Hulu has appropriately stereotyped me through the Big Brother that watches my clicks around the Internet, and loves to show me commercials for cleaning products. Cascade must have the deepest pockets, as two of their spots have taken over my TV watching experience.

I’ll outline one:

Husband is emptying dishwasher. Wife looks at dish as he takes it out, it’s still dirty from lower-grade detergent.

Husband, proudly, takes fingernail to dish, scrapes stuck food: Clean, see?

Wife [with furrowed brow and condescending tone]: That’s not clean!

Husband: [surprised]

*Cascade to the rescue!*

After correctly Cascading the dishes, Husband takes out clean dish, excitedly rubs finger across it making a squeaky clean sound.

Wife [with furrowed brow and condescending tone]: Don’t do that.

Husband: [stops squeaking]

We’ve seen it a thousand times. Husband is a dumb, fumbling slob at the mercy of his overbearing, all-knowing wife. Housework isn’t his only challenge! So is running the grill, dealing with the runaway lawnmower, making wise decisions…

(Have to insert this Discover Card commercial: Customer Service Agent says to female customer, “So is your husband out of the doghouse yet?” Woman [adamantly]: “No! Last week he went out for milk and came back with a puppy!” [Husband in the background, begging puppy not to pee on carpet as he carries it outside])

All of these basic tasks exceed the grasp of these poor men, otherwise known as Stupid Husbands.

There are as many stereotypes and forms of discrimination thrown at people as there are humans on the planet. I don’t intend to comprehensively discuss gender stereotypes in a way that would please all. For simplicity’s sake, today I intend to focus on just one.

My reason for selecting this one is simple: it’s the only form of discrimination I see on a regular basis, in the homes and lives of people all around me, and one that is not only completely accepted, but encouraged.

Sadly, regardless of whether the media’s portrayal of this is life-imitating-art or the other way around, in real life, Stupid-Husband Syndrome is responsible for the tedious and painful breakdown of many good relationships. The message has seeped into and out of our homes and become commonplace. Some are more susceptible than others, but few and far between are the homes where no trace of SHS is detected.

The rise of this disease has bothered me for years. It has kept me from sitcoms from the likes of Everybody Loves Raymond or King of Queens. Not only are the husbands portrayed as irresponsible goofballs in need of babysitting, but the wives are written as disciplinarian, naggy eye-rollers. The ones that without whom, the place would go up in flames due to the carelessness and ignorance of the man.

The basic feeling is that the man and woman are at war in sibling rivalry, not teammates in a loving, romantic relationship.

This concept was finally made top-of-mind when I received a onesie for my baby as a gift. It said, ‘Daddy knows a lot, but Mommy knows EVERYTHING!’.

This pretty much summed it up. The attitude is so pervasive that it’s now cute! I’m supposed to raise my child to believe that mom runs the place and silly ol’ dad is just along for the ride. I love Phil Dunfee as much as the next gal, but it was getting old.

And so my research began, knowing there had to be others who had already covered this. I computer-searched “dumb husband commercials” and was flooded with examples. It was worse than I thought. I’m obviously late to the party.

But what about real-life examples? Google ‘Stupid Husband’, and blogs, Facebook groups, Twitter accounts entitled, ‘Stupid Things My Husband Does’, ‘Stupid Stuff My Husband Says’, MyStupidHusbandClub.com, and many more pop up.

Then, the comments! Comment after comment from women commiserating about how they have to ‘do everything’ for their clueless husband, they have to ‘check’ his work, or that he is ‘incapable’ of completing basic tasks without their ever-watchful eye.

The most depressing part was the tone. Pure disdain and disgust for the person they vowed to cherish for life. I felt for all the members of a household that was so devoid of admiration and respect. Some hit close to home, as I’d listened-in on dozens of conversations just like these over the years at office water coolers, or inside homes as a live-in nanny. But at the time I hadn’t yet realized how destructive the mentality could be until I was in a marriage of my own.

My favorite finding was a site called Dumb White Husband. It’s exactly what I was after. They have a free e-book about a Dumb White Husband going to the grocery store that simultaneously made me laugh out loud and bummed me out. Here’s DWH’s pithy description of who the “Dumb White Husband” is:

John is a dumb white husband. That is to say that he loves and cares for his family, is successful in his career, popular around the neighborhood, can dress himself (often without injury) and is capable of reasonable thought. Demographically, however, he functions like a 4-year-old who can’t quite master the intricacies of the potty.

It isn’t his fault. He studied hard and got a college degree. He works hard and earns a comfortable living. But, like all other dumb white husbands, he leads a dual life; competent member of society by day, helpless male by night, weekends and holidays.

