by Justin Rosario
Last Thursday was #NationalMenMakeDinnerDay, a hashtag I hadn't seen before. My first reaction was casual dismissal. As a stay at home parent and the better cook in our marriage, I do most of the cooking in the Rosario household. But something about it kept drawing my eye back to it as Twitter sat open on the second monitor to my left and after a few minutes I realized what it was: National Men Make Dinner Day presumes that men don't regularly make dinner because men don't know how to cook or that they leave it to women. I've known how to cook since before I hit puberty so I found this to be several kinds of offensive.
And like an idiot, I clicked the link to see if that's how people were treating it:
Oh, you know how hapless and stupid men are in the kitchen. Thank goodness for takeout, am I right, ladies? Pure hilarity.
The upside is that more people were bashing the concept than supporting it but holy hell the sexism is galling!
I know that as a man, the amount of sexism I'm subjected to is vanishingly small compared to women, especially in my day to day life. I don't get catcalls walking down the street. I don't get called "Sweet cheeks" or "Sugar tits". No one tries to pinch my ass. On the rare instances where those things do actually happen, I don't feel threatened so much as amused.
Still, when I watch TV and movies, more often than not, "men as morons" is the order of the day when it comes to "women stuff" and it's demeaning.
We've already seen that men cooking is a great source of hilarity because modern kitchens are just so darn confounding! Sure, it can elicit a laugh, but that doesn't make it acceptable to treat men as bumbling idiots because it makes women feel superior. That's literally the point of the "ditzy blonde" gag as well as "girls can't do math", "women are too emotional", "she's on the rag" and any number of stereotypes that depict women as incompetent. Last I looked, the resistance to these portrayals of women is rapidly reaching a tipping point. But not, apparently, portraying men as idiots.
Another trope along these lines is men "freaking out" when a woman goes into labor. I let it slide when it's not their partner and they don't have kids of their own because there's no expectation of preparation or experience. On the other hand, we still see TV and movie husbands and boyfriends lose their cool the second the water breaks because it's not like they've had 9 months to get ready for this or anything.
Possibly the most egregious examples of this were in Fox's popular series Bones. Two characters, Seeley Booth (played by David Boreanaz) and Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyne) both panicked when their partners went into labor. Booth was a former Army Ranger and current FBI Special Agent and had been in numerous life and death situations. Hodgins was one of the smartest forensic scientists on the planet. Watching both of them be reduced to bumbling stereotypes was insulting, particularly since Booth already had a son and Hodgins had, by this point in the series, been buried alive by a serial killer.
This trope bothers me the most because it has real world implications that can be dangerous. Men that allow themselves to be influenced by the "role models" they watch may someday find themselves unable to get their shit together in an emergency when their pregnant partner needs them most.
The sexism doesn't stop at birth, of course. While no one is really prepared for the reality of having a baby for the first time, changing a diaper really isn't rocket science. Unless you're a Hollywood male (excuse the low quality video, it's the best I could find):
Meanwhile, my 7-year-old daughter figured out how to change the exact replica diaper on her doll in less than 5 minutes without help. Maybe she can give tips to Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg. I know I watched "Three Men and a Baby" over 25 years ago and found it funny. I have a feeling that watching it today would simply raise my blood pressure to alarming levels.
A third way men are regularly denigrated isn't even just on TV and is one I've had personal experience with. For some reason, when some women see a man with a stroller/infant/toddler by himself, they have this need to comment about how nice it is that he's "babysitting" his kids. As if because I'm a man, spending time with my children is not "parenting" but only "babysitting."
I suppose this is my version of "Hey cutie, you should smile more"; unsolicited comments that make me feel less than simply because of my gender.
None of this is meant to be "whataboutism" when it comes to sexism against women. That's the kind of crap that Men's Rights Activists use to excuse their obnoxious behavior. Just because women used to tell me I was "babysitting" (that stopped when the kids got older for some reason), doesn't mean I get to whistle at their ass when they walk by. This isn't an exercise in, ahem, tit for tat.
But it's important to recognize that sexism isn't confined to just one gender or that being the victim of an "-ism" (racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, etc.) doesn't mean that you can't be the perpetrator against someone else without even realizing it. Think about that the next time you growl at the ditzy blonde character but laugh at the clueless dad in the kitchen.