Just over 50 years ago, give or take five years, a gentleman by the name of Robert Adler, of the Zenith Corporation, invented a little instrument that would change the course of human interaction. What was this little item?
It was something called a “remote control.”
Now in those days – the mid-60’s – most folks who had televisions found it to be a highly interactive and somewhat physical activity. While there may have been only three networks broadcasting, a person watching had to get up to change the channel. Get up to adjust the volume. Get up to adjust the lines (vertical and horizontal lines throughout the screen were often a problem). And if you were lucky enough to have a color set – get up to adjust the yellow. Get up to turn the television on, or off.
I know, right? It’s almost unthinkable. In the 60’s, we didn’t have a remote control. In fact, I think my family didn’t get one until the 1980’s. But after that, wow. The concept of “couch potato” likely got its inception from the use of the remote control.
I won’t digress to talk about how this device has mushroomed to the point where we can do a whole lot of things via remote control – turn on our cars, start our furnaces, dim the lights, turn on the oven. Okay, I guess I did talk about that for a second.
But my real purpose here today is to talk about sexism in the remote control world. I thought it was just my house. Over the decades, we’ve evolved to the point at which my husband is the commander of the remote. There are three of them, and they sit in a twirly case, next to his chair. The remote, if not in his hand, is on his armrest. If I am given the remote, it’s because he’s leaving the room (at the very least) and, more often, the house. Or I sneak out in the middle of the night and use them, being careful to place them back where they are supposed to be.
This balance – or imbalance – of remote control power was always something I just accepted as unique to us. But then I read a study from Oregon State University, which found that “men are more likely to dominate the use of the remote control.” I felt amazed that this was happening in households all over America. But there was more!
This same study also found that men are “more likely to annoy their partners with its use” and “more likely to ‘graze’ – which is skipping from channel to channel.” I have to confess that my husband rarely annoys me with the use of the remote control, but I’m so used to it that it just seems normal.
Oregon State University researchers also found the women are “more apt to videotape their shows to watch later.” Ah, yes, that explains the many Hallmark movies on our recording list. Women, the study found, are more likely to say “they are happy spending time together as a couple,” regardless of what is on television.
The most common complaint about the male dominance of the remote is that men so often engage in the “unnegotiated” channel surfing without talking to their partners. I have spent some time saying “What was that? What was that? What was that?” as selection options whizzed by.
Male-female relationships are complex, and couples can argue about money, in-laws, chores, work, and child-rearing. But the ownership of the remote is never in question. It’s just easier that way. Ask Oregon State.