Dumb Guy Chic

In the sixties through the eighties, the so-called second wave of feminism sought to address gender inequality in laws and culture.  One focus of that movement was the portrayal of women in popular media, especially on television and in commercials.   A major catalyst for the movement was The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan, which noted that magazines and other media most often depicted women as homemakers or models of attractiveness and in doing so, nurtured a narrow and servile view of women.   Women in TV commercials were obsessed with whitening their laundry or whether their kitchen detergent made their hands feel rough.   Even as late as 1979, studies indicated that women were portrayed in magazines as passive, conforming and less competent than men.   I think it’s undeniable that progress has been made … career women are a staple of modern television … and what I’d suggest is that the media worm has turned, as evidenced by the number of dumb guys in sitcoms.  We are living in the age of Dumb Guy Chic, in which men are not only portrayed as dumb … acting dumb is promoted as a quintessentially male quality.

An alien monitoring our media would conclude that Nirvana for real men is a case of light beer, two pizzas, a pile of chicken wings in a room full of like-minded guys watching sports.   It is Nirvana-plus if each of the participants has hood-winked his wife into believing he’s doing chores or his boss into thinking he’s working.   At any point during the proceedings, each real man would willingly trade his girlfriend or wife for a Bud Light.  Nothing would make our real man happier than being able to watch football on his phone during his best friend’s wedding or sneak in two cases of beer.   Cultural cravings are satisfied musically by rap music, hip-hop and whatever variant of rock and roll they listened to in their youth.   Listening to classical music, jazz and especially opera by a male is proof positive of the presence too many X chromosomes.   Theater means movies to our real guy and movies means action, sports, or dumbbell comedy.   Even if our real man bears a strong resemblance to Quasimodo and possesses the physique of a Sumo wrestler, he’s entitled to refer to women as ugly or fat and act as if Kiera Knightly should be beating a path to his door.   Our real men don’t discuss or even argue, they talk smack and subscribe to the parliamentary principles of The Best Put-Down and The Loudest Wins.   Yes, I could go on and on … and will.   The subject deserves more than one post.

It’s easy to say that the asinine beer commercials are all in good fun, that loud-mouthed but dimwitted sports talk guys and male heroes that can throw a ball sixty yards but can’t put together a decent sentence harm no one.   It’s true that by roughly 25, we are who we are anyway (unless life forces us to reconsider).  But if portraying women as shallow, subservient and less-than to our girls is harmful to our society (and it is) then doesn’t continually exposing young men (and especially our boys) to an onslaught of Dumb Guy Chic teach them that to be a man, you have to act dumb?   What’s that do to our society?   And speaking for men who came with a functioning brain and a willingness to use it, I’m sick and tired of the implication we’re somehow less of a man for our trouble.

What do you think?

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18 Comments on “Dumb Guy Chic”


  1. I think you’re right that the worm has turned. But the reason for this worm is different from the other; marketers know that it’s the women who spend the money (no jokes, please), and so developers, producers, writers and networks gear programming (particularly sitcoms) toward women. Ads have always been geared toward women (beer commercials being the exception). Programming was geared to men for decades. Now, making the woman in the show look smarter is an homage to the smart woman who will spend money on products advertised during commercials. In the pre-modern era of portraying women as housewives, ad-makers appealed to their largest audience by trying to be their friend, help them out, give them a tip, make their lives easier. But it was the men who were bringing home the bacon. Now that women are such a force in the working world, the programming is geared toward them, too, in sympathy to the working woman’s plight. Turns out, women have always ruled the world; we just got played by the men behind the ads. Ever see “Mad Men” on AMC? :-)

    I don’t know if young men will be influenced by the way men are portrayed in sitcoms; I would hypothesize that, in psychological terms, they may not have the insecurity fostered in women by a previously male-dominated society, which fuels concerns about how women are portrayed. Maybe everyone is better off watching dramas, where everyone is equally smart, it seems.

