At a recent cookout, I uncomfortably listened to a quartet of women lambast their husbands while we all worked together in the kitchen. Their fellas were outside with mine, laughing and savoring the heavenly scent of roasting pork—totally unaware of the disdain being dropped on their heads.
"He decides to throw a meat party and doesn't think about side dishes or even cleaning the house," one wife said as she whipped a bowl of egg salad into submission. "He's an idiot. That's all there is to it."
It continued: "He plays with his grill, his guns, his camera equipment…and I'm the one left doing all the grown-up work." The rest of the women joined in, cataloging their husbands' faults, casually using words like "stupid," "moronic," and even "retarded," dicing up their spouses as effortlessly as they did the celery.
These kinds of conversations happen again and again, to the point that lazy husbands have become an inevitable, universal truth.
A recent survey commissioned by Nickelodeon UK revealed that men and women agree that men remain "immature" well into their late 30s and early 40s. What's worse, 8 out of 10 women believe that men "will never stop being childish," and 3 in 10 women have ended a relationship because they lost patience with the guy for being too immature.
Hold on. If the high heel was on the other pedicured foot, and women were seen as perennial boneheads in need of rescue, we'd cry sexism. Yet, we openly criticize our own "lazy, immature" husbands and fuel a stunted characterization of men in the media and pop culture.
I'm not sure when father stopped knowing best, but the first "dumb dude" I remember is Homer Simpson. With his trademark "D'oh!" and monomaniacal desire for donuts, he was the perfect caricature—an over-the-top example of laziness, stupidity, and gluttony. But he was soon joined by a host of "real world" men who embodied many of the same qualities: Ray Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond), Tim Taylor (Home Improvement), Greg Warner (Yes, Dear), Doug Heffernan (King of Queens), Hal (Malcolm in the Middle), and the father/son-in-law combo of Jay Pritchett and Phil Dunphy (Modern Family).
For the most part, they're harmless. I mean, you'd feel okay leaving your kids alone with them—at least until the first commercial break—but each constantly serves as the butt of a joke. They're the clowns, the buffoons, the victims of their own immature stupidity, boys who have to be rescued by episode's end by their smarter, more attractive, and endlessly patient (or shrewish) wives. The men of commercials are even worse, bumbling, forgetful lunkheads.
They're good for a laugh, but they set the standard for husbands and dads rather low. As one pop culture blogger noted:
I cannot help asking… Where, on television, are the men who both like football and remember birthdays? Where are the men who can have a highly insightful drink-and-talk with friends? Where are the men who are great dads, great husbands, great boyfriends? Where are the men who are dedicated to important jobs? Where are the men who aren't seeking reassurance about what it means to be men? Where are, in short, all the men I rely on in my day-to-day life?
These stereotypical portrayals can shape our perceptions off-screen, so no wonder we believe men act like children well into their 40s. We disregard men who are actually responsible and discourage men who still have some "growing up" to do. What's the impetus for taking responsibility if they've been told again and again they're no longer fit for provision, protection, and leadership? It's insulting to men themselves and the vision of manhood God designed.
Perhaps the women's movement left us with a rigid mandate that says in order for women to have power, men must lose it. I don't see it so much as an "either/or" situation as I do a "both/and." In a relationship, there is a time for each member to lead and for each member to follow, but our culture has lost sight of the fact we are to "give honor" to one another (Eph. 5:22-23; 1 Peter 3:7). Though the world would tell us otherwise, submission has little to do with being a doormat. It's about being the steady hands that help your partner scale a mountain he or she could not climb alone.
It might not always be an easy task, but when we respect our husbands and empower them to become all God expects, we only stand to gain. In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas makes a salient point for both the Mr. and Mrs.: "We are called to honor someone even when we know only too well their deepest character flaws." That includes the times we're kind and thoughtful as well as those when we're selfish and petty—and yes, even the times when we throw a meat party without thinking the plan through.
Translations of Ephesians 5 vary, but I like the New American Standard Bible, which tells us "the wife must see to it that she respects her husband" (emphasis added). That means it's our responsibility to make sure we honor the men in our lives. We may not be able to regulate what comes on our televisions, but we have all the say-so when it comes to what we think and speak in our homes to create a culture of peace, love, and mutual respect.
King Solomon (a man with more wives than good sense dictated) said, "It is better to live in the corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman" (Prov. 25:24), but what he didn't say is that it's not terribly fun for the woman either. Plus, it can make for a lousy batch of egg salad.
Jamie A. Hughes is the managing editor of In Touch magazine. She earned her B.A. in English and B.S.Ed. in Secondary Education from Valdosta State University and her M.A. in English from the University of North Florida. She and her husband, Wayne, serve together in their church orchestra and care for two excessively chatty cats. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and blogs about everything from the beatitudes to baseball at tousledapostle.com. You can follow Jamie on Twitter at @tousledapostle.