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I was in a bar, having a nice drink with my boyfriend when a man looked at me from across the room. Suddenly, I exploded into a tirade at my boyfriend about how men are sleazy, stupid, ignorant and how women are by far superior. I eventually stopped and realised that I’d been ranting like this for a good twenty minutes. My boyfriend blinked at me, bewildered. Poor bloke; he’d only come out for a pint.
That night I realised that I was a sexist: a proper sexist, which is as bad as any racism or homophobia. I, along with every female I’d ever known, had my own tales of man-woe, but it goes deeper than being stung by men. Within society, there is now a new and permissible form of sexism — that of anti-male sexism, which is purporting subconscious ideologies within society that men are less emotionally (or otherwise) intelligent, and that they are generally inferior to women.
Without even exploring child custody rights, pension ages, paternity rights or woman-instigated domestic violence, the evidence for male-oppressive sexism is rife within the media, which is usually the primary factor in influencing any cultural ideology. Advertisements, television programmes and magazines are full of (sometimes not so) subliminal messages that advocate derogatory behaviour towards men. Through the following examples of anti-male sexism in media, I challenge you to revert the roles of the men and women and then try not to picture the ensuing Ofcom investigations and public outcry.
The age-old stereotype that men are cheats or love-rats who can’t keep wandering eyes at bay is made explicit in Cosmopolitan magazine, which states on its website that: “Most men dream of having a string of women hanging off their arms, so they fulfil this fantasy by…seeing several girls at once.” In a recent issue, they published a feature titled Inside Men’s Minds: Confessions of a Love Rat, which offered polemics such as “good cheats, like good criminals, don’t get caught”. That men are “dirty” and “disgusting” is discussed with free reign in the notorious ITV show Loose Women, such as when the subject of sharing a bathroom with a male spouse was raised:
“I cannot bear sharing a bathroom with a man!”
Furthermore, in some adverts, men’s apparent stupidity, immaturity and ignorance is fully played up in order to juxtapose the intelligence and composure of women, such as in the Bachelors ‘Soupfuls’ adverts, in which two men duel like children, falling over and breaking things. The woman sits calmly and maturely, and eats the soup so that by the time the men have stopped messing around they realise that there is none left. In the Belvita ‘Breakfast Biscuits’ advert Lisa Snowdon patronisingly talk about the “breakfast biscuit” to Johnny Vaughan. The advert ends with him accidentally spilling too much sauce on his breakfast, thereby ruining it, and Lisa laughing at him. It reinforces the stereotype that men are ‘simple-minded’, whereas women are more graceful and intelligent.
One of the most recent — and yet pervasive — negative gender stereotypes is that women have control over men. Rochelle Wiseman of The Saturdays states on Glamour.co.uk that: “In every solid relationship that I’ve been in or been around, the man thinks he’s holding the reins, but the woman really is”, while one of the lovely Loose Women — still on the subject of sharing a bathroom with a man — cackles to the other, “do you still make him poo in McDonalds?”
Boots seems to be by far the worst culprit in sustaining the idea of the woman having control over the ‘ignorant’ man. In one advert, the husband stands at his front door gratefully thanking his wife for ‘allowing’ him to go to the football match. She slams the door with a “You go darling” and then heads for some pampering in the bathroom, laughing to herself. In another Boots advert, one woman points to a leaf in a tree, exclaiming that she’d love the colour for her hair. Her male companion looks pained when she widens her eyes and whimpers at him “will you get it for me please?”, but without even so much as a protestation, he climbs the tree to fetch the leaf. The adverts are intentionally comedic but in spite of the humour there is still the explicit notion that men will do anything for a pretty face and a fluttering of the eyelashes.
Superdrug, hot on the heels of their competitor, clearly knew a good thing when they saw it and followed with their own man-bashing adverts, such as the one in which a man sees a picture of himself in his girlfriend’s wallet and exclaims, “It’s a picture of me isn’t it!?” The woman and the checkout girl smile insidiously at each other and the man follows his girlfriend out of the shop reassuring himself, saying “It is!” It’s important to note the songs played in each of the adverts, ‘Here Come the Girls’ from the Sugababes and ‘She’s So Lovely’ by Scouting for Girls, for Boots and Superdrug advertisements respectively. The songs kick in at the punch line of the advert, when the man does something wrong or the woman shows him up.
It’s not just pop culture that is to blame: anti-male sexism pervades all aspects of media. In a recent BBC World Service programme, the female host, upon introducing the only male on the panel, says: “And we have a man here…you’re our token male”, which is followed by chortles from the other female panellists. This was in all probability an innocuous statement yet the situation would be different if the guest in question was the ‘token black’, the ‘token gay’ or indeed, the ‘token female’ surrounded by a panel of guffawing males.
Individually, all of these sexist media components may be light-hearted, but it’s important to consider what these messages are doing together, to our collective consciousness. It all boils down to the fact that just because a group of people are not part of a minority who are discriminated against, it doesn’t justify their being ridiculed, mocked or discussed in a derogatory way. There appears to be a consensus in society that the ‘non-discriminated against’ can be objectified. So, men have become an easy target. Apparently, sexism sells.
While researching this article I came across a thread on The Student Room forum titled ‘Sexism Towards Men’. One user wrote: “In the eyes of society, sexism towards men is acceptable but sexism towards women is wrong/ taboo/ sexual harassment and unacceptable because [sic] the way women have always been seen as the ‘lesser’ gender”, while another commented: “I believe sexism exists in society against both males and females, but I do think that sexism against females is decreasing and against males it is increasing.” On Glamour.co.uk, under the feature ‘Is it Ever OK to Makeover Your Man?’ (which goes on to list celebrity men who are ‘better’ after their girlfriends have changed them), one astute reader comments: “Try to turn the headline around: ‘Is it okay to makeover your girlfriend or wife?’… the answer is quite simple, most of us will loathe to be told how to look or act so why in the world would anyone think we have a right to makeover our man?”
Beware of the media’s messages and think about how they affect your thoughts. You may be a sexist without even realising it.