Saturday, January 06, 2007

Male pride and prejudice just a burger away

I saw this commercial yesterday for the first time on TV and hunted down the YouTube version just for you guys to watch.

One part of me is impressed...ha ha, good one, guys, aren't you clever ones to go and make fun of the old feminist anthem.

One part of me is amused...yeah, yeah, I chuckled. It's funny, a little, there's no anger, it's mockery, just silly. And after all, it's about Burger King.

One part of me is this how guys feel? That we women try to make them into girls? And they need to Take It All Back, Boys! by eating junk food? Is there boy food and girl food?

I asked the experts.

Patience said, "Of course there is boy food, MOM!" but could not elaborate. However, one should consider the source: this is the child who is all about GvB and is on the verge of discovering cooties.

My husband said, "What feminist anthem? This is based on another song? What song? Who sang it?" However, one should consider the source: this is the man who landed on Earth as a teen at the beginning of the 80s.

When I explained who Helen Reddy was, and sang a bit of her song, I am Woman, after he finished cringing over my flat and sharp notes, he asked, "How did you even know about the feminist movement? Weren't you watching Little House on the Prairie and playing with Barbies back then?"

Why yes I was, but the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Helen Reddy sang the same message girls my age were getting from other venues: you can be strong, you can be wise, you can be anything.

Uh, yeah, that's a big deal.

It's also confusing. During my childhood and youth, I'd try to live up to the feminist ideals, and would regularly get negative feedback about it.

I can be competitive, but then was told that might be scaring off guys from asking me out. I can be ambitious, but then was told that cheats my family. I can be assertive, but then was called scary aggressive. I can be a thinking person, but then be told I need to be more emotional.

So wow, if these complicated issues are so confusing, then let's focus on the little easy-to-control things such as food.

If a man goes and eats a burger, then by golly, he's taking that necessary first step to free himself from the "tender trap." Go be man, man, eat big junk food meat.

Next thing you know, you've reclaimed your manhood with the help of your man tribe by throwing your minivan off a bridge! Free yourself from the oppression of a wife and family life!

Is it really oppression? Can it be as painful as this commercial describes? Are men suffering from a loss of self?

Once again, I asked the experts.

My husband and his friends agreed that now and again they compromise and do what the wife wants, but they concur that it goes both ways. I pointed out the times I sat through baseball games. My husband pointed out the time I dragged him to Alvin Ailey.

"And you're a big fan now, aren't you!" I crowed.

"Sure," he agreed amiably.

I said, "That's what you do, in my opinion, it's the cool thing about friendships and relationships. The other person sometimes takes you outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes it's a success, other times not. But it's not really an authority thing or a power thing, it's a sharing and compromise thing."

All of us agreed that sometimes we felt constrained from what we really wanted to do---and none of it involved a big meat burger from Burger King, although we also all did agree that sometimes a big juicy hamburger is good---by factors such as time and money (never enough of either) but in general we were all pretty content with life and what we had in it, when we reflected.

Bigger than that, though, was the general consensus that we were all willingly, by choice, living as we do. Sometimes we feel frustrated---men and women alike---and sometimes we wish we had more or less of something, or greater flexibility than perhaps the bounds of reality allow. Generally, though, the battle is within ourselves, a little rebelling against a choice we made. None of us felt particularly powerless.

Certainly nobody felt as though he or she was under the absolute control of a spouse.

Although this is anecdotal, and only involves a few friends of ours, it seems that our life doesn't really match what we see on TV, especially in a commercial such as this Burger King one.

So why is the male-female relationship so frequently depicted as such a power struggle?

When women stepped out of the home, I don't believe they left it entirely. They simply added another possible dimension to their lives. This created a space at home, in my opinion, that a lot of men happily stepped in to. Instead of it being exclusively home=woman's terrain and work=man's terrain, each gets some space in each world. I personally think this is a good thing. I enjoy professional challenges, and my husband likes to spend time with the kids.

In fact, his grandmother said to me, "When I got sick, my husband had to learn how to cook, for the first time in his 60+ years of life. And you know what? He found he liked it. He had to be in better touch with his kids. And you know what? He found he liked it. Never make this mistake, never repeat the mistakes of the past. I feel so guilty that he missed out on so much in the home, where the really important things are. I regret, so much, that I made the kitchen, the kids, the home my territory, just because I was the woman. Let your husband go into the areas he is interested in, and you do the same. Be yourselves, not roles."

From my vantage point, it appears that my husband and I both pretty well benefitted from a more equitable place for women in our society. Role playing provides a certain level of clarity and convenience at times, but it doesn't seem like a good fit for our lives.

My husband says that he really doesn't think any of this has anything to do with gender. Like me, there are times he fantastizes about catching a bus to destination "anywhere but here." We both feel too much stress and pressure at times. Sometimes we just get really tired of the status quo. However, since we both feel this way, it clearly is not tied to our sex. It's tied to who we are as people, and the situation we find ourselves in.

He added an excellent point, too, "If, as a man, you feel you are trapped or suffocating in your life, and powerless under the rein of your wife, then you need to step back and reflect on exactly who and what built the prison you feel you live in. It's probably you, not anyone else, and is probably based on environmentally reinforced sterotypes you buy into more than anything else."

Environmentally reinforced stereotypes...perpetuated, perhaps, by commercials like this one?

Okay, really, it's a burger ad. Not this big, right? It's not a major impact to or statement of our society.

Except, I think it is.

My husband said, "I choose to be amused, not offended. It's rather clever, even if it is rudely perpetuating stupid guy-esque stereotypes."


I watched it and felt vaguely offended as a woman. I don't trap men. I don't shove food or experiences they don't want down their throats. I don't make my husband drive any type of car or wear any type of clothes. I don't actually know any women who do.

My husband is right. His grandmother was right.

Men aren't narrowly defined as one thing: MEN who are MEN. They aren't some allegedly comedic stereotype.

Men, like women, fall on a continuum. They carry a wide-range of personalities and traits that are highly dynamic.

It must be really confusing to see continuous mixed messages. It certainly is for me about myself as a woman, and what a woman is expected to be. Therefore, it must be just as confusing for men, too.

You have to find a way, in life, to fit in yourself, then to fit in with others, and ultimately to fit in a relationship. Plus you have to learn how to accept other people.

In all of this, you have to remember to think of each person as an individual.

Awfully hard to do when you are surrounded by messages of who and what each sex must be, many of which are mixed, most of which are idealistic, and all of which seem to involve some product you need to achieve these goals of self (as defined by someone else).

In the end, we have to define who we are and what about ourselves we are each okay with.

But I think the messages around us---done in a deliberately memorable way (anyone else have that song from the ad singing around their head still?)---matter and affect us, regardless of how confident and secure within ourselves we are. If nothing else, it might affect how another person perceives, judges and interacts with us.

So in the end, as clever as it might be, as funny as I ought to take it, I find myself more than a little disapproving of the commercial. On my behalf, but more so, on behalf of my husband who is much more than a guy who dreams of eating a junk food burger and escaping the mini-van life.

Thank goodness.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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