Dumbing down Dad: How media present husbands, fathers as useless

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

For example, a Huggies diapers commercial which aired early last year stated, "To prove Huggies can handle just about anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: dads, alone with their babies, in one house, for five days."

The assumption that dads can't take care of their own children was offensive to one man in particular. Chris Routley of Breinigsville, Penn., is a stay-at-home dad who decided to take action. After viewing the Huggies commercial, Routley put together a petition on Change.org. In his statement, Routley wrote, "Why not find a way to celebrate dads in a way that doesn't minimize, stereotype and judge us as — at best — well-meaning but second-class parents?"

In March 2012, Routley received more than 1,000 signatures on the petition. Huggies contacted Routley promising to remove the ad and to create a new ad that showed caring, competent fathers. CNN reported the new commercial slogan produced by Huggies which stated: "To prove Huggies wipes can handle anything, we asked real dads to put them to the test, with their own babies, on spaghetti night."

Matt Campbell, an administrator for Mensactivism.org, expressed his own concerns about the consequences of such media content.

"Negative general portrayals of fathers/husbands/men in TV commercials and sit-coms contributes to a decrease in men wanting to assume those roles in society, and creates the impression among others that men need not assume such roles anyways, that such simply aren't important."

Society views just as harmful

Some men, however, just laugh.

"Men have always made fun of themselves," said New York Times best-selling author and social philosopher Michael Gurian. "The kind of things that are done with men in the media would never be done with women, and that's just sort of a given. But men don't mind. They live by joking and putting each other down and lifting each other up. But the negative is that they can only be OK if the rest of society has a basic understanding and respect for boys and men."

Kelly believes that the problem is larger than merely what is shown in the media, but how we act within our own home.

"I think we as a culture have a blind spot when it comes to the role of men in families — men and women both," Kelly said. "I don't believe it's a manner of injustice or anyone being victimized, I think it's habit. The habit is that men are of secondary importance in the life of a family. Therefore we all kind of expect men to be secondary. And it's not surprising that attitude plays itself out in many ways in our culture: in media portrayals and in the habits we have as families."

If expectations of men within a society aren't up to par, and the only role model young men have comes from Peter Griffin on "Family Guy," there may be room for worry. Along with the stereotype of men being violent, Gurian said he's also concerned about the system that minimizes the father's role in the home.

"They're kind of stupid and they're not needed," Gurian said regarding fathers in the media. "So the message to the young people is that males are not needed, or Dad is not needed. That's dangerous because it's going to set up guys who will not take care of their kids, and kids who will not respect or understand the males and women who will say, 'Ah, they're not needed anyway.'"

But Kelly and Gurian both believe and remain hopeful that media isn't the only influencing factor.

"I remain optimistic that family still has more influence than media," Kelly said.

Sarah Sanders Petersen is an intern for Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and other feature articles. She is a communications major and editing minor from Brigham Young University.

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