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The Diesel ads seem poor examples of "dumb men" ads aimed at men, as many of the "dumb" acts are performed by women---these are just "dumb people" ads. "Dumb" is also being used to mean "reckless" or "impulsive," not stupid or incompetent.

Is it too shallow to offer that the reason dumb and/or evil people in popular media are often middle-aged white men is no one will complain about negative stereotyping for that demographic?

My pet peeve is the trope of the Man Who Can't Cook (tee hee!) in commercials. These ads seem to have been beamed here directly from 1957.

I am not a fan of "the good old days". But much of what my father would have considered "being a gentleman" included being able to cook a meal and whatnot. He would not have been expected to do it often, but he was expected to know how to.

Ironically one of the advantages of raising my daughter for a while in California is she saw lots of beautiful women (who spent time thinking about how they looked) who were very smart and competent. She, therefore, didn't ever see an anti-correlation there and she has real women to fight off the ad images.

Great post Frances, and (I am guessing here) interesting thoughts to post while waiting for the budget.


I intend to write a blog post about this later, but suffice it to say that notice in the Rogers ski bus ad, the boys appear genuinely happier than the girls. Doing the "smart" thing seems to have little to do self-fulfillment or even self-indulgence... ...

Chris: "no one will complain about negative stereotyping for that demographic?"

Well, if you start searching the internet, there's a whole lot of rants out there about stupid men commercials, see, e.g. this one on "why are white men stupid?". So people do complain. But clearly either (a) they complain in an ineffectual manner, e.g. writing blog posts instead of organizing consumer boycotts or (b) companies have less to fear from the complaints of white men. A company that is required to comply with employment equity legislation, for example, might have a hard time convincing its auditors that it was doing its best to increase representation of group X in its workforce when a member of group X is portrayed as being really stupid on an advertising campaign.

On the Man Who Can't Cook - there's lots of money to be made from guys dialing for pizza/working parents filling their freezers with instant meals. Much less money to be made from convincing people that almost anyone - man or woman - is perfectly capable of putting together a quick stir-fry.

If I paid more attention to beer commercials I could probably come up with some better examples of dumb guy ads targeted at men.

Then there are the ads that feature both dumb women and dumb men.

The example I am thinking of is a beer commercial that ran frequently during the NFL season just past. Synopsis: a young couple has apparently just acquired a new house, and is showing it to their friends: girls with the girl and boys with the boy. With a flourish, the woman reveals her centrepiece: a large walk-in closet. Much screaming, jumping, and group-hugging ensues. Meanwhile, the man shows his party his favourite feature: a large, walk-in beer fridge. Screaming, jumping, and group-hugging ...

At the time, I thought this example fit well into your taxonomy: the dumb men are shown in a positive light - boys will be boys, and you really can't expect them to do anything more useful than sit around drinking beer and watching TV. Women, meanwhile are collateral damage, their highest function being apparently to dress well enough to attract a man. I imagined millions of women in millions of living rooms and bars rolling their eyes.

But your post has made me think about this again, and now I am not so confident. Might the ad not have been intended to appeal to women, as well as men? Might not the woman targeted by the ad disagree with my characterization of how she is portrayed? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I'll bet whoever constructed the ad does. This seems to be an area where the technology is running ahead of its science.

On the topic of stupid women commercials, Frances points out that they are usually super-attractive women. To me, I still see this as an appeal to the typical women. I always find those ads to say to women, "she might be better looking than you, but you're not an idiot".

@Frances: yes, I should've said "no one who any executive cares about will complain." Protests from aggrieved white men are not something PR people worry about.

Some Man Who Can't Cook ads may be aimed at men, but I'm hard-pressed to think of any examples, although perhaps I am overlooking a justification role for these ads (it's ok for me, the man, to order pizza rather than cook, that's just what men do). On the other hand, I see lots of Man Who Can't Cook ads in outlets which are aimed exclusively at women, such as Chatelaine and the like (er, I just read them for the articles).

Didn't Bill Maher do a few rants on the fact that we live matriarchal society now? I seem to recall hearing him ramble on about something of the sort.

