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Just Smile And Nod, Guys

As many observers and bloggers have noted, this year’s Super Bowl commercials featured an unusual number of henpecked men.

In an ad for Chrysler’s Dodge Charger, a male voiceover recites a long list of husbandly duties, including putting down the toilet seat and carrying his wife’s lip balm, while blank-faced men stare mutely at the camera. At the end, the speaker concludes that, after doing so many good deeds, he deserves to get the car he wants.

If the commercials revealed that guys are feeling a bit uneasy about their gender’s position, new studies show that they have good reason to think they are living in a woman’s world.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that more women now have higher incomes than their husbands than in 1970. In 2007, 22 percent of women out-earned their husbands, compared to just 4 percent in 1970. Paul Fucito, spokesman for the Pew Center said, “Men now are increasingly likely to marry wives with more education and income than they have, and the reverse is true for women.”

Thanks to the recent recession, which put more men than women out of work, the number of female breadwinners has probably increased even further. Construction and manufacturing, both of which are still predominately male industries, were both hit hard by the downturn. In December, 11 percent of men were unemployed, compared to just 8.8 percent of women.

The growth of female economic power is likely to continue, as more women than men pursue higher education. According to a recent report by the American Council on Education, for nearly the past decade women have consistently represented about 57 percent of undergraduate enrollments at American colleges. Women earn more master’s degrees than men and earn just as many professional and doctoral degrees.

Fortunately, if the Super Bowl ads are any indicator, men at least have a sense of humor about their changing situation. Advertising agencies were betting that guys whose wives hold the purse strings would be willing to laugh about it.

One spot, however, did strike me as having a nasty undertone. In the FloTV ad a man accompanies a woman on a shopping trip. He stands with a bra draped over his shoulder at the lingerie store and reluctantly sniffs candles in the housewares department. At the end of the commercial, a narrator tells him to “change out of that skirt.”

Rather than inviting us to laugh along with the hapless man, FloTV portrays his position as womanly and, by the commercial’s logic, therefore degrading. The commercial suggested that, while it would be fitting for a skirt-wearing woman to cater to her mate’s whims, a man should not let himself be put in that position.

But most of the ads took a good-natured approach to the bad times that have been particularly bad for men. Underneath the ribbing, it seems, most of today’s men appreciate how much worse off they would be without the accomplished women in their lives. And if they have any complaints, they usually keep them private.

My wife sometimes tells me to “just smile and nod” when voicing my opinion is going to get me into trouble. On my better days, I have enough sense to take her advice. It looks like I have a lot of company.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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