Washington Times

5am -- December 1, 1999

Has man-bashing become hallmark of greeting cards?

By Cheryl Wetzstein

Two years ago, Dave Nevers was browsing through the greeting cards at a Target store when he saw a card that sent chills down his spine. The card showed a woman in a baseball uniform holding a bat, talking about her high stress levels.

"When you open the card, it said, 'How do I get rid of my stress? I take it out on him,' and she's whacking a man with a baseball bat," said Mr. Nevers, a Chicago-area telecommunications analyst.

Then he found a card in which a frazzled wife pulls a gun on her husband because he wants to tell her about his "great day."

Male-bashing greeting cards have been the rage for some time. An unscientific survey by The Washington Times at six local stores easily turned up 14, although none as blatant as the ones found by Mr. Nevers. But such "rolling pin" humor cards are all too common, some say.

It's politically incorrect to bash minorities and homosexuals, but "it's OK to bash regular, straight guys," says Victor Smith, head of Dads Against Discrimination in Portland, Ore.

Greeting cards are "the messengers of misandry," or man-hating, says author Warren Farrell in his new book, "Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say."

If a man belittles a woman, it could become a lawsuit. But if women belittle men, it's "a Hallmark card," he says.

Greeting-card companies insist that their agenda is to help people express themselves -- even if the emotion is edgy.

"Greeting cards are intended to help people communicate, share their feelings, open the door to communication, express their personalities and share emotions," says Rachel Bolton, spokeswoman for Hallmark in Kansas City, Mo.

"There are hundreds of cards designed for men to send to women and vice-versa," she says. "Many of them say 'You're not only my lover, you're my best friend and I admire you.' That's the way men and women really talk to each other."

Sometimes, she admits, the feelings being expressed are "frustration, hurt, all kinds of things." At times like that, "the humor, like love, is very personal and what appeals to one, doesn't appeal to another."

"We're definitely not man-haters. We like men and women here," says American Greetings spokeswoman Laurie Henrichsen.

"But we do offer women-to-women cards," as there is a market for that kind of card, says Ms. Henrichsen, adding that the humor is "similar to the kind of humor that you might see in stand-up comedy."

Greeting cards are a $7 billion-a-year industry, based on sales of 6 million cards, the Greeting Card Association says. Women buy 80 percent of the cards.

However, greeting-card companies are eagerly pursuing new markets, and men are a coveted demographic group. If the "gender war" in the greeting-card aisle winds down, it's because bashing potential customers is not good market strategy.

Mr. Farrell, who writes frequently on male-female relations, asserts that greeting-card companies are merely cashing in on women's anger toward men. For instance, Hallmark's Shoebox division makes $250 million a year selling cards with jokes like "if men are God's gift to women, then God must really love gag gifts."

Shoebox makes cards for men to give to women, he says, but the messages are vastly different. For instance, men can give a card that says "Being humble and apologetic does not come easy for me. Unfortunately, being stupid does. Please forgive me."

Hallmark doesn't make a card in which a woman admits to a man that she's stupid, says Mr. Farrell, who calls Hallmark, Maine Line Card Co., and American Greetings the "holy trinity" of misandry.

However, Maine Line Card Co. no longer exists. It was bought out by Russ Berrie & Co. several years ago, which discontinued the line.

Ms. Bolton rejects such a characterization of Hallmark.

"The consumer simply doesn't see Hallmark in that role [of promoting man-hating]," she says. "I say that because consistently, research puts Hallmark in one of the most trusted, recognized and revered brands, and this has gone on for a long time."

"All of our cards are test marketed, and only cards with high ratings in test stores get out," says Ms. Henrichsen of American Greetings.

She admits that a few years ago the company got negative feedback on a card based on the movie "Thelma & Louise," which was about two victimized women who go on a murderous crime spree.

The offending card said: "Men are always whining about how we are suffocating them." The punch line: "Personally, I think if you can hear them whining, you're not pressing hard enough on the pillow."

It was discontinued, Ms. Henrichsen says.

Elsewhere in the world of male and female humor, there are those who say everyone should just lighten up and laugh a little more.

"When I started using the Internet, there was a great domination of male users and the lists of 'blonde jokes' were everywhere," says Helene Gullaksen, a "happily married mother" in Sweden who runs a popular Web site for jokes about men.

After collecting blonde jokes for a while, she said, "I felt the need to return the favors." Thus was born www.menjokes.com, Mrs. Gullaksen told The Times. Some of the jokes are "zingers" because women are looking for "ammo" to "shut the jokers up for a while," she says.

But since January, more than 10,000 e-mail greeting cards have been sent from her site, and the most popular one is hardly mean: "How do you get a man to do sit ups?" Answer: "Put the remote control between his toes."

Men and women are both target-rich environments for humor, but it's more "politically correct" to bash men, says John McPherson, who has been selling his popular "Close to Home" cartoons on greeting cards for three years.

"I think if you really set out on a campaign to bash women, you would hear it," Mr. McPherson said in an interview.

"But if you set out to bash men, there wouldn't be a whole lot of backlash," he says, adding: "I think we've all sort of grown numb to it. We sort of accept it."

Still, anyone can take the jibes too seriously. In one of his cartoons, a wife and husband are in bed reading. The husband's book is about tile grouting. The wife's book is called "Women are from Venus, Men are Idiots."

"I got messages from men saying, 'Why are you running into us?' " Mr. McPherson says. "And I said: 'Hey, I'm a guy. Do you think I would really say that men are idiots?' "

The joke in this particular card, he adds, is that "this poor guy has to live with a woman who's going to read a book like that."