I thought it all came down to the minority rules of advertising and comedy. The majority is always the target of jokes, but if you are a minority you can make fun of that minority; otherwise you're just an a-hole.

I'm loving that decision to give up cable more and more each day.

I haven't seen any of these ads in the wild. This makes me happy.

Great post!

The discussion RE: power nails it - it's okay to make fun of successful people and/or groups.

Consider the most racist of holidays - St. Patrick's Day. Could you imagine a day involving so many stereotypes involving a non-white group (with the irony that the Irish in the 19th century weren't really considered 'white' - 'No Irish Need Apply' and all that)? What would be the outcry if you had a day of binge drinking with a first-nations theme?

"it's okay to make fun of successful people and/or groups [i.e. white men]." "we live [in a] matriarchal society now"

These statements can't both be true.

How much worse do boys have to do in school before it's not o.k. to poke fun at them?

And one point I think I didn't emphasize enough in the post: the equation of white=stupid=manly and Asian=smart=effeminate is potentially brutal for Asian kids' self-esteem too.

Chris, what do you think ofthis Hardees ad? A male-oriented "guys can cook, but real guys don't" ad.

Mike, thanks for your kind words. I agree with you completely about St Patrick's day - historically a non-event in Ireland, b.t.w.

"They are part of a larger social trend towards seeing men and women as fundamentally, irreconcilably different."

What if it's true? I mean, after all, there are real biological differences between men and woman, reflecting the distinct evolutionary pressures on men and woman, why wouldn't we expect those biological differences to include behavioural differences? That difference doesn't mean that one is inherently better than the other (although it might mean their distinct traits might be more valuable in different situations - the ability to club sabretooth tigers isn't a sought after as it once was), but if its a reality, there's no point not to acknowledge it.


"Consider the most racist of holidays - St. Patrick's Day. Could you imagine a day involving so many stereotypes involving a non-white group (with the irony that the Irish in the 19th century weren't really considered 'white' - 'No Irish Need Apply' and all that)? "

When I was attending University in Kitchener-Waterloo I was chatting with an Austrian exchange student. He commented that Oktoberfest, as it was celebrated in KW, was pretty offensive. It's basically the fall semester's St Patrick's Day, except it lasts a week.

Canada is making progress, but it's still a leap to say that we're some kind of post-race, post-gender, post-sexuality society. The investigated murders of Aboriginal women in BC shows that we are still not an all-inclusive society. If you took a walk through Downtown East in Vancouver or through the skid row of any Canadian city, you'll see a disproportionate number of people of color compared to the overall population. Same with Canada's prisons. You make an interesting point in this post, but you lost me with that point

Frances: well, everyone knows that in the 21st century men cook, but men don't bake!

(I kid, of course, but I think there is something to that distinction, even in professional kitchens. I can think of lots of restaurants with male executive/sous chefs and female pastry chefs, but the opposite is I think much rarer. This article says 30% of students at the CIA are women but almost 80% of the students in the pastry program are women.)

As you say, that (sexist) Hardee's ad claims "real men don't bake," not "men are too stupid to bake." It isn't a dumb man commercial. I maintain---based on a solid evidence base of several partially remembered anecdotes---that ads portraying men as incompetent in the kitchen are not aimed at men.

Bob: "What if it's true?"

Yes, there are differences between men and women.

The problem with the women-you-have-to-run-around-and-look-after-your-hopeless-incompetent-men ads is that they exaggerate and reinforce those differences. They tell women: you have to take responsibility for running the home. They restrict what people can do and be - like that Hardees ad I linked to in my last comment, which diminishes a guy who's just made some really tasty looking biscuits.

Can't people just be happy with themselves as they are? Well, no, because if being happy with who you are means that you stop buying stuff, that's the last thing advertisers want.

Ben, on representation in the downtown east side. You're right, it's aboriginal Canadians who are overwhelmingly over-represented in Canada's prisons (what is it, something like 75% of Saskatchewan's prison population?) and among the homeless and troubled.

