had fewer whiskers, mostly. Oh I knew they could do stupid things from time to time, say stupid things, can’t/don’t we all? But “to be” stupid in the eyes of popular culture, in adverts, in commercials and in literature is something else altogether.
Imagine the outcry if we did the same thing with black people. In fact I remember, just, a time when they say we did precisely that. In films, TV programmes and in literature black people were criminals, gang members, drug dealers and pimps. It was called the ’60s and ’70s but “WOAH!!!” cried the equality gnomes, “you can’t go round stereotyping people like that” they said, “that’s racist, that is”, they said, “we need positive role models, especially for black boys”, they said and I agree. All I want is for white men to be shown in the same positive light and for white boys to have the same positive role models that they say it is essential for black boys to have.
And please, quit this woman smart, woman good/men dumb, men bad gender fetishising bullshit, I had a shower this morning and made myself a pot of coffee afterwards. After getting dressed and making some calls, I needed to send some emails etc but couldn’t find my iPad.
A couple of hours later it turned up, in the fridge. Now that’s what you call dumb.
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