Facebook Twitter



Taking aim at the TV, comedian George warned wife Gracie to stand aside in a 1956 ad for the nation's first successful TV remote control.

"Look out!" he said.Television and women have come a long way since then. Black-and-white has given way to wide-screen, full-color home enter-tain-ment; Gracie's ditzy housewife has yielded to Murphy Brown's self-assured professional.

But a new Oregon State University study confirms what many women have known - and endured - all these years: The guy still controls the clicker.

"He just flips through the channels," one woman told researchers. "It drives me crazy because you can't tell what's on, because he just goes through, and goes through, and goes through . . . "

The study was conducted by the president of the National Council on Family Relations, who found scientific evidence that channel-surfing men rule the roost, systematically driving their wives and girlfriends bonkers.

Alexis Walker did not have to look any further than her own parents for a living example of her research.

"My parents bought a second TV set because my mother said to me, `I will not watch TV with your father any more because of the way he uses that remote control,' " Walker said.

As a daughter, it was funny. As a sociologist, it was confirmation that the balance of power at home still is tilted toward men, no matter how equal a couple views a relationship.

In fact, the women in the study repeatedly said they saw nothing unfair about their men's control over joint leisure time in front of the TV set - typically the biggest chunk of time any couple spends together besides sleeping.

"This fits with the gender pattern in family life," Walker said. "We think of men as primary breadwinners. They deserve leisure. They deserve to relax more.

"It's a way to compensate for going out to the salt mines every day and ensuring family survival," she said. "But many of these women out there are working and they still thought their jobs less important."

The women told researchers they had to plan programming in advance or resort to videotape to see shows they liked. Otherwise, they had to put up with annoying channel surfing to be with their men.

"I usually start a couple of days ahead of time when I see them advertised," one woman in the study told researchers.

"I tell him to `get prepared!' I have to be relatively adamant about it. When the time comes up, I have to remind him ahead of time that I told him earlier that I want to watch the program."

Several people interviewed about the study told of similar experiences.

"I get really mad at him sometimes and I ask him, `Why do you have to do that?' Then he'll put it down," Laura Davis said about her channel-surfing husband, David, who apparently watches nothing but sports.

"Then when I get the remote, he'll say, `Turn it to Channel 14 quick, so I can see the score,' " she said.

Carolyn Hannesson of Davis, Calif., said her husband, John, was much the same way.

"I don't watch much TV," Hanne-sson said. "It all depends on my mood. With him, it's sports. His mood doesn't matter."

The men in the study and those interviewed about its results appeared to have no idea they had charge of the remote control.

"I guess I don't think about it, I just switch the channel," said Chuck Rhyne of Tracy, Calif.

Walker first presented the results of the study in her inaugural speech as president of the National Council on Family Relations as the 40th anniversary of the remote control approached.

"In all my years of going to these things, and that's about 20 years, this was the only one I've gone to that was funny," said Bob Milardo, a University of Maine sociologist and editor of the Journal of Marriage and the Family, which published Walker's study.

"In fact, it was not just funny, it was hilarious," Milardo said. "But it was also filled with a deeper meaning."

Zenith Corp.'s "Space Commander" remote control debuted June 8, 1956. It was the product of six years of work by its inventor, Dr. Robert Adler, now 82 and still a consultant for the electronics company.

The Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association estimates nearly 400 million remote controls are in use today - and the group has stopped counting.

Those numbers - and the three hours a day the research showed most couples averaged in front of the TV together - give the study a serious side that shows women are giving up hard-won equality at home.

"Power dynamics among couples are rarely conscious," said Stephen Marks, who teaches at the University of Texas in Austin and at Maine.

"He gets to watch it the way he wants to watch it, whether she's there or not. She has to watch by herself or the way he watches it. To put it in the most simple way, it's not fair. But by thinking it's fair, women make it easier for their husbands to get their own way."