That's why I said "white men are also **well represented** in prisons, on skid row, among the drug addicts on Vancouver's downtown east side." Not over-represented in the way that Aboriginal Canadians are, but still there in healthy numbers nonetheless.

Remember that white men make up, say, 40% to 45% of the Canadian population (say 1/2 are women, 10 to 20% are members of visible minorities), less than that in majority-minority cities such as Vancouver and Toronto. Certainly white men make up than 40 to 45% of Ottawa's homeless population.

I should probably be more concerned, but I find it hard to care about my fellow White Men (TM) who get sucked into the "it's cool to be a belligerent clueless moron" crap. You get what you deserve when you draw your inspiration for the construction of your identity from UFC and the pages of Maxim.

Speaking of cooking and baking, this relates entirely to the Home Economics of Bachelorhood.

It is Saturday. You don't have a date 'cause you're not that lucky in that department lately, and so you want a tasty dinner. Roast Beef, gravy, Mashed Yukon Golds? Perhaps trying to make some of that Food Network food that *ahem* male hosts cook?

Well, yon bachelor, pray tell who is going to cook that for you? You could go to a restaurant, but maybe you want a glass of wine with that dinner and now you're into pricey restaurants. Much cheaper just to cook it yourself. Didn't you pick up some cooking method books that'll help you decipher all those terms (Alton Brown is really good for those). You've got an oven and a stovetop. They're power tools. It's not like you can have any other power tools in your one-bedroom pad.

So it looks like it's an afternoon of cooking for you.

I'm a man, I bake. Bread mostly, because if you say to the dietitian that you're eating health French bread you made from scratch she smiles. Much better than sugary cookies or fatty muffins. Don't even think about cakes.

See, a kitchen is just a location for the use of power tools and the manufacture of raw materials into fine creative pieces. You don't have a garage so what else are you going to do? And maybe when you are a bit more fortunate in the romance department you can use your newly honed *skillz* to impress that potential mate.

Funny thing is the majority of hosts on the Food Network are men.

So, portrayals that negatively stereotype a certain demographic group are bad. That's the premise of all of this, right? Advantages that members of one demographic group enjoys ON AVERAGE don't make it ok. Trying to spread the shame and doubt that we experience doesn't improve anyone's life or build understanding. Making men, or women, or white people, or Asians, or attractive people look inferior doesn't ever solve any problem. Why? Because we're all individuals. We're not our labels. We don't live the lives that our demographics create. No matter how often a stereotype "fits" or how positive it may appear, it will leave a large number of people in the difficult position of trying to fit or not fit a certain type that isn't who they are.


"No matter how often a stereotype "fits" or how positive it may appear, it will leave a large number of people in the difficult position of trying to fit or not fit a certain type that isn't who they are."

Well said.

"Remember that white men make up, say, 40% to 45% of the Canadian population"

and 0% of the 5 adults on the cover the 2011 Budget.

Thanks for writing what I've been seeing for a long time.

It's true that commercials from prior decades were demeaning toward women. Now they've taken it too far the opposite direction.

Many commercials have the "smart woman" who comes up with the "sensible" solution of the object product or service while all the men are fumbling about looking stupid. This scenario has little basis in my experience.

Yes, women make up the majority of undergrads. Most of them are in nearly worthless degree programs and most won't be employed in a manner that uses those nearly worthless skills.

I work with lots of smart women, but they are outliers in a sea of low brow liberal arts majors.

At the end of the day, as long as white men occupy the majority of the positions of power (top 4 Cdn political parties, most mayors, most premiers, most CEOs, most news anchors, etc etc etc), it will still be safe to take shots at them.

It's perceived as 'safe' to make a dumb white man commercial. White men (with money) are secure... they know they run the world and they can afford to take a few digs. White men who have failed typically don't feel it's because they are white men. (There are exceptions, those who complain about affirmative action and such, but they are mostly seen as whiny losers). So, being a white man is not something to feel sensitive about or carry a grudge about.


The humanities does not deserve the ire. Throughout the humanities they write and read and write some more. As an engineer, I cannot tell you enough how poor the writing skills are in my profession. One day humanities students will be valued, but not today. I, personally, try to keep an eye out for the humanities types, because they generally know how to communicate, while my peers have a difficult time with anything but the computer.

