A lot of people are calling these ads sexist. While I agree with that statement, I think that what is more interesting is the fact that they are trying to appeal to men who feel emasculated. (Similar to Dockers’ “Wear the Pants” campaign) . They’re saying: men, you’ve been forced into situations that have taken away your masculinity, and we can help. Now, Super Bowl ads have always been controversial, but this year the tone that stresses emasculation is unique, I think. So why now? What makes the advertising business feel that men have been emasculated now in particular?
I think it may have something to do with the so-called “mancession,” the fact that the recession seems to be hitting men harder than women. According to that article in The Atlantic, because men tend to work in more volatile industries than women (they fill 9 out of every 10 construction jobs), 80% of job losses in the past two years have been male. But according to The Family Inequality blog, even though the number of married couples with children in which only the wife was employed increased by 37% in one year – from 1.4 million to 1.9 million- only 7.4% of families live with women as the sole provider. Men acting as the only breadwinner is still four times more common.
So yes, men have been harder hit by the recession and women now hold 49.1% of jobs (almost there!), but it seems that men can still feel that they support their families. So where’s the emasculation? Perhaps it stems from the fact that society has developed in such a way that job loss hits men in a more emotional way than women. In a New York Times article on the subject, Terrence Real, a family therapist, says that he has seen a 20% increase in men seeking therapy because of the economic recession. He attributes this to the fact that
Everyone who has written about male psychology has acknowledged that men base their sense of self on the maxim that ‘I have worth because of what I do.’ The feeling is that “you are only as good as your last game or your last job.”
Basically, he says that men need their jobs for validation. Similarly, A British study last March showed that “job insecurity causes more symptoms of anxiety and depression in men than in women.”
So there seems to be something going on here. Whether or not men really are the breadwinners anymore, they seem to have a bigger fear of losing that source of self-esteem and power in the family than women. And the media seems to have picked up on that insecurity, and is preying on it. (Which is very clever, actually.) The ads aren’t great for women: they show us as annoying, controlling nags who are a burden on manhood. But those types of ads have always been around, and while I don’t like them they probably always will be. (It’s the Super Bowl, after all—think about the target audience). What is new is the idea that the ads reflect the growing sense of loss and a need for fulfillment in the male community, something I blogged about in relation to the Jewish community and that people (me included) are still unsure how to deal with. Is this what happens as gender roles change?