The XX Factor

Portraying Men As Stupid to Undermine Women

Man vacuuming.

Are men naturally hapless at household chores?

Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

It’s a truism in feminist circles that no one hates men more than anti-feminists, and it’s a truism two recent items from the notoriously anti-feminist conservative rag Daily Mail demonstrate neatly. The Daily Mail has a tendency to portray men as hapless dogs who, being more beast than human, can no more be expected to respect women’s rights than Sparky can be taught to use the toilet. (Cats, on the other hand….) Unfortunately, other outlets tend to pick up the Daily Mail’s man-bashing anti-feminism as if it’s light-hearted fluff, and these two stories are no different.

Story number one portrays men as too stupid to dress themselves. No, literally. From the Yahoo coverage: 

“Apparently two thirds of men rely on their wife or significant other to choose their work clothes for them. Half of those surveyed admitted to also being physically dressed by their partner, such as helping put on their tie.”

The story goes on to say that 30 percent of men are dressed by their mothers and another 17 percent by their mothers-in-law. But it’s worth noting that the study was conducted not by sociologists, but by a website whose purpose is to guide men’s fashion choices. Stylepilot wants to shame men into using their services. At least that goal is a teeny bit less offensive than the Daily Mail’s usual hammering at women, telling us that we simply can’t have hopes and dreams of our own, because that cuts in to the time that we need to dress our overgrown man-children. Yes, I’m skeptical that the majority of grown men can’t dress themselves. It’s particularly insulting when you remember that men’s clothes tend to be simpler than women’s clothes, especially when it comes to what to wear to work.

Story number two is slightly more plausible, but still should cause readers to be skeptical. The claim this time is that women spend hours every week redoing chores their menfolk screwed up. The conclusion, of course, is that men should be relieved of housework duty, because clearly only women can do it right. It’s mildly more believable this time because, unfortunately, the tactic of doing a chore badly so that you get out of having to do it in the future is one that is not unknown as a weapon some men use against women in the housework wars. (And we wonder why the divorce rate is so high.) Of course, the article claims that the women believe the men mean well but are simply failures, suiting the Daily Mail’s narrative that men are made for the public life and women for scrubbing floors. The willingness of anti-feminists to accept the narrative that men are stupid, if it gets them out of chores, is seemingly boundless.

Still, there’s a strong reason to take this study with a grain of salt. As with the prior one, this study was conducted by a business that has an overt interest in the outcome of the study. In this case, it’s Sainsbury’s, a grocery chain in Britain. Grocery stores have a strong interest in preventing a shift in gender norms that gives women more freedom outside of the home and requires men to take more responsibility in it. The entire marketing strategy of grocery stores is to assume a female homemaker–whether employed outside the home or not–and if men start actually doing their share around the house, that marketing strategy will have to shift, costing grocery stores a great deal of money and effort. After all, grocery stores have convinced themselves that marketing to men as well as women is some kind of horrible nightmare that requires completely reworking every facet of your business (as opposed to something simple, like just showing men in ads for food and household products), and so there’s a strong incentive for them to convince women to do all the chores and shopping themselves. If that means disparaging men’s basic ability to run a vacuum cleaner, so be it.