Check the numbers on enrollment in the various departments at universities these days. The humanities have been largely decimated while business colleges are bloated. Good writing skills are far more valuable than powerpoint skills, so I fail to understand why the change.

Here in Texas I know much funding from the corporate bosses is funneled into the business colleges. It's a sad state of affairs when private interests overwhelm the public, but such is the state of the US. Our universities are looking as far as the next quarter these days.

Mark - "and 0% of the 5 adults on the cover the 2011 Budget" the cover is here, it's hard to see as the picture is so small, but I think you're right.

I guess this tells you something about the votes the government figures it doesn't have to buy!

Mike, Darren, what I find interesting is that quite a number of the on-line rants/blogs etc about dumb men commercials are written by women. Perhaps men, as Darren says, feel that they have nothing to complain about, or that it's impossible for them to complain. Or because women are outraged on behalf of their fathers/husbands/sons etc. Or because, if men are bumbling idiots, that means that equality, with women and men equally sharing household responsibilities, is impossible.

atcooper, you're precisely right on the value of knowing how to write.

As one of my former MA students (male) told me "My Economics MA got me my job, but my philosophy degree got me my promotion."

@atcooper and FW

You failed to see through obvious hyperbole. I benefitted greatly from my liberal arts education. That's not the point.

The point isn't that we shouldn't have English, Sociology, and Anthropology majors and courses. The point is that we have TOO MANY of them because the university system subsidizes them. We end up with a few university professors, a few business writing coaches, and a lot of Starbucks barristas with college degrees.

I was not an English major, but I can teach an Engineer how to write. I know because I teach Business Writing. Few people could teach an English major to design bridges, write software, or create new molecular entities. If they could have learned, they likely would have.

If people had the intellectual capacity to learn more technical skills, but chose liberal arts as a labor of love, then they unfortunately placed themselves amongst a herd, and have to go the extra mile to prove their worth - hence, an MA in Economics.

What useful purpose does an Anthropology degree or a Geography degree serve unless you go on to get a PhD? How many of those does society need?

There are majors at universities designed for people who fail out of other degree programs just to keep the tuition dollars flowing in. When will people learn that universities are a business, and that they are rent seekers? Why do you assume that college graduates have skills of measurable worth when you know graduates who barely have the mental capacity to maintain respiration?

In China, they have tons of unemployed Engineering majors. Worthwhile human capital, but insufficient demand. So much for central planning.

I thought we were mostly economists here. Has that whole supply and demand stuff been dropped from the curriculum since I got my degree? Have we abandoned opportunity cost and comparative advantage as tools of analysis? Don't we understand that wages have something to do with marginal revenue product?

Women herd into low value majors, and thus end up working in low value jobs with wages depressed by a large labor supply.

Mike - "You failed to see through obvious hyperbole." "Women herd into low value majors, and thus end up working in low value jobs with wages depressed by a large labor supply."

Mike, have to say the hyperbole was actually somewhat non-obvious, perhaps use a smiley face next time ;-)

As someone who teaches Economics, I know enough to be cynical about the value of business/economics education.

On the gender issue: it's a big debate, do women choose low value majors, or are these majors low value *because* they're chosen by women? I'm hoping to do some research on that question at some point.

When looking at people's choices, the question is always "what are the alternatives?" Sure, I know people who've ended up working in Starbucks after taking an anthropology degree. But the kind of administrative job that, back in the day, a woman could have entered with a high school education (secretary, receptionist, bank teller etc) now requires a university degree.

Without a degree, one ends up working at Tim Horton's instead of Starbucks; the hours are worse and the work is more demanding.

While these posts are all varied in stating the degree of what is more or less wrong with "dumb" ads. I rarely watch TV anymore as all the garbage between the ads is insulting to everybody's intelligence; whether they are male or female.

Well, regardless of what the ads say I am a very good looking, athletic software developer and a great dad that gardens and takes care of laundry. I go to church on a regular basis. I can dance. And yes, I am white. We do exist.