    • oldereyes Says:

      So. OK, before I respond seriously, I have to object to having most of my lifetime relegated to the “pre-modern era” :)

      Your premise that women spend the money is debatable. An article on the Daily Beast (here,http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-11-25/who-spends-the-most-money/ ) claims that men spend 19% more money than women, in part because they buy expensive things. You can tell what they buy by the commercials … I recently saw a Kuhmo tire ad that implied that the guy got the (very gorgeous) girl because of his tires. Dumb. And truthfully, in many corners of business, women are both paid less than men and face a glass ceiling … walk into many engineering firms and look at the technical management team. So, if women in fact rule the world, they aren’t being compensated for it.

      I’m around a lot of men who speak very honestly about themselves. While women may have insecurity rooted in a male dominated society, men have insecurity rooted in the effects of “manly men” fathers who never made their sons feel quite man enough. That is exactly that mindset that Dumb Guy Chic perpetuates. Google The Father Wound (and ignore all religious references) if you don’t believe me. Also, walk into your local high school and see how many bright young men keep their brilliance under a basket or suffer the label of geek because being smart isn’t cool.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, by the way.


      • I’m sorry- I should clarify. The most-desired demographic for television advertising is females 18-49. They’re the ones who do the shopping and tend to be more critical consumers, buying what’s needed instead of what’s wanted (men buying what’s wanted is where the big-screen TV and car ads come in!). It’s not whether women make the most money or spend the most. Sorry my blanket statement was misleading. (My line of work is related to this marketing info.) As a woman, I certainly agree that we are still not on-par salary-wise, even though we comprise at least half of the workforce now.

        I’m glad to hear that you’re around men who speak honestly about themselves. I find not many of them do so around women. This is why I think we need friends of the opposite gender; they help translate! But your point about manly men and the pressures of being one is a good one in relation to how media present men.

  2. comingeast Says:

    I never thought about those commercials that way, but since you’ve brought it up, I can see your point. In real life, though, men still seem to be getting the upper hand because statistics show that women’s salaries, in many instances, have not caught up with men’s. So I’m not sure how much influence those commercials are having on young men. They apparently still think quite highly of themselves! And where was the outcry about how demeaning those commercials were to women when they portrayed them as cute little housewives who were only concerned with ring-around-the-collar? I do regret, however, that so many of the commercials today seem to pit men against women or women against men. Why do we have to be so adversarial all the time?

    • oldereyes Says:

      I agree with respect to women’s salaries and position in the workforce in certain industries. IN a way, Dumb Guy Chic perpetuates that by telling us real men don’t hang around with women, which puts an end to any dialog. I believe that men handle their insecurities with bravado, which is why we sometimes seem to think so highly of ourselves. It’s my experience that if you scratch the typical arrogant man, there’s a boy who never lived up to his father’s expectations underneath.


  3. Oh boy. You have raised some valid points here.

    Women have had to work VERY hard to change the image from ‘just a homemaker’ – and yet we are still very much objectified.

    I think it’s high time, men should have to fight the same fight NOT to be stereo-typed.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I’m really hoping I will get a response from one of my male readers, although I’ve really enjoyed the viewpoints I’ve heard so far. I sometimes wonder if stereotyping is in our genes.

  4. sharon Says:

    Stereotyping is in my jeans, it is appalling to me too. When I think of a nurse I never picture a man. My husband makes more than twice what I do and he does all the grocery shopping and the cooking. I can cook but why should I if he does, I clean the house and pick up the dog poop. Commercials are instantly muted at my house because they are insulting and degrading. Thank God for tivo so we can fast forward thru them. I enjoy some of the dumb guy shows “Everybody love Raymond”, funny! I also think my husband would like to have a wife a little more like Mary Tyler Moore.

