After I posted this feminist spoof of Dodge’s Super Bowl ad, I heard from a friend who said that while he sympathized with the response, he thought it was little more than a reactive “screed” that illustrated that gender politics are often a “self-defeating cycle of stereotypes.” I don’t agree. In fact, I don’t agree so much that I’m posting my response here so that if anyone else had the same reaction, you too can hear why I disagree…
The original Dodge ad and the feminist spoof are not two sides of the same coin. I absolutely agree that if that were the case—if both videos simply played on sexist stereotypes of the other gender—it would be self-defeating and stupid, not to mention boring. But I don’t think that’s the case.
To recap: The original ad is so absurd not only because it’s implicitly playing on the sexist stereotype of the nagging wife that’s oh-so-prevalent in TV Land but also because the husband is making some claim to gender-based oppression. This guy is so oppressed and controlled and emasculated by his wife (and a world that insists he submit to her will) that he needs to go out and buy a big car to assert the last remaining shred of his manhood. But what’s ridiculous, of course, is that all the things he claims are such hardships are not actually so bad (separating the recycling, seriously?) and also, more importantly, are things that women also have to do. Because these are the things you do when you are an adult person living in committed relationship with someone else. As Jessica said over at Feministing:
I will blame women for “making” me be a halfway decent human being. I will whine about having to do things like working, being considerate, and cleaning up after myself. And because I do all this, my unfortunate partner will be forced to listen to me insist that getting the kind of car I want is necessary for my penis’ very life.
The reason the ad is so amazing—and provoked such a response—is that the spoof could just be a woman saying basically the same things and it would still work. (In fact, that spoof exists.) Except, of course, it wouldn’t actually work in TV Land, because (in TV Land at least) wives are expected to do those things and it isn’t seen as an affront to their individuality or femininity to have to do them (quite the opposite, actually). The tasks the husband complains about are so reasonable, in fact, some people have claimed it must just be a satire. I wish, but no—it’s pretty clear we—or at least the millions of apparently fed-up husbands watching the Super Bowl—are supposed to read the original as a guy saying: “I am being oppressed as a man in these ways; must buy big manly car.”
And so enter the feminist spoof, which does two things: First, it shows that most of the things the husband complains about the wife has to do as well (getting up a 6:30 am, going to work, being considerate, humoring each other’s interests, etc.). And second, it also shows the real hardships the wife puts up with living as a woman in a sexist society (making 75 cents to the dollar, sacrificing her career to raise the children, trying to adhere to ridiculous beauty standards, electing male politicians who try to make decisions about her body, etc.).
Sure, I’ll grant that parts of the spoof slip towards using similarly unfair stereotypes about men being lazy or messy or immature (the line about the smelly loser friend on the couch didn’t add much). But for the most part, I think it’s effective because it’s not simply reactive. By highlighting the ways in which women actually experience gender-based oppression—not by their husbands but by a whole system and culture—it makes it perfectly clear that the “oppression” the man experiences in the original ad not only isn’t that bad but more importantly isn’t gender-based oppression to begin with.
Which I think is the real point here and why it frustrates me to no end to hear from guys who think that these two videos simply illustrate “gender politics as self-defeating cycle of stereotypes” or read male commentors saying that the feminist spoof was just as “angry” as the original. This is not some silly “battle of the sexes” where the woman responds to the self-pitying man by saying, “yeah, well, I have it worse.” The point is that having to do things for your partner—whether that’s a man or a woman (which in the TV Land of stereotypes means whether that’s a nagging, harpie wife or a lazy, oafish husband and in real life is usually not so painfully gendered)—is not the same thing as experiencing discrimination and oppression based on your gender.
Which is not to say that men aren’t affected by gender-based oppression. If Dodge (hell, if anyone) made a video that showed a man talking about how societal constructs of masculinity affected him, feminists would love it. (Not to put words in anyone’s mouth, but something like: “I will learn not to cry or express my emotions, I will tie my self-worth to my ability to make money and provide for my family, I will always be ready and eager for sex…”) But putting your underwear in the basket because your wife will snap at you if you don’t? No, not on the same level as pay discrimination, the second shift, a constant assault on reproductive rights, the pathetic state of maternity leave and child care in this country, and the fact that in 2010 women still make up only 17% of the U.S. Congress. We’re talking apples vs. oranges, individual frustration vs. systemic oppression, a nagging wife vs. a sexist society.
This is a long, over-zealous response to one comment from a friend, but I think it’s important. Because there is a long and frustratingly repetitive history of people—especially men—being reactive, missing this point, and consequently misunderstanding feminism as something that simply paints women as victims and vilifies men—and then understandably feeling pretty alienated by it. And I don’t want that to happen—anywhere but especially here on my little blog. Sure, maybe gender politics as portrayed in a TV Land of sexist stereotypes is inevitably self-defeating. But in real life, this stuff is important to talk about—for both women and men.