Wednesday, August 30, 2006

About TIME someone noticed

In 1995 Peggy Giordano did a study of high school yearbooks. She was leafing through one when something caught her eye about the notes people had written there, something about their rawness and their honesty. "I was amazed at some of the messages that the boys were writing to girls," Giordano says. "They seemed to be so emotional and so heartfelt. It didn't seem to jibe with the picture of boys' only wanting one thing and objectifying young women."---TIME Magazine, August 27, 2006

What's that they say about half-truths? They're just like half-bricks- more dangerous because they fly farther.

Does anyone remember Dan Quayle and the brouhaha over his "Murphy Brown" remarks? Dan Quayle- you know, the guy who couldn't spell "potato", the man who was Vice-President under George Bush Sr. In a speech concerning the breakdown of the American family, he made these remarks: "It doesn't help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown - a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman - mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.'" (Read the entire speech here.) His point was that fathers are important, and the lack of good fathers hurts our society. And it doesn't help when popular media portrays fathers as entirely unnecessary.

Poor Dan Quayle was unfairly crucified for these remarks. Most people in Hollywood, including Candice Bergen herself, reminded him that "it's just a TV show." The same groups of people who ripped apart Dan Quayle also protested the movie The Passion of the Christ for its supposed anti-semitism. The Passion of the Christ didn't portray anti-semitism, but even if it did, "it's just a movie", right? Kind of funny how inconsistent people can be.

The stereotype of boys and men being lazy brutes who "only wanting one thing" has done untold damage to male/female relationships in this country. The attitude is pervasive, affecting all segments of society. Take television, for instance. First of all, it's rare to find a family portrayed on TV in which the mother and father are still married and live in the same house. Usually it's the father who skipped out and is therefore portrayed as a deadbeat dad. If a father does make an appearance on a sitcom he is usually portrayed as an idiot who needs his wife to bail him out. Read these paragraphs from a larger essay entitled "American [Sitcom] Fathers":
In contrast to the Father-Knows-Best-Simulacrum Father and to the outdated penchant for paternalism, the flawed-yet-penitent father type epitomized by Homer Simpson represents sitcoms’ progress in the 1990s. Sitcoms that distinctly feature the Homer Simpson father type include Home Improvement, Malcolm in the Middle, and Grounded for Life; like Homer, this father type consistently proves imperfect and reformed by his patient and wise wife. A prominent theme of The Simpsons is Marge Simpsons’ struggle to improve Homer’s parenting, etiquette, professionalism, spirituality, culture, and physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Similarly, Home Improvement’s Jill Taylor sought to update her husband’s archaic macho attitudes with feminist ideas toward their marriage, family, and social relations, resulting in the show title’s double meaning.

Feminism’s impact on television also manifests in this father type through these men’s sharing delegated power in a matriarchal family. Aside from economic roles, the wives of these fathers dominate the parental, ideological, and sexual politics of their families. Because of their wives’ significance, the shortcomings of these fathers produce comedic rather than detrimental results: Homer’s, Tim’s, and Grounded for Life’s Sean’s mistakes in their breadwinner roles have only emphasized the matriarchal rule of their wives, to whom they must repent, akin to their mothers. Like the prototypical Marge, Lois of Malcolm in the Middle shines in the disciplinarian role of their children that proves the Homer Simpson father type complicit, negligent, and/or responsible: this more accurately represents contemporary family conditions and portrays women in an empowered rather than subordinate role, in which these fathers support them. Probably the most positive trait of this father type is his apologetic nature regarding his faults as a father and husband, a tendency that probably resulted more from modern theories of gender relations than practices.

I would add the show 7th Heaven to this list; although not a sitcom, the show does portray a mother who is dominant and a father who consistently makes the wrong decisions in raising the children and needs his wife to bail him out.

How about TV commercials? When was the last time that you saw a father who could change a diaper without help? Who could cook a meal for the family that didn't include the pepperoni group, the barbecue snack treat group, or the congealed grease group? Instead, the mom is the mastermind, and the dad is the fool. If the roles were reversed, there would be a massive outcry.

In fact, for one Diet Coke commercial stereotypes were reversed. A group of women sat and watched as a well-built man took his shirt off in the course of doing some work. All the while, these women were making comments and double entendres. There are many commercials where men ogle women, and different groups cry out against mysogynistic content. "This commercial objectifies women," they tell us. "It reinforces the stereotype that women are merely sex toys." Well... is the answer then to try to balance the scales and make men the eye candy? When does the stereotyping just stop?

Back to TIME Magazine.

(Peggy) Giordano--an author of such articles as "A Conceptual Portrait of Adolescent Romantic Relationships" and "Hooking Up: The Relationship Contexts of 'Nonrelationship' Sex"--believes something most people don't: not only do adolescent boys have hearts, but they're also the biggest romantics around. It's a theory that runs counter to the story our culture usually tells us about teenage boys--that they have abandoned dating and monogamy for hooking up and "friends with benefits." But Giordano believed the prevailing wisdom was wrong, and in 2001, with the help of two colleagues, professors Wendy Manning and Monica Longmore, she set out to test it. (Emphasis mine)

Now why would our culture possibly think that boys are only interested in being "friends with benefits"? Two thoughts here. One, a point which I've already made, is that the "men as sex maniacs" message is repeated ad nauseam throughout society. Two, men who do wear their emotions on their sleeve are portrayed as sissies and "girly men" and ridiculed. Why should a teenage boy or a young man or an older man bother trying to show his emotions when they face ridicule at every turn? They keep it inside, and then the pent-up emotion manifests itself in undesirable ways, most often in violence. Then people point at men and say "See? All men are potential wife-beaters and rapists." And God help the man who is good with children and likes to be around them, because he'll be wearing the scarlet P(ervert) around his chest for the rest of his life.

I take my kids to the bus stop. I change diapers. I tear up at sad parts in TV shows, movies, even books. I like action movies. I like seeing two pro wrestlers end up with thumbtacks in their backs and blood on their faces. I like driving fast. I cook for my family. I know next to nothing about cars. If I never get the chance to go hunting that will be just fine by me.

I'm a good father.

I'm not a stereotype.

I'm just a guy trying to make his way on the road of life.


Post a Comment

<< Home