Men, well they’re feckless, dirty dogs aren’t they? Or at least that’s what we are constantly being told in the media. Take an advert for a domestic product currently on TV as an example. Vax are running an ad for a steam cleaner with a detergent clip- on unit which promises to deal with dirt tracked in my children, pets and “even men” with the voice over smoothly telling us this while some giant dog trails dirt all over the kitchen floor. Seriously. Or take the Late Rooms.com ad where a woman falls for a man she keeps seeing at hotels around Europe and she spies, after a moment of passion, that he has holes in his socks so mentally scratches off future encounters as a result. Shallow?
The nation’s favourite soap operas tell us that men like a bet, even if it means spending all the family wealth on a bit of a flutter, or that the happily married man will stray when given half a chance by the floosie in the corner shop. He will be handy with his fists or a serial killer who has stuffed various corpses into cupboards when his wife took her eyes off him for just a moment. Soap operas deal in extremes, but it is more likely that the hero role is filled by a matriarch than a patriarch in these shows because the target audience is generally female. She’s the one who is stoic, standing by her man and putting up with his nonsense while he lets her down at every turn.
Jeremy Kyle types of chat shows do men no favours either. Why do people who cheat hope that washing their dirty laundry in public will somehow help them to beat the lie detector test? The drip, drip, drip effect of this constant portrayal of low life men is to start to see men as some sort of liability in a relationship – it erodes the notion of the loved partner and protective parent to the resulting offspring, and suggests that men are temporary partners who can be replaced the first time they are suspected of messing up.
Even foreign shows like The Bridge revolved around one man’s tendency to have affairs and the terrible consequences that that had for all the members of his family. His heroic acts as a policeman were marginalised as the drama, as all drama does, concentrated on the unravelling of a life because of earlier decisions taken when the consequences couldn’t have been predicted. The brilliant cop was the autistic female who didn’t understand social convention and slept with someone because she felt like it and there were no consequences for her. The paramour of the moment followed her round like a love struck puppy while she heroically saved as many of the potential victims as she could.
American programmes such as House show the central character to be brilliant but mostly incapable of displaying loyalty and love. He is the “hero” because he is interesting but in fact Wilson is the man we would rather have in our lives if truth be told. Clever, loyal but too much of a doormat to be top dog in his relationships with House and the women in his life. I’m hoping that the final episode switches the roles and makes it explicit that loyalty and “niceness” is admirable, that selfishness is what leads to despair.
Men are capable of heroism, loyalty, hard work, frugality, love and kindness. I’m going to watch TV looking out for those types of men but I suspect I’ll be kept waiting.
If we continue to portray males as less than women, we cannot claim to be surprised when young men aspire to be less than they are capable of being.