The Bumbling Man: Reinforcing Male Stereotypes

The bumbling man and/or dad—if you’ve watched a sitcom chances are you know him.  He almost always does something wrong during any given episode; his most common offenses include lying, forgetting, breaking, ruining dinner, or saying the wrong thing.  The wife or woman is often smart as a tack, well-balanced and all-knowing.  She comes through the door with kids in tow and groceries in hand to find that "dad" couldn’t even handle the simple task of putting the lasagna in the oven to heat up (the stupid male let it sit out on the counter, fed it to the dog, used it as a chair cushion—the more absurdly moronic the better).  He is chided, belittled, and given a kiss—she still loves her husband even if he is a stupid man.

Now of course, I’m generalizing.  There are sitcoms out there where the man isn’t a complete moron, or the wife is a bit dumb as well.  But I see a disturbing proclivity of men who simply cannot handle a task if it doesn’t involve sports or drinking.  This is a direct reciprocal of the stereotype that women can’t handle anything that is outside of fashion or caring for the home.  The airhead wife has been replaced by the bumbling dad.  And the problem isn’t restricted to the realm of sitcoms.

Through my own personal experiences, I have seen women echoing the male stereotype message conveyed on tv—men are dumb, shallow slobby simpletons who can’t be relied upon to do something right.  At best, men are just a little more dull-minded, possessing a mind that is permanently stuck to one of four channels:  sports, sex, cars or video games.

Many women would likely agree to the bumbling man stereotype with a laugh and a nod of the head.  I sense an air of righteous retribution in the smirking agreement that follows around the stereotype, and it is disheartening to think that a turn-of-the-table has been packaged and accepted as a step forward.

Ultimately, that the bumbling man stereotype is not sternly denounced by the feminist movement only feeds into the problems they aim to fight.  For if the feminist movement and women in general are seen as belittling and divested of the positive male, there is little incentive to meet in the middle.  In fact, it may cause or has caused a backlash from the male population in which stereotypes are embraced and encouraged.  The net result is a more stereotypical male population and less positive progressive male role models to turn to or aspire to.

Obviously, not all feminists or women embrace the bumbling man stereotype, and I am not arguing that all negative women stereotypes have been eliminated (far from it).  But is my belief that the feminist movement should be sternly and vocally against negative male stereotypes just as strongly as they would be against a similar negative female stereotype—and I don’t see it. 

Maybe I’m naive, but I believe that if the feminist movement was seen more as an safe-haven for progressive males as much as it was for women—that they had the same support-system—that we would see improvement in greater numbers.  Males need to bring about the change themselves as well, of course, but when other males celebrate the stereotype and women are seen to validate and reinforce it, the room can feel pretty empty.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Join the Conversation