We Need More Balance In The Media’s Depiction Of Men
Earlier this year, The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker appeared on Greta Van Susteren’s MSNBC show “On The Record” as part of a panel discussing the Women’s March. To be clear, while the Women’s March was an amazing event for a host of reasons, this article is not about that March. It is about the unfortunate, inaccurate and sexist comments made by Ms. Parker while discussing the Women’s March. For some reason, Ms. Parker felt it appropriate to suddenly state, “men don’t have the attention span to pull something like this off.” (I am pretty sure Martin Luther King, Jr. was male, and I seem to remember him organizing some kind of March, but I digress.) When the rest of the panel expressed disagreement with her comment, Ms. Parker unfortunately doubled down by saying, “Well, you know…what [divorced] men do is just run off, get married again and have more kids.”
The fact that she was comfortable making these statements on national television says a lot by itself. Moreover, these comments are ultimately not helpful to the many men and women who are working very hard to achieve gender equality. To be clear, women have faced (and continue to face) their share of sexist comments. Those comments are as equally inaccurate and unhelpful as Ms. Parker’s comments about men during the Women’s March. This op-ed focuses on how Ms. Parker’s comments are indicative of a larger, systemic issue in our society, and that we must overcome that kind of divisive rhetoric for all our sakes.
My children and other children heard those comments – and our children certainly deserve better. I fully support the goals of the Women’s March, but Ms. Parker’s comments were insulting not only to me but also to the overall purpose of equality behind the March. Men like me, with children and shared child-rearing duties, are not the exception; they are the general rule…and to paint our gender with such a broad negative brush is inaccurate and a false conclusion.
Via Twitter, Ms. Parker tells us that she “didn’t get to finish” her comments that day…but she has also not published anything since that television appearance that finishes her thoughts. Even when I e-mailed her to ask for a conversation on this topic, I simply received a response of “Please get a copy of my book, Save the Males…” Now, it is quite possible that her book clarifies her response, but that’s not the point here. Instead, imagine the understandable dismay a citizen might have if they received a similar answer from a public figure, who made a sexist comment about women on a news show. Would we really accept “Go buy my book” as a response? Surely not. Public figures – whether they are politicians, athletes, journalists, etc. – should be held accountable for their statements, especially when those statements are wholly inaccurate and followed up with something as insulting as asking us to go spend our hard-earned money on something they wrote nearly 10 years ago. If Ms. Parker was truly concerned about not being able to finish her thoughts on MSNBC, then she would have gone about doing so and apologized in the process. The fact that she hasn’t, even when specifically asked to do so, speaks volumes.
But the truth is that this is just one minor example of a much broader (and far weightier) issue: We don’t care what we say about men or boys – or how we say it. In some ways, this is a good thing. Hearing direct, honest feedback is something many people would appreciate. But the reality is that this thought has morphed from “providing feedback” to just saying whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want…as long as it’s about one gender and not the other. This unfortunately goes both ways, with both men and women often being denigrated for no reason other than their gender.
The fact is we should not support degrading one gender at the expense of another. Yes, men and women have inherent and unique differences, and those differences can be of great benefit to society – as long as we celebrate those differences and don’t turn it into labeling one segment of society as one that “just runs off, gets married again and has more kids.” If we spent more energy building each other up and championing each other, we could accomplish truly amazing things. Incidentally, in my free time, I lead an organization that champions the roles of both mothers and fathers in the lives of their children, including (and especially) after divorce. Through this work, one of the main lessons we’ve learned is that men and women can do so much more together, than we can apart (or worse yet, against each other).
Here’s the truth: Men care, and they care a lot. The good folks at Dove and the Dad 2.0 Summit have realized this. Just look here, here and here. And they’re not alone. Toyota gets it. Cheerios gets it. Moen gets it. So why doesn’t a news veteran like Parker get it? We would currently (and rightly should) object to pejorative comments made about women on a news show. So, why have Ms. Parker’s comments on MSNBC gone largely unnoticed and unacknowledged – by the show’s host, the network, the general public? If we truly want equality between genders, then we must treat both genders with the same respect. Degrading men hurts women, just as much as degrading women hurts men.
The encouraging news is that the vast majority of men and women today get this one, simple truth: Just because men and women are different does not mean we have to avoid those differences. We embrace them. We celebrate them. We capitalize on those differences to make ourselves, our families, our world better. We invite controversial subjects like communication, conversation, listening, and reflection. We are the catalysts for change in our time, and our time is now – more than ever.
Let’s be clear: Promulgating the incorrect assumption that men are somehow not as capable as women actually hurts women. Read this piece by Josh Levs on why this is. Levs has been named a “Global Champion of Gender Equality” by United Nations Women, so he knows a thing or two about gender equity and why it makes absolute zero sense to tear one another down. Instead, we need to work together.
There was a time when we thought men were better at math, science, and engineering than women. Thankfully, we moved on from that ridiculous perspective to one more based in actual fact. Let us hope we do the same in this instance. We must bring our society from the “Mad Men/June Cleaver” past into the fantastic reality of the present. We are here on this Earth together for a reason – and it’s surely not to berate each other to make us feel better about ourselves. That’s what we did in middle school. It’s time to grow up.
Christian Paasch is co-chair of the National Parents Organization in Virginia. He was appointed to Virginia’s Child Support Guidelines Review Panel. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.