The “Doofy Husband” Trope

A SYTYCB entry

My dad constantly points it out, especially when we’re talking about sexist tropes in media. There are countless cartoons and sitcoms where the husband is an idiot. In fact, there are movies like that too nowadays. It’s pervasive, it’s definitely a problem, and it’s a clear example that sexism against men does happen.

Al Bundy on Married with Children is often acknowledged as the first “doofy” TV husband, turning the tables and starting the trend. However, the show still had a similarly lazy and stupid, frivolous and shallow – albeit conventionally pretty – wife and mother.

But I realized something the other day. These idiot husbands – often also fat, lazy, and completely immature – are often accompanied by incredibly mature, gorgeous, and often overbearing wives. The women run the household and make all the tough decisions, they’re always “right,” their husbands are always “wrong,” and it is their job to be the smart, mature, responsible spouse because their husbands are incapable of doing so. They’re also often emasculating dream-squashers. The kind men routinely complain about in comedy routines when they insist that marriage is the worst thing ever.

The Simpsons continued this trend, but with the Simpsons the trope evolved to include a tolerant and nurturing wife who may have gotten peeved at him, but at the end of each episode reminded him that no matter how much of a lazy moron he was, she’d still love him.

Even when the wife isn’t obviously overbearing or in control, she’s at the very least pretty, to the point where you wonder how a beautiful woman would possibly end up with an idiot like that. This is also popular in Hollywood comedies, particularly Judd Apatow movies. This trope alone – loser and hot wife/girlfriend – carries the message that a guy can be unattractive, fat, lazy, stupid, obtuse, and have a variety of other undesirable traits, and yet still manage to find an incredibly gorgeous woman who will tolerate all those things (though you may need to make some long winded speech acknowledging what an idiot you are at some point, to bring her to her knees and melting her cold heart) and handle all the adult stuff for you, occasionally reminding you to do some grownup things yourself. The message to women, on the other hand, is to be that woman. Don’t be a bitch with high standards; a good woman falls for the lovable moron and cleans up his messes while gently nudging him to grow up.

Knocked Up is the best example of this trope in a recent Hollywood movie, because even though they weren’t married, it carries the “loser guy/hot girl” dichotomy, and she constantly has to be the mature one as he keeps screwing up. Yet in the end, when the baby is born, all is magically forgiven and she learns to live with his immaturity. Just look at the two characters’ posture and demeanor.

The fact is, while these tropes – the idiot husband and nurturing, yet often dominant wife – are both man made. Literally. The vast majority of the shows that employ this trope are written and produced by men. The jokes these tropes produce are for men. They’re not empowering to women, they’re not there to remind women that they’re the ones in charge, they’re put in there to remind men how much women suck. Putting up one gender as the mature, intelligent one – whether it’s the man or woman – reinforces harmful gender roles in romantic, heterosexual relationships.

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.

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