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Dumb Dads: why are there so many male bashing commercials?

Dumb Dad Commercials
Dumb dad commercials: a recent TV advertisement for Cascade Platinum that portrays a man as an idiot

Why are men in commercials portrayed as idiots? Sexism against men isn’t a topic you hear a lot about, but it may be on the rise.

Men, are you so dumb you can’t work a dishwasher? So immature that your life revolves around sports and Doritos? The trend isn’t new, but television and advertising portrayals of men as clueless lunkheads seem to be the gift that keeps on giving —and it must, otherwise product hawkers would be taking a different approach, right?

But isn’t it time to put an end to these shenanigans? Men certainly can’t get much more idiotic than the low rung on the evolutionary ladder from which they’re currently swinging. It’s time for tougher national standards on advertisements that depict negative gender stereotyping.

Since first flickering into people’s homes some 60 years ago, television has been rife with dumb dads and adolescent spouses. From Ralph Kramden and Fred Flintstone through Tim Taylor, Ray Romano and Homer Simpson, the prevailing concept is one of a bumbling, slavish, spoiled little man-child who somehow, just by the skin of his teeth, avoids both divorce and social rejection by the end of each episode.

And commercials only up the ante, churning out insane images of men as domestically inept, sports ’n beer-obsessed Neanderthals.

Here, for example, is the 1st for Women insurance company saying men are stupid enough to drive their car over a cliff (and that’s why they only insure women).

Here is a detergent company telling us that guys don’t know how to wash dishes so you’d better use Cascade gel plugs. Men being idiots in advertising. ..

Think men aren’t stupid enough to try to pole vault the pool with one of those extended leaf skimmers? Apparently, they are that stupid.

Why are men always portrayed as idiots in advertising?

And the ads maligning men are having their effect, according to one survey last year which found that one in five men (20 per cent) agreed that advertising is too focused on portraying men as incompetent around the house and one in four (25 per cent) said that they find it hard to identify with men as they are portrayed in ads.

“The trend for using hyper-athletic male models and celebrities in advertising has grown significantly in recent years, giving rise to the term ‘Hunkvertising’ – and resulting in men today being just as sexualised in advertising campaigns as women,” said Jack Duckett, co-author of the report.

Writing on the survey for the Telegraph, Martin Daubney opined that the end result is a role reversal from mid-last-century. “Overall, this means that, increasingly, men in adverts are prized for their looks, but ridiculed for their brains – which is precisely where women were in the 1950s and ‘60s,” said Daubney.

Male Bashing on TV
A recent commercial portraying a man as too dumb to understand that Rakuten used to be called eBates.

Dr. Katherine Young is a professor emeritus of religious studies at McGill University in Montreal and co-author of a series of books on the treatment of men at the hands of modern Western society. Young’s focus is on misandry, defined as prejudice or contempt for men, and a parallel concept to the more well-known misogyny or hatred of women. While less in the public eye, misandry and men-bashing are at least now within the cultural conversation, says Young.

“When we first started out investigating this topic almost 20 years ago, no one knew what we were talking about, but at least now the word misandry is there, it’s in the dictionary,” says Young, in conversation with Cantech Letter.

Young says the negative portrayals of men in commercials have contributed to an attack on the male identity, making it more difficult for men today to figure out where their place is, not just in the home but in the workplace and society at large.

“There has to be a positive appreciation of man’s identity qua being men and that’s something that’s missing in our society,” she says. “Otherwise, every little boy grows up with negative stereotyping and they start dropping out of high school and university, which creates downward mobility for men and greater polarization between men and women.”

Below: Guess who farted at yoga?

But if it’s that socially damaging, why is it still legal —not to mention acceptable— for advertisers to pump out degrading images of men as either vapid beefcakes or incompetent boobs? Haven’t we learned anything from feminism and the sexual revolution about the harmful effects of sexism and stereotyping?

Part of the problem is that we, the viewers, are not all that bothered by such portrayals, at least not enough to change our purchasing habits. A study last year by Advertising Standards of Canada (ASC), the ad industry’s self-regulating body which puts out its own code on integrity in advertising, found that among the kinds of ads that Canadians judged to be unacceptable, sexist depictions are right up there with other no-no’s like racism and bullying. But when asked how they feel after watching a sexist commercial, less than half (46 per cent) said they felt annoyed and only nine per cent said they were either angry or outraged.

“We are always looking at consumer attitudes toward advertising, and this is one area that we thought wasn’t explored fully,” said Peter White, senior vice-president of operations at ASC, to the Globe and Mail. “The biggest surprise is the fact that consumers aren’t that angry.”


More of men in commercials being idiots…

In fact, more than half of those surveyed admitted that sexism in a product ad had either no impact or made they only “somewhat” less likely to buy a product —a conclusion that advertisers are surely keeping in mind as they continue to trot out their commercials with brain dead dads and bikini girls.

Can the male portrayal in advertising change?

But can the male portrayal in advertising change? Ditching the dumb dad commercial is possible. One example comes from the United Kingdom, where new rules have just been announced to crack down on sexist stereotypes in ads, with the target squarely on things like portrayals of men as idiotic buffoons and messages in weight-loss and beauty product commercials that “body shame” women.

Set up by Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority, the push, which has been called one of the most comprehensive reviews of gender stereotyping in advertising anywhere in the world, stems from a consideration of the impact that such stereotyping can have on children and youth in the formation of their gender concepts. Ads that portray a mother as the sole domestic worker, for example, will be singled out, along with ones that show men “trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.”

“Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children,” said Ella Smillie, lead author of the report, to the Guardian. “Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take. Tougher standards in the areas we’ve identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented.”

