What women want

Aibo_as_dog There is a great article in Brandweek on what women want.  Lots of experts are surveyed, including Michelle Miller, author of The Soccer Mom Myth, Ann Mack (JWT), Suzanne Kolb (E!), Adam Rockmore (ABC Daytime), Dan Suratt (Lifetime), Linda Landers (Girlpower*), Kelley Skoloda (Ketchum), Jack Bamberger and Nancy Weber (Meredith 360), an all-star contingent, to be sure.  (Hats off to Marilyn Moore for assiduous research.)

There has been formidable change in the way in which women think about themselves.    If we want a single measure of this change (something people can look back on in a hundred years and treat as a marker) we could do worse that focus on the new tag for Oxygen Media: "Live out loud." 

When you think about how much of our culture was once devoted to persuading women to" live in quiet," this is an interesting development.  Our culture once insisted that women not declare their intelligence, their initiative, or their sexuality.  There were very substantial punishments for those who dared break the "live in quiet" rule.  That someone like Oxygen Media can choose as their motto, "Live out loud" says that our culture is changing especially here. 

But here’s the line that really jumped out at me:

Paradoxically, one effective way to reach women consumers is to be nicer to men.  some advertising has replaced the "dumb blonde" stereotype with a "dumb husband."  And that offends women. 

"Husband-bashing is a really tired trend," says Kristin Petrick, director of strategy of SheHive.  "I consider my husband my partner, and yet I see a lot of commercials aimed at women that make out husbands to be "the stupid male in your life."  I don’t think that’s a very powerful message for women." 

I agree entirely that this is a trend we have seen a lot of from the creative world.  But I am not sure that the dumb husband is an idea created by advertising.  As I have argued in this blog on a couple of occasions, the "dumb husband" was a role I think men carved out for themselves.  (See my post, as below, "Who let the dogs out.") 

I think that some men decided, now that women had new  demands to make of them, the best idea was to present themselves as great, big Labradors, good hearted, not very smart, just barely housebroken and inclined to lead with their appetites and not their brains.  It was an adapative strategy, because, hey, it’s pretty hard to stay mad at your laborador.  I mean, really, he can’t help himself. 

I would love to think that these comments from Moore and Petrick are a first indication that men are finally given up this dopey, demeaning transformation.  I mean, yes, Labradors are lovable, but that’s pretty much all they are.  After awhile, it starts to wear a little thin. 

(I speak on behalf of all males to all males and I do so with a positively canine self assurance.)


McCracken, Grant.  2004.  Who let the dogs out.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  May 13, 2004.  here

Moore, Marilyn A.  2008.  What Women Want: The new terms of engagement.  Brandweek.  Vol. XLIX, no. 18, May 5, 2008, p. 58.

6 thoughts on “What women want

  1. GirlPie

    Thanks for a male’s POV on what we call ‘The RAYMOND Syndrome’ (after “Everybody Loves Raymond”, the sitcom about the sweet boob played by Ray Romano.) I wonder if these “big pups” are working it, as I notice that my Boypie loads the dishwasher so poorly that I take over so the dishes will get clean… lazy like a fox, I’m thinking.

    Your point that this ‘dumb hubby’ insults the women who choose these men is a good one. But it is coming from advertisers; a client called with a brand that’s selling a “universal flaw” we women-of-a-certain-age (over 29!) must deal with: a bad hair day — horrors! Yes, it happens to all of us, but no, it’s not a great example of our value/priorities/etc.

    Thanks for getting us thinking.

  2. Andrew McMillen

    Those are some pretty gross generalisations you’ve got going on here, Grant. Nonetheless, as the previous commenter wrote, thanks for initiating the discussion.

  3. peter spear

    grant, as ever, i’m absolutely on board with the observations around gender here. the labrador analogy is apt and, as you say, most likely a defense mechanism. i’ve found in my research that post-feminist men really don’t have all that much access to masculine imagery or language that does not, in fact, reference or reinforce a pro-women ideology. which is only meant to identify the lack of a fluent or comfortable way of being pro-men, which is a pretty startling indication of disempowerment. (in my mind).

    there is resistance on all sides to any level of complexity or nuance and a generalized inability to see past blunt notions of power and appetite. i recently had a young man in conversation indicate that after a one-night stand experience he worried, in the morning, that she would think he was a mistake. “you are the mistake?” I asked. “Yeah.”

    My client dismissed this young man as lacking in self-confidence, never mind the audience in attendance and the room full of strangers around him.

  4. peter spear

    in thinking about my previous post i recognized that i ended it abruptly and with an inappropriate tone which is, i guess, indicative of the sensitivity of the issue. my experience has taught me that it is very difficult for us to allow room for a beneficial outcome of masculine creativity and power.

    i have found that when an articulate and thoughtful man (even in the context of market research) speaks of creativity and emotional vulnerability, it is a very difficult thing, indeed, to reconcile it with our notions of masculine power, productivity, contribution, and creativity.

  5. Seth Goodkind

    I would argue that women are still not allowed to “live out loud” except where it fits into the patriarchally acceptable model of female liberation. Co-opted feminism as it were.
    Reknowned feminist bell hooks would probably argue (and I would agree) something along the lines that the fact that people complain about, or notice that the Raymond archetype exists is because in a patriarchal culture, it is considered normal for a male to be the domestic dominator. No one would bat an eye if Ray was emotionally browbeating his wife all the time, thats standard for our culture. Just like female serial killers, Aileen Wuornos for example, around whom huge media attention was generated by the fact that she was a woman. Gary Ridgeway killed over 48 women, but men killing women (particularly sex workers) is par for the course with patriarchy.

    hooks, bell. The Will to Chnage: Men Masculinity and Love. New York. Washington Square Press, 2004

    Wikipedia.org. Online. 20 May 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aileen_Wournos

    Wikipedia.org. Online. 20 May 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Ridgeway

  6. Ricardo Amaral

    I think this pervasive image is particularly strong in US sitcoms (it’s not just about Everybody Loves Raymond, but we can track back to King of Queens, Friends, Simpsons, Flintstones and even on an extreme basis, Married with Children). This is not true in Brazil, at least. For once, women are still playing more of a old-fashioned feminine role, but as mischievously pulling men’s strings. It’s definitely more colourful than what usually comes up from protestant countries, where women are either very strong, self-assured and culturally interested, or just plain dumb and waiting for their hero.
    A bit of simplification, but the point is that it is a very cultural subject, difficult to place as one thing only.

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