Media representations of the relationships between men and women reflect and reinforce cultural norms and beliefs. For many years, there has been a trend for TV commercials to depict men as wrong, bad, stupid, lazy, clumsy idiots in need of a woman to set them straight. Women in these commercials are presented as smart and active authorities. Women’s controlling, demeaning, and punishing treatment of men is portrayed as expected and justified.
If these characterizations of the relative qualities of men and women and how they interact with each other were rare, they could be discounted as not telling us much. It’s the frequency of the depictions that reveals their significance. The lack of reverse scenarios also is revealing. We are not likely to see a company using a man demeaning or slapping a woman as a way to promote its product.
In a commercial for a low-calorie soda, a woman who appears to be the wife of a man admiring a pie comes up behind the man and abruptly pushes his head into the pie.
In the next scene, she pulls back the shower curtain to expose him hiding, attempting to eat a burger. She grabs the burger out of his mouth and pushes in a bar of soap.
The scene cuts to her sitting down beside him on a park bench. He’s drinking the low-calorie soda being promoted in the commercial. She looks at him approvingly, as she is drinking the same beverage herself.
A pretty woman sits down on the next bench. When the man looks at the woman with appreciation, his wife hurls her soda can at him. He ducks and the can hits the pretty woman instead of him. It hits her in the head hard enough to knock her over. The wife looks shocked and worried, portraying that she realizes that she could get in trouble for hitting the other woman. The husband and wife run away from the park together.
The wife is worried about getting into trouble for hitting the other woman, but it doesn’t seem like she was worried about negative repercussions if she hit her husband with the soda can.
This woman is controlling, demanding, humiliating, overly jealous, and physically abusive to her husband, yet the beverage company obviously thought it would attract people to buy their product. Would a company even contemplate this commercial script if the genders were reversed? What does it say about our culture that this female-male relationship is seen as something that could leave a good taste in anyone’s mouth?
While I was working on the cultural sanction of female-on-male partner abuse sections of my book, I saw yet another of these commercials that glorifies females dominating over males. The commercial opens with a middle-aged woman gardening in a nice neighborhood. Her younger self appears and reminds her how she used to reward herself with the advertised cupcake when she finished a task.
The woman excitedly drops her flowers and runs to the kitchen, where she finds her husband just about to take a bite of a cupcake. She grabs the treat out of her husband’s hand and declares, “You can have one when you finish cleaning out the garage.”
They’re not done yet. In the next shot, as the woman sits relaxing, enjoying the cupcake she confiscated from her husband, her younger self says to her, “You should get him to do the attic, too.” The two age-versions of the woman fistbump each other to confirm what a great idea it is for her to control and demean her husband, doling out the rules and rewards.
These commercials that use the woman-lording-over-a-man format contribute to, and expose, the invisibility of the abuse of men by women. We are acclimatized to it. We expect it. We find it amusing.
At a gathering of local writers, the guest of honor was a petite, distinguished-looking, silver-haired woman who has published many books and had several of her works turned into movies. I was introduced to her at the same time as a couple of other people. We all stood in close proximity, explaining our areas of interest for our writing.
I told them I was writing books on communication skills, relationship skills, and the abuse of men by women. The accomplished guest author blurted out: “When it’s a movie, I want to play the woman. There are a couple of men I’d like to abuse.” This woman, who clearly knows how to use words and choose them wisely, had no shame or second thought in asserting her support of abuse of men in front of a number of strangers in a professional setting.
Unfortunately, that author’s attitude is widespread. Even more unfortunately, the pro-abuse stance regarding women abusing men has also infiltrated the professions in the best position to counsel the abused and the abusers.
A social worker asked me about my counseling work. I said that I work with adult men and women as individuals and couples, and that my areas of expertise include the abuse of men by women. Her response: “The pendulum just has to swing in that way because men have abused women.”
I totally disagree with this stance. Just because some women have been, and are, treated badly by male partners does not mean that it should be open season on men. The pendulum does not have to swing freely until it happens to settle into a balanced position. We are human beings with brains and free will. We can create balance if we choose to.
A healthy society doesn’t condone the abuse of anyone: man, woman, or child.