From time to time a particular TV commercial will be offensive enough to my sensibilities to pierce my thick skin. An Buick car commercial did penetrate. The commercial showed a couple lounging by a beach obviously on holiday. She, we assume his wife, turns to him and asks if he has locked the car at the airport parking garage. Covertly, he whips out his cell phone and with an appropriate “app” he presses a key and we see the doors on their car being locked. She then asks if he closed the windows in the house before they left. Obviously there is no cell phone trick to do this and we then see a visual of a home with open windows and pigeons flying in and out. The voice over then applauds the versatility of the phone service. The takeaway, men are careless fools and women are the ones who remember details. It is a women’s a role to remind men of what we are supposed to do since men are so clearly- oblivious to the details of life. The thing men are good at is to try to sneakily find easy fixes for their malfeasance.
What disturbs me is the assumption by the advertising agency that created the ad that men and women will find this ad amusing and that it reflects how men and women really see themselves. Psychologists tell us that we often live the labels or attributes we put on ourselves even when they are not based in fact. If men accept the stereotype of being careless about attending to the necessities of daily living then they will live that characterization. The other label is that women need to remind us of our responsibilities and shame us into behaving according to their standards. These attributions are especially harmful to men as they try to navigate their way in an our era of gender neutrality. How can we live the best of masculinity when we are perceived as careless and lazy and then reflect those labels in our actions? For women, the belief that men need to be nagged and shamed to meet their responsibilities will only hinder their ability to find and maintain healthy and cooperative relationships with the men in their lives.
Let’s remind the advertising industry that extreme stereotypes of any kind – gender, racial, religious – are harmful and foster behaviors that are antithetical to our values of understanding and tolerance.