Gender stereotyping finds new target

Douglas Todd | Vancouver Sun | June 28, 2013

I’m starting to feel like a bit like feminists did in the early 1970s.

They grew impatient with women being stereotyped as hysterical, manipulative, poor at the sciences, moody, physically weak, gossip-prone and having no sense of humour.

And those feisty feminists ended up contributing greatly to the next generation of women, increasing their confidence and expanding their options.

The pigeonholing has largely turned, however. And now I’m growing impatient with the stereotyping of men – in TV shows, advertising, news media and lifestyle pages.

Most, if not all, of the negative stereotyping of men is inspired by the apex fallacy. “The apex fallacy is the idea that we use the most visible members of a group to make generalizations about the entire group; i.e., we see prominent men at the top of the pyramid and think all men are doing well, when in fact there are a great many at the bottom of the pyramid, too.” -Alison Beard, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review

The latest caricaturing of men comes from a pseudo-research effort by Nickelodeon UK, a children’s TV network, which produced international headlines trumpeting: “Men don’t mature until they’re 43, new study finds.”

By comparison to men, the Nickelodeon survey said, the “average age at which women mature is 32.” News stories about the “study” stressed 80 percent of women surveyed believed that men “never stop being childish.”

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The media had a field day with Nickelodeon’s completely unscientific survey of what seems to have been British women and men, which editors illustrated with photos of Hollywood actors playing buffoon roles.

The stories about Nickelodeon’s research said that “breaking wind, burping and eating fast food in the early morning hours topped women’s list of (males) immature behaviour. Other signs of immaturity that women gave a thumbs-down included being passive-aggressive during arguments, being unable to cook even simple meals, and telling the same jokes over and over again.”

The Oxford dictionary defines a stereotype as: “A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing, which may not reflect reality.”

A negative stereotype forms when we over-generalize anecdotes about someone of a certain gender, race, sexual orientation or nationality and seek to convince ourselves it is a universal truth about their entire kind.

Which is what chuckling men (and some complicit women) have done to women. And now males are the targets. Few seem to notice the hypocrisy.

Another movie image, from Old School, used to illustrate the Nickelodeon 'study.' Are such stereotypes undermining the next generation of males?

This is another movie image, from Old School, that media outlets used to illustrate the Nickelodeon ‘study.’ Are such stereotypes undermining the next generation of males?

Are such stereotypes undermining the next generation of males?

It’s interesting that none of the stories that ran in Britain or Canada about the Nickelodeon “study” appeared with bylines. It was not the kind of story with which any journalist would want to be publicly associated.

There was no attempt that I saw of any journalist attempting to verify whether the research had scientific validity (it didn’t). In addition, most stories underplayed how the entire effort was a Nickelodeon UK publicity stunt to promote its new show, Wendell and Vinny.

Judging from a preview of Wendell and Vinny, it’s just another inane sitcom in which an intelligent boy is forced to live with a cartoonishly immature man. Sort of a British version of narcissistic Charlie Sheen’s exceedingly lowbrow Two and a Half Men.

That’s a sit-com which, unfortunately, succeeded wildly – by playing on stereotypes about males.

In the same way, readers seem to be devouring Nickelodeon UK’s bogus survey. The version of the story that appeared on the Sun website, with a photo of a crazed John Belushi at a toga party, has gone viral. It’s already had more than 10,000 Facebook “recommendations.”

Clearly, in Western culture (including academia) — where it’s almost forbidden to talk about gender differences — a lot of people are hungry for anything, however shoddy, that suggests how men and women might not be exactly the same.

Nickelodeon’s crass press release recounted 30 things that women (in Britain, where relationship between the sexes have a bad reputation) don’t like about men.

I’ll list some more:

• Finding their own farts and burps hilarious.

• Eating fast food at 2 am.

• Playing videogames.

• Driving too fast.

• Sniggering a bit at rude words.

• Driving with loud music playing.

• Playing practical jokes.

• Staying silent during an argument.

• Not being able to cook simple meals.

• Re-telling the same silly jokes and stories when with the lads.

• Don’t like talking about themselves.

• Not having proper conversations.

• Hating books.

• Doing crazy dance moves.

• Mom still doing their washing.

• Not eating vegetables

• Wearing pyjamas.

• Littering.

In response, I try to imagine the unimaginable: What would happen if media outlets published 30 things British men find off-putting about women?

Most wouldn’t dare.

But for some reason it’s fun to do so about men, without concern for whether it demeans males, including vulnerable boys — and further divides the sexes.

And it does so in a passive-aggressive way. So that a man who is offended by the stereotyping can be dismissed as “not having a sense of humour.” Which is what sexist men used to tell early feminists.

As if the Nickelodeon “survey” wasn’t enough to poison the gender well for one week, another prominent news story came along late last week that one Canadian writer began with: “Men are pigs. Science just proved it for good.”

Do the possible actions of an average of three out of 20 men studied (in Lansing, Michigan) justify the global declaration: “Men are pigs?”

Do the possible actions of an average of three out of 20 men studied (in Lansing, Michigan) justify the global declaration: “Men are pigs?”

Written by a man making a lame attempt at being clever and self-deprecating of his gender, the prominently placed story cited a (slightly more academic) study that found 15 per cent of men, compared to five per cent of women, didn’t wash their hands after using a public washroom.

Do the possible actions of an average of three out of 20 men studied (in Lansing, Michigan) justify the global declaration: “Men are pigs?”

In this so-called age of tolerance of cultural differences, to say the least it lacks respect for males.

Relationships between men and women, boys and girls, are hard enough these days. Most of us are trying to make them work in this fast-changing culture and weak economy.

It’s not doing anyone any good when TV networks, advertisers and media outlets tally up lists of one gender’s righteous complaints, annoyances, inaccurate impressions and generalized put-downs.

It is discouraging that something as potentially rewarding as relations between men and women are reduced to such insidious pseudo-psychological clichés.

As men and women, surely we can do better.

dtodd@vancouversun.com

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