This is the time of year when you become inundated with commercials, backed by a popular Christmas carol (it’s particularly ironic when it’s a religious one), suggesting that the only way to your [insert: significant other/spouse/child/friend/cousin/dog]’s heart is through the wise purchase of a specific product. As if your unconditional love is actually conditionally attributed to the types — and price, especially if it’s expensive — of your material gift.
In a particularly irritating ad running locally, a jewelry company tries to convince you that expensive jewelry will earn you the “husband of the year” award not only with your wife, but also all her jealous and gold-digging friends. The plot of this Christmas gift-giving unfolds as you listen in on the conversations between a wife and her female friend and a husband and his male friend. This commercial hits all the stereotypical comments about male and female relations:
1. Men are clueless when Christmas shopping and especially inept when it comes to their wives (who are supposed to be the person on the planet to whom they are closest!).
2. Women love diamonds or expensive jewelry so you must get some for her so that she can be the envy of all her friends.
3. A man’s worth as a husband is based on his financial status and ability to decorate his woman in sparkly jewelry.
4. Women talk a lot and gossip and it’s annoying.
In the first bit of dialog, we hear a man talking to another man, the sound of bowling balls crashing in the background to let you know that these men are talking amidst their man’s night out together because obviously bowling is a man’s activity (forget that I bowled every Sunday for an entire year with my best friend when she lived in Cleveland and played on a bowling league… and it was our girl’s night out activity). I can almost hear Tim Allen grunting in the background as the guy in the commercial brags about how he presented his gift to his wife and she was “speechless.”
“Laura? Speechless?” remarks the man in exaggerated disbelief.
Both men chuckle. Yes, Laura was speechless. A woman, speechless, of all things. Remarkable. Ha, ha, we get it. Because, you know, all women yack endlessly and must be tuned out when they do so.
The second bit of dialog takes Laura’s perspective as she — yes, of course — yacks to her friend. Because, hell, that’s what women do, you know. They get in groups and talk to their female friends about their relationships. It’s just like Sex and the City. We enjoy long conversations in which we emasculate our men and giggle about it.
“I was speechless,” seconds Laura, confirming her own inability to talk when usually words just flow from her flapping, yacking mouth.
Both dialogs go on to explain that husband Brian was told to shop at this particular jewelry store by his father who — ha, ha — was told by his mother where he should shop for his wife’s gift. Because all women want the same thing, of course, and the mother-in-law knows best. I have to hold myself back here because I could see my own gold digging mother-in-law making such a request for jewelry, but for herself and not me. (She did once ask us for money, but I digress.)
Anyway, the irking suggestion here is that husband Brian does not know his wife enough to buy her a suitable gift. Diamond or no diamond, Brian should know what his wife wants for Christmas without the help of his mom. Man, when I used to Christmas shop for Mike, there was no end to the number of things I ran into that I thought, “Wow, that’s perfect!” The more you know someone, the easier they are to shop for. Geesh, I’ve dated guys I’ve known less well and I still knew what to buy them for Christmas or their birthday. You kind of get to know someone the more time you spend with them. This bit of dialog perpetuates the myth that men and women are totally incapable of understanding and knowing each other even when they’re living with each other.
The best, most romantic present I ever got from my husband was a Swiss Army pocket knife. Seriously. I wanted a Swiss Army knife so badly because they come in handy in just about any situation. Back in those pre-911 days, I could still carry one in my purse without getting frisked at the airport, so it was ideal. In addition to the standard knife, mine had folding scissors, a can opener, a screw driver (this has been oh-so handy), tooth pick, and tweezers. Yes, tweezers! My husband knew this to be the perfect gift for our first Christmas we spent together because he knew me. Much cheaper than some piece of jewelry I’m likely to lose.
Okay, I’m not saying it’s bad if you enjoy the glitz of expensive jewelry. Personally, I’d rather just continue to buy my costume jewelry because when I lose an earring, as I’m wont to do, I don’t feel as though I’ve just thrown away some perfectly good money. The last expensive piece of jewelry I owned was a pair of opal earrings in gold mountings that my grandma H gave me for Christmas one year. She had taken my great grandmother’s necklace and had all the opals mounted in earrings for her daughters and older granddaughters. I had them for several years, but lost them sometime in early 2000. I must have left them in when I went to bed or something because I haven’t a clue where they went. Because they also meant as an heirloom, I felt especially bad that I lost them. I guess I just shouldn’t wear expensive jewelry — just keep it in my jewelry box like my engagement ring so that it never gets lost.
These commercials also suggest the process of buying someone a nice gift is tedious. I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas shopping. I can barely contain my glee when I’ve managed to find what I think is the perfect gift for someone I care about. I look forward to my friends and family opening their gifts more than I look forward to receiving gifts myself. That’s the true spirit of Christmas. “It’s better to give than to receive” makes more sense as an adult than it does when you’re a selfish child. Maybe with all my philanthropic donations to charity have helped cultivate an appreciation of the positivity you get back when you selflessly give without the expectation of return.
I’m afraid these commercials tell men all women want jewelry. I know that the objective of the ad is to target men into buying expensive jewelry from the particular jeweler… but, still, couldn’t they do it in a less patronizing way? I think it’s insulting to suggest, as these commercials do, that men are stupid and oblivious to their wives’ desires; and it’s equally as insulting to insert any other 1950’s stereotype about women. Some of us would find skis or a bike seat a more suitable — not to mention useful — gift than jewelry.
When I was married, I always tried to break these stereotypes because they’re just dumb. When I found myself stuck in a gaggle of women complaining about their husbands, I would just smile and say, “You know, my husband’s great to live with.” Of course, that caused a bunch of smirks and comments about “the honeymoon stage.” Still, you have to ask yourself when we’re going to get beyond these ideas of how we think we should act around everyone else in regards to our marriages/relationships. If you’re expecting your partner to be unresponsive and completely inept at understanding you, then when you’re in an unsatisfactory relationship, you’ll just think it’s par for the course. Instead of looking for the person who fulfills your needs as you would like, you’ll settle for a sub par person who only partially meets them. This may eventually lead to a divorce when you realize you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a person who is not attentive to you. It takes the communication, trust, commitment, and selfless love and sharing of both people in the marriage to make it work.
This may be a simplistic way of looking at a larger social problem. I just get tired of commercials — and television shows, too — that perpetuate antiquated stereotypical ideas about relationships. I think feeding into the stereotype without trying to change it is half the problem. Couldn’t we suggest instead a loving relationship? Here would be my commercial:
Laura: Oh my God, Brian! It’s just what I didn’t know I wanted!
Brian: But I knew because you’re my wife, my best friend, the one person on the planet I know best. I didn’t even need to ask my mom what I should get you.
Okay, you can see why I don’t write marketing copy…