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The new gender gap? 'In the life of young Peppa Pig, Daddy Pig is ridiculous'

The image of the silly, dumb man is too prevalent on our screens, writes Joyce Rubotham.

Joyce Rubotham Mother, writer, blogger

FIFTY SHADES OF Grey was back on the screen recently. The fantasy is even more extraordinary than ever because marriage is on the table.

Mr Grey is the man who seeks a contractual partner for sex. He wants a woman who will come to his home on weekends only. There will be no dates, no flowers, no bed-sharing, no embraces or late night chats.

When our heroine Anna asks what’s in it for her, the reply from Christian Grey is “me”.

And so begins the tale of a heroine who submits (excuse the pun) to sex in the hope of being rewarded with a fulfilling relationship. The greatest fantasy of all is not the red room. It’s the notion that Mr Grey’s exploitative self-serving proposition could lead to a happy marriage.

Why is Grey so compelling?

Looking at the popularity of this series, it is clear that EL James has tapped into something. What is it about Christian Grey that makes his zero-romance courtship so compelling?

Christian Grey is self-assured, confident and independent. Here is a man who can think for himself, make his own decisions and money. He knows himself and knows what he wants. He is the ultimate alpha male and he is a complete novelty for the 21st century woman.

Haven’t we seen an almost complete U-turn in the attitudes towards men and women in mainstream media and advertising? It’s no longer acceptable to portray women as helpless, weak or dumb.

But what about the image of the dumb man? You know the one I mean, the man who can’t multi-task, never listens and is perennially wrong? That image is too prevalent.

Cartoon males 

Parents of young toddlers who enjoy the children’s cartoon Peppa Pig know what I mean. In the classic family life of young Peppa Pig, Daddy Pig is ridiculous.

Daddy Pig is chronically misled, repeating one misdemeanour after another only to be corrected by the all-knowing, all-wise Mummy Pig. In effect Daddy Pig is reduced to the level of the third child in the family. He is not a grown-up on equal terms with his wife.

Daddy Pig is not alone. King Thistle is a character who appears to have been inspired by a cantankerous toddler. Throughout each episode of the British series Ben and Holly’s Kingdom, King Thistle, the only father figure of the cast, complains and moans.

He hates taking a bath and is always hungry. Nanny Plum is the real voice of authority and wisdom in the kingdom.

Even Batman has been updated 

Even Batman, the traditional bastion of male strength and honour has taken a 21st century turn for the worst. Lego Batman is moody, narcissistic and reckless.

He presents as an irresponsible father, casually adopting and neglecting an adoring orphan.

In 1940, Batman was an adult. In 2017 Lego Batman appears to need parenting himself. He is no more than a petulant child who is chastised by the bossy police commissioner, Barbara.

It’s an attempt at humour, and it works. But why is male authority the subject of ridicule?

These derogatory portrayals of men are damaging, to both men and women

They lower overall expectations of men and promote women as the ultimate authority figures.

The frightening truth is that these representations are regularly reinforced in daily life. Women play a disproportionate role as figures of authority in the lives of young children.

Pre-school teachers are almost universally female. In Irish schools, women make up 74% of teachers. As young girls continue to outperform boys in school exams and at university a new gender gap might be developing.

It seems that we don’t, as a society, expect much from men.

We should not therefore, be surprised if young girls of the Peppa Pig generation don’t have high expectations of a husband or partner.

A man who takes charge

Cue the novelty of a character like Christian Grey. A man who takes charge. He has the edge over the fumbling fool many woman see depicted in the media.

As the plot of Fifty Shades unfolds we see that there are no men available to match Christian Grey’s strength and confidence. The other male characters who compete for Anna’s attention appear immature and unable to handle themselves, the Daddy Pigs of this world.

So, Anna does what any modern girl might do. She settles; she accepts a contract-based, calculating relationship with little to offer her in terms of romance or affection.

Lowering our expectations of men makes any man with a smattering of strength seem like an interesting option, even the emotionally damaged Christian Grey.

Anna might be so eager to have a partner of equal strength to her own that she’ll take him anyway she can get him. A partner of equal strength in a relationship of unequal terms.

Is equality of the sexes dead and gone? Yes, it’s in the grave.

Joyce Rubotham is a mother, writer and blogger. She blogs at Diary of a Wimpy Woman.

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Joyce Rubotham  / Mother, writer, blogger

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