He has served for years as the nervous legal department-approved foil of commercials, TV and movies…Through a combination of wit, cunning, unparalleled stubbornness and prat falls, the dumb white husband remains the only character corporate America feels comfortable featuring as the butt of their jokes.

Funny, right? So why does it matter? It’s just jokes.

If that were true, people wouldn’t be getting divorced over the issue. You find this all the time in real life settings (to varying degrees, obviously), and it’s dangerous to a marriage.

If a woman sees her husband as idiotic and incapable (or put more ‘lovingly’: absentminded and silly), she is naturally more likely to pick up the slack. That’s fair; the household has to run somehow. But over time, the assumption that he is another child to look after rather than someone she can lean on and respect, is going to fuel a whole lot of resentment when she begins feeling alone in the marriage.

And he, who married to have a partner, someone who loved and appreciated him, will begin to feel isolated as well. As his autonomy leaves, and the respect from his one-and-only wanes, the helplessness sets in.

But what if instead, she chose to see him as a respectable equal, someone she could rely on for support and real partnership? What if, instead of taking on the role as the controller, or putting herself in charge of ‘cleaning up the mess’ he made, she trusted him to do his part? What if, when he made a mistake (as she often does), she simply let it go without criticism? What if she asked for his opinion on things, and then considered it without argument or dismissal?

He’s capable of going to work, most likely lived a few years on his own prior to meeting his wife, and doesn’t usually end up in the gutter after work, so why does he need to be watched over as he loads the dishwasher or plays with the kids?

When I’ve had this conversation with fellow women, some examples of responses are:

  • “But then nothing would get done! I have to tell him how to do it or he’ll mess it up.”
  • “If I left him alone, he’d just watch sports and ignore the kids.”
  • “If I tried talking to him on a deeper level, he would nod his head, keep watching the TV, and forget everything I said.”

She might be right. After years of being taught that what he does on his own is incorrect, he sees it’s easier to shut off, sit back, and let her take care of it. She may have demonstrated that she was going to anyway. After all, whenever he gives a suggestion she usually dismisses it (sometimes even nicely), or if he defends himself it starts a war. Rather than expend the energy when it isn’t useful, he follows the rules. But little by little, the wedge is driven.

She begins to talk the issues to death, he stops talking altogether*. She gets more and more frustrated, he gets more and more distant.

There is a lot of research out there on cheating. Obviously, cheating is wrong, under any circumstances. But so is drunk driving and we don’t say, “Well, drunk driving is wrong, so I’m not going to wear my seatbelt when I drive late at night. They shouldn’t be on the roads anyway.”

No one is to blame for cheating than the cheater him/herself. But that’s no reason not to ‘affair-proof’ your marriage if there are ways to make affairs less likely. Look at it as adding more love to the marriage, something we all want anyway.

Did you know that most times, the male cheater isn’t doing it for sex? Did you know, that most times, the woman he cheats with is not more attractive or younger than his wife?

Study after study has shown that the number one reason for infidelity is feeling unappreciated. Sure, there are people with low character who philander and cheat with no remorse. This is not your average affair though. Usually when a man cheats, he is feeling emotionally disconnected, unappreciated, and unneeded by his wife. Without question, the new person is making him feel admired, appreciated, and adored. I would venture to guess the same is true for women who cheat.

“I have steak at home. Why should I go out for a hamburger?” –Paul Newman comparing his lady to meat… maybe not the best imagery. But, it makes the point.

What’s the cure? I can only cite ideas from my favorite marital experts, but it begins with something very simple. I believe very strongly in the sentiment expressed in my previous post about being kind. I have a hard enough time just doing that all the time, so that’s pretty much where I keep my efforts.

To paraphrase Dr. Laura, the perfect marriage is one where every day, both people wake up and think, “What can I do TODAY to make my spouse happy they are alive, and married to me?”

People tend to rise or sink to the level at which they are treated. If you treat him like a child, he’s more likely to need you to take care of him, or at least act like it. If you treat him like a grown man, and assume he’s ‘got this’, there is a good chance (if you married a good person) that he will do whatever it takes prove you right.

As for extracting the Stupid-Husband Syndrome that in some marriages has become deeply ingrained in the dynamics of the household, this may take some difficult self-reflection to admit your part. It may take apologies, from both husband and wife. Both have perpetuated the idea that the woman is mean and obnoxious and the man is clueless and incapable. It may take therapy to uncover where you each got the impression that men fill this role and women fill that one, and learn how to restructure a more healthy life together. It will take learning new ways to talk — expulsion of the disrespectful, condescending, parenting tone.

Above all it takes husband and wife owning their part and gaining a desire to build the beautiful marriage they both deserve. First things first: Let’s start with not worrying so much about how the spouse uses the dishwasher.

*There are much better resources than the links I provided. The best help is often in books, not websites. So if you are interested in the books that best cover these topics, just ask.

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