Real Men Don’t Cook

26 Feb

Despite women’s increased presence in the workplace in the last 50 years, the image that we are fed of the “typical” (white, middle-class) American family is that at 6:30pm, dad is home from work, mom has cooked dinner, and the kids are coming downstairs, abandoning their homework for a family dinner. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the reality is not so far off: unemployed women spent nearly 3 times longer than men doing “household activities” such as housework, food preparation, and lawn and garden care. [1] This figure does not include other home upkeep-related variables, such as “Purchasing goods and services” (groceries, etc.), “Caring for and helping household members,” or “Travel.” Society teaches us that this is how the world should be. Men should work. Women should cook. KFC, in the advertisement below, perpetuates this message.

KFC: Introducing: Mom’s Night Off Feast. “Take the night off mom!” Triple chocolate mud pie. Cheese sticks (New).

With this ad, KFC perpetuates the messages that men hear all their lives: that women deserve our charity (as if dad, “preparing” dinner, is giving mom a gift) and that housework is for women (men who cook are feminine). It’s no surprise that the deal expires a day after Mother’s Day. The ad manipulates fathers into thinking that they will be touted as great husbands if they bring home dinner on this one day when children and husbands feel obligated to pamper mom. Ironically, I feel like many mothers would be offended if, on Mother’s Day, dad brought home deep-fried chicken, deep-fried mozzarella sticks, deep-fried potatoes, a sugar-laden cake, a ramekin of gravy that hardly looks edible, and – deep in the back – a little container of mayonnaise-drenched cabbage posing as a vegetable. (And a Diet Coke, because it’s mom’s favorite). Thanks, but no thanks, hubby.

 Seeing this ad made me feel angry. As someone who loves to cook (and did so tonight for his partner), I’m ashamed and terrified that there are men out there who take this ad seriously. Ashamed because we share so much, terrified because ultimately, such sexist thinking harms both men and women. Men lose because we’re taught to think that bringing home KFC means that we contributed to the family in a meaningful way. Women lose because many children will be more happy with KFC than with the previous night’s dinner, which mom prepared: chicken, rice, and brocolli. Dad becomes the hero, mom becomes boring. This can affect the husband-wife dynamic, too. Thinking that he helped out his wife so much (while fattening up her kids and spending more money than she would have), dad will leave that dinner feeling pretty proud of himself, perhaps entitled to a reward for his sacrifice. Mom, in contrast, may feel guilty for not being happy (or being offended) by her husband’s good intentions, or angry for reasons previously stated.

Could KFC have produced a more responsible ad that affirms the hard work mom does while resisting the urge to perpetuate gender stereotypes? Yes. Alternative messages could have been around “Celebrate mom/Celebrate family” or, targetting moms,  “This Mother’s Day, take the night off.”. This message would acknowledge the fact that in most families, mom does more housework than dad does.

Yet I’m left with questions: would such an ad reinforce the stereotype that the woman’s “place” is in the kitchen? And, how can we responsibly bring dads into the equation?

[1] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/atus2.pdf

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One Response to “Real Men Don’t Cook”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Last and Worst: Rules for Men « The Conscious Man - April 27, 2011

    […] nurses and social workers. They’re in the way we talk about cars, male friendships, illness, cooking (twice), and interior design. And they come from everywhere: the media, our parents, the news, […]

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