SACRAMENTO — Most Sadistic . . . Most Insulting . . . Worst Sexual Cruelty . . . Most Despicable . . . Worst Dehumanization --scanning this list of awards issued by a Sacramento anti-sexist organization, you'd think the porn police were at it again, ferreting out images that degrade women.
The offenders in this case, however, are not skin flicks and magazines, but ads put out by mainstream companies such as Life Savers Candy and Magnavox. And the victims of the degradation are not women but men--men being led on, then cruelly rejected by women; and men being punched and battered to sell products.
'We Prefer Not to Be Insulted'
"Advertisers are trying to appeal to female consumers by saying, 'We're on your side. We think men are jerks, too,' " said Fredric Hayward, a Sacramento men's rights activist.
"We're just trying to say (to the advertisers): There are more male consumers than you think and we'd prefer not to be insulted."
Hayward, 40, dreamed up the Best and Worst of Advertising Awards "to protest inaccurate and negative stereotyping of men and commend positive portrayals."
Most of the companies cited for anti-male bias said they had never heard of Men's Rights Inc. And those who had, for the most part, are not about to change their ways just because they've been called names by Hayward and his band of 1,000 activists across the nation.
So it's an uphill struggle for Hayward. Some of the companies, nevertheless, have seen the light. Scott Paper Co., for instance, agreed with the activists that there was no reason to offend male consumers by excluding fathers in the wording of ads such as, "Mothers say Baby Fresh cleans baby better."
Company spokesman Mike Kilpatrick said the company changed the ad to read "parents" instead of "mothers," thus acknowledging that fathers might wield Baby Fresh pre-moistened towelettes, too.
The victories, overall, have not been earthshaking, but small successes are all one comes to expect in the world of men's rights. Hayward is used to being misunderstood by talk-show hosts, attacked by women ("If you're for men's rights, you must be part of the backlash against feminism") and ignored by men, the very group he has dedicated himself to helping.
Half of his mail is from women. They usually write on behalf of a husband or boyfriend, and usually they have a custody beef.
Hayward is sympathetic to the custody issue ("We can't keep telling men, 'This is more her child than yours' and expect men to develop some sort of responsibility for children,") but he wants to accomplish more with his work than simply assuring men have equal access to the children after a divorce.
Sexism in Schools
Hayward's awakening to sexism goes back to his school days when he first noticed that girls were coddled and protected by teachers, while the same teachers seemed to think boys were sacrificial beasts meant to suffer bloody noses and torn shirts in playground brawls.
From his earliest years Hayward knew, "I hated the male sex role. It just always seemed so violent. History seemed to be basically the story of men dying for one thing or another, and entertainment was watching men kill each other."
All those injustices appeared unchangeable, so Hayward put his discontent aside for a while. He attended Boston's Brandeis University, then the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where he earned a master's degree in international relations.
When feminism came along, Hayward started to realize that the wrongs he rebelled against as a child could be righted. He founded Men's Rights Inc. 10 years ago in Boston, moving operations to Sacramento three years ago.
"The tone of the women's movement has been that men and women are at odds, so men's rights must be opposed to women's rights," he said. "I don't look at men and women as competitors, but as interdependent. No one should have to carry out traditional sex roles if they don't want to. We all deserve equal access to all the roles that people find rewarding."
Judges for the 1986 Best and Worst of Advertising Awards included representatives from three men's rights groups, as well as members of the broadcast and print media. The judges were particularly attuned to ads that showed men taking active part in family life. When it's a product that pertains to children, mothers are almost always the ones targeted in advertising, Hayward said.
"There is a conflict in our society between our need for healthier family relationships (closer father-child contact) and our contempt for men, particularly our fear of male contact with children," Hayward wrote in a news release.
Back in 1984 when his group began monitoring advertisements, Hayward said it would have had a tough time coming up with a single ad showing a man in a nurturing role within a family. The situation has improved somewhat.