Doubtlessly, it will remain a difficult task to know which ads to pull on grounds of gender stereotyping and which to leave in — how stupid can that husband holding the vacuum cleaner be before he and it cross the line?

But it can be done. Just like we have standards for obscenity and marketing to children, we in Canada, too, can have tougher standards for negative portrayals of men and women.


More by Jayson MacLean…

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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  1. thank you for this very informative info . this is the reason why i hardly watch tv .

  2. Got rid of the TV long ago & very conscious about what movies and series I watch if any these days.

  3. They show men as fools because they can. Imagine the uproar by feminists and the boycotts if they did it to women. Men have become wimps that refuse or are afraid to defend their gender.

  4. Another troubling item is the portrayal of white males as simpletons, while a person of color and or a woman gaze upon disapprovingly. The latest Liberty Mutual auto insurance commercial comes to mind where a white male and black male are investigating an accident after a robbery. The white guy goes off line and is corrected by a female line coach, female director, while being filmed by another black male. The white male is the only one who is the idiot wasting everyone’s time. Open your eyes it’s very prevalent and surprisingly socially acceptable.

  5. What about the Liberty Mutual commercial where the pretty boy actor isn’t even smart enough to say Liberty Mutual and the woman director get frustrated and just say CUT we’ll dub it.

  6. This happens because men have lost their balls and dignity…feminized wimps who stand for nothing..godless & gutless

  7. I may be wrong here but I think women control much of the household buying decisions so it seems they like seeing men bashed as it makes them feel more empowered I have been trying to figure this out for maybe 30 years since I saw a Wagner Power Painter commercial where a woman, perfectly dressed, crushes a room in two minutes while the man of the house sits in The corner drooling covered in paint

  8. Gender bias is not the only issue against the white male. Look at home security systems advertising (CPI comes to mind in the US) as one example. White males are the only ones portrayed as breaking into someone’s home. Imagine the backlash if a person of color (regardless of gender) was cast in that role. I have watched this phenomenon over the past six years and have observed over 50 different tv ads (I stopped counting after 50) depicting the white male in a negative image. Enough is enough.

  9. It’s a growing trend as merchants are recognizing the purchasing potential of women. Most women believe men are useless fools, and therefore relate to the cited advertising themes. They’ll buy that stuff, and even households in which men participate more in household chores and shopping are statistically less likely to even notice these “microaggressions”, let alone respond negatively to them. As for contemporary sitcoms, the trend is likely just a predictable swing of the sociopolitical pendulum. Only a few decades ago strong, masculine, capable men were often featured with wives who were less worldly and less prominent if not bumbling and foolish. In those shows it was usually the children who provided the comic relief. I’ve noticed it for years and I’m just not-so-quietly waiting for the trend to swing back to the middle. After all, somebody HAS to be a fool to make a durable comedy. In a world in which everyone except straight white men are considered a minority and deserving of “protections”, it’s just going to be awhile before anyone can be the stereotypical fool besides straight white men.

  10. Totally agree with this. Total double standard. Make women look stupid and the torches and pitch forks are out.
    Making men look stupid is okay. There is no equality…

  11. Oddly, this is one of the few good articles about the stupidity of commercials. I’m commenting on 1 January 2021, and the issue of stupid commercials hasn’t changed for the past three decades. Oddly, this article is also one of the few newer articles, less than 10 years old, on the subject. I’m a bit sad that it proclaims to expose dads as stupid: it’s clearly a study of misanthropy in ads. (Sorry, the word “misandry” is just…wrong.) Happily, it addresses the misogyny spanning the entire history of American ads. I’m thinking of writing a book about the entire phenomenon of “retarding” the characters who appear in our ads.

  12. I’ve seen it for years in commercials, sitcoms even crime shows. I quit watching TV. Every criminal in those crime shows end up being a white male, even though they are in Chicago or Detroit, where black male crime is high. The white male is always the idiot. Even a commercial with kids, they hardly put a white little kid in there and when they do, he’s not as smart as the rest. Even though white males, throughout history invented most everything, on the front lines in all the wars, when there’s a natural disaster, look at who comes to everyone’s rescue and risks their lives. White males. They’re getting a bad rap.

  13. Perhaps a campaign aimed at the male actors who are prepared to humiliate themselves (and every other white male) in these sexist ads is in order. I know that most actors will appear in anything if there’s money involved, but If men start refusing to appear in these kinds of ads we might start seeing some changes.

  14. Might it start the response if we all decided to purchase from all those companies who support equal positive representation. We can speak with our dollars. No Kia car purchases, no CTV watching( news just has girls interviewed guess there are no white boys in playgrounds), no Good Food deliveries, etc. One only has to watch and not support these companies. Profits and dollars matter.

  15. Finally some recognition on hate towards men. Google sexism and its just about women. I’m sick to death of watching films where 95% of the baddies and extras are males and just get beat up, killed, ridiculed etc by other men or women. Even kids films show men getting in the balls as a joke. Show a women getting kicked in the vagina and imagine the complaints flying in! Needs to stop or if this is what ppl find entertaining then it needs to be even.

  16. On a related topic… Did you know that *every* family in the world is either headed by a gay or mixed race couple? The television tells me so! The virtue signaling is making me nauseous. Get over yourselves Target, Walmart, and every other company that advertises…

  17. “The biggest surprise is the fact that consumers aren’t that angry.”
    That is a blatant lie for a start! The real reason, in the UK at least, and it must be the case in all western countries, is that the anger, which is as real as the damage, is that the Advertising Standards Authority deliberately ignores complaints of misandry no matter how many people complain. And that is perpetrated by a man! It’s time to force him and the ASA to stop the misandry. NOW!

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