The reason the ads don't target me is because I don't buy things I see in an ad. I do some research on the computer and decide for myself what product I want to buy.

History is a pendulum, it just happens to be swinging in a different direction than it did historically.


In Canada we have unemployed engineering majors. It's not just a Chinese problem.

58% of Canadian undergraduates may be women, but female enrolment in engineering and computer science has been declining since 2000. And it was terrible to begin with. Come on -- 20%? That's a total embarrassment.

What we have is a society that is getting lazier. People are just unwilling to do the work necessary to learn challenging things. Our attitude stinks. Gender has little or nothing to do with it.

"Check the numbers on enrollment in the various departments at universities these days. The humanities have been largely decimated while business colleges are bloated. Good writing skills are far more valuable than powerpoint skills, so I fail to understand why the change."

Business schools are starting to understand this as well. My colleague at Ivey, Jana Seijts, has been doing an excellent job in improving the communication skills in HBA students. Ivey is probably more progressive than other business schools in this regard, but overall it's an area where B-schools recognize the need to improve.

White men get it because they are the only ones who can take
it. The day we actually become the dependent and puling species that the media desiderates is the day the word goes out: leave the men alone! That day will never come [deleted - FW]

Your post on dumb ads reminded me of a trend in the movies. In the words of my favourite movie critic David Denby in the New Yorker (March 14, 2011, p 78): "For years, the infantilism and ineptitude of the American male has been the principal source of comedy in Hollywood movies. [...] There's a good commercial reason that so many of these pictures get made. The filmmakers work as much filthy boy talk into the script as they can, and, by making guys the butt of jokes, they amuse young men without openly insulting the women in the audience. Women, however, may be insulted in other ways: onscreen, they are rarely the ones who act up. They're usually solid and sane - good, loyal, colourless, hardworking girlfriends and wives. The genre, in its distribution of wildness, is conservative at heart." Concluding his review of "Hall Pass", he adds, "Perhaps the biggest insult to women here is the idea that they can't get better men than these two vacuous guys."

Elisabeth, thanks for that. Did you see this re-working of the dumb men commercials idea in The Mary Sue? (She thanks WCI and provides a link at the bottom). She really brought out these themes in an interesting way.

Stupid Man commercials reflect unfortunately what is actually there psychologically and sociologically in most of human beings' minds not exactly stereotypes...The problem is that those commercials just perpetuate those conditions...

Frances: "On the gender issue: it's a big debate, do women choose low value majors, or are these majors low value *because* they're chosen by women? I'm hoping to do some research on that question at some point."

Marc Frenette and I worked on this issue in Has Higher Education among
Young Women Substantially Reduced the Gender Gap in Employment and Earnings? (2007) . There might be something of interest to you in there.

Among other things, we looked at the log-earnings gaps for university educated 25 to 29 years old working full-time/full-year in the 1981/1991/2001 censuses, and separated the gap in two parts: the part explained by an OLS model on the log-earnings (field of study, marital status, # of children, province, rural/urban characteristics, weeks worked) and the unexplained part.

In 2001, the log-earning gap for university educated was 0.1608. (or 16%-ish) Less than half was explained the difference in characteristics(0.0666) and most of this was explained by the difference in the fields of study (0.0564).

Another way to say it: women earn less, even when they study in the same field.

We looked at full-year, full-time workers (i.e., they worked at least 40 weeks in a paid job in the previous year, and were
employed mainly full-time throughout the year, or 30 hours per week or more on average) who earned at least $5,000 (in 2000 constant dollars) in paid earnings in the previous year. Self-employed workers were also dropped from the sample.

We also looked at the evolution of the gap between 1981-1991 and between 1991-2001.
"The gap declined by about 5 percentage points in the 1980s, which was primarily explained by changing composition. It is worth noting that unexplained factors accounted for a substantial portion of the decline as well. Although there was no change in the gap in the 1990s, changing composition again contributed towards a decline in the gap, albeit less so than in the 1980s"

Another gap that we looked at is the difference in the probability to be working full time.

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