  5. Glenn Says:

    I am going to comment here when I usually don’t. This is your sounding board and I respect you more than you know. But you asked for comments and I’ll give you mine. The 5 1/2 years between us amounts to a lifetime. Graduating college in 1967 and high school in 1967 means we grew up in different worlds. Most of what I learned in mine, I’ve come to reject. I suspect you still have some foundation in yours.
    Anyway, the thing that strikes me is how we have all come to believe that society, government, advertising, and whatever the popular norm of the day is has more to do with how we act and grow than who we are. It’s just not so. In every age there are people, men and women who have overcome all and been all they can be. There’s women who have overcome to earn more than most men. There are men who are compassionate, smart and understanding. There are people of all races and faiths that have done wonders despite what the world did to them.
    It’s not important what everyone else says, it’s important what’s inside each of us. Why isn’t that what we teach? Why isn’t be honest and true to yourself the first thing we learn? Got a bully? Deal with it. Got a glass ceiling? Break it. Be smart, if some one calls you a geek, give him the finger. If you offend some poor soul in the process, do your best to make amends, but it is really their problem. You are how you are despite collective wisdom.
    We may have grown up at different times, but we were both brought up the same. We were taught core values and to believe in ourselves. If we reached an age where we thought differently, there might have been some questions, but in the end what we believed counted most and was respected. I sure wish there were more people who were brought up like that !

    • oldereyes Says:

      Just because a few people overcome odds that are stacked against them doesn’t mean it’s OK for the odds to be stacked. As a long time advocate for women in the engineering field, I will tell you that salary differences were practically criminal and the glass ceiling was bulletproof. Yes, some men turn out compassionate and understanding but not nearly enough. Maybe you were different than I was, but the degree of believing in myself you’re talking about didn’t happen at 10 or at 15, which is the age range that I think Dumb Guy Chic affects boys. At that age, peer pressure has as much if not more influence than parental guidance. The truth is, one of the reasons I started this blog was to document wisdom that I learned too late to teach my kids, not that they read it. How could I teach what I didn’t know?

  6. nobusysignal Says:

    I see your words as spot on. I doubt you are the first to see or speak on it, but nevertheless it needs to be repeated. Great post.

    • oldereyes Says:

      Yes, I know it’s been posted in various forms elsewhere but it’s been really getting on my nerves, so I thought I’d join in. Thanks.

  7. Glenn Reed Says:

    It’s not that I even disagree. Women should be treated and paid equally and somehow the movement for that has created this place where it’s okay for guys to be portrayed as stupid and shallow.
    I look back to 50 years ago when we grew up: How much has been done to make children safer, to make them feel like they have an equal chance, to protect them from harm and stereotypes? How many toys and advertisements and freedoms are restricted? Where’s the cost benefit equation?
    If you asked me right now if I would change places with a kid turning 12 this year for being twelve in 1961, I wouldn’t hesitate to say no. For all the good intentions, I call that a failure.
    I think we need to teach our kids life is unfair and hard, they have to deal with that as best they can in their own little circle and hope there are enough others out there doing that so change will come about. We can try to change it on a much bigger scale, but the results of that don’t impress me.
    Just my thoughts for today, I know I am in a strange place, but it is what it is.

    • oldereyes Says:

      It is such a fine balance between teaching them life is unfair and crushing them with pessimism. There are things I’ve done that I will never regret … but if I knew they were as hard as they were, I might not have ever started. I’ve never found myself very able to articulate that balance to my kids.

      You and I share the belief, I think, that change can’t be legislated or forced. I agree it needs to be done within our families. But I also think we need to speak with a larger voice about what is right and wrong in our society. This is the largest voice I’ve got.

  8. Judy Says:

    Sorry I missed its original posting, this subject really gets me going! The arrogance of media and/or Hollywood to try to project their “ideal” as normal is one of the reasons I love my DVR, now I can skip it. From every Disney movie devoid of parents, to Dumb Guy Chic, to portraying every female as a condescending, kick-boxing, I-can-do-it-myself B—-, is fantasy at its best and degrading to all mankind at its worst.

    Good choice for controversial, this is definitely one that lights the match! :D


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