Ending a “Dads” Stereotype
Stereotypes abound. They’re a convenient way for me to pigeon-hole people when I don’t want to take the time to put myself in their shoes. Stereotyping makes me feel smug, superior and part of the “in” group. We (I) often express stereotypes in jokes, as if that excuses them. The problem with stereotyping is that we (I) can slip, without noticing it, into believing our own stereotypes, enforcing prejudices we need to examine … and probably abandon.
Along with obvious stereotypes about race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, our society loves to engage in gender stereotyping. Jokes and prejudices about women by men are so common that they often go unnoticed (the proverbial sea we swim in). It’s an unspoken part of the ‘The Bro Code‘ to draw women (and the the world) in broad, and often inaccurate, brush strokes. In reaction, this meme about men’s lack of discernment has given rise to a stereotype of men which has some serious, and sad, consequences. This is the notion, that, when it comes to the domestic side of a relationship, men are usually well meaning, but fundamentally stupid.
This stereotype has unexpected impacts, for both men and women. Just as someone who holds a racial, ethnic or sexual orientation stereotype is as much a victim of that stereotype as the “minority” member portrayed, so both men and women suffer when they view each other through the distorted lens of a stereotype, no matter how “innocent” the joke, slur, or condescending remark may appear to the speaker.
One such consequence arises in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes in the mass media.
While portraying women as ‘ditsy’, silly, incompetent individuals in popular culture often, quite properly, invokes swift condemnation from concerned men and women, portraying males in this fashion, often passes almost unnoticed.
An area where this has shown up dramatically lately has been in media presentation of ‘house husbands’ and stay at home dads. Companies marketing products to women have tired to take advantage of this stereotype to sell their products at the expense of a laugh about the supposed incompetence of men in doing traditional women’s jobs in the home.
An interesting article on this topic appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail (Canada’s leading national daily newspaper) on May 3rd 2012. The article pointed out that for years, advertisers have depicted “dads as bumbling morons, or not at all”. This is just bad marketing practice. Canada alone contains 60,000 ‘stay at home dads’, triple the number from forty years ago. The United States must have many times that number, especially in the light of the current long term economic downturn, when unemployment is generally lower among women.
Hopefully, this misrepresentation is changing. “Recent campaigns indicate a shift is under way to speak to men as competent caregivers.”
‘It’s a ridiculously untapped opportunity’, said Rebecca Brown, founder of Toronto-based agency Rec Room , which consults with marketers about how to speak to families with kids. Her clients include Gap Inc. and the Toronto International Film Festival. “The traditional slant of advertising and fatherhood is to portray how inept dads are. That doesn’t speak to dads. Savvy companies are figuring that out,” Ms. Brown said.”
Dispite several early missteps, such as a controversial diaper commercial , other firms marketing to families have shown a more nuanced perception.
“Procter & Gamble Co., which counts Pampers diapers among its many products, has launched an online men’s magazine aimed squarely at fathers: ManoftheHouse.com , which offers household and parenting tips, hosts dad blogs, and promotes “the real man revolution.” The image is shifting in popular culture as well: the NBC network comedy Up All Night , features a stay-at-home father who cares for his infant daughter and retains his masculinity.”
We at the ManKind Project are all about empowering men to effect the change we want to see in the world. Part of that empowerment, a crucial part, is to work towards ending damaging stereotypes about men AND women afloat in the world. Our job is to replace these with true images of both men and women as fully powerful, fully competent beings able to create a world which will be safer and better for everyone, for generations to come.
You can read the original Globe and Mail article in full “Papa’s got a Brand New Brand” here .
Chris Callahan – Associate Editor
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