Most people see thousands of media images daily. Over time, these portrayals help shape our expectations of parenthood, in ways some call “gender stereotyping.”
While the media now lambastes fatherhood, portrayals weren’t always this way. Bob Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, said:
“While dads in ‘Leave It to Beaver’ and ‘The Donna Reed Show’ had flaws, they were close to what was then thought of as ‘perfect,’ part of an idealized white American family. Later, shows such as ‘The Cosby Show,’ ‘Family Ties,’ ‘Growing Pains’ and ‘Full House’ showcased caring dads of a new generation.
Polar opposites replaced these characters, with Al Bundy and Homer Simpson beginning a new genre of dads.
Fathers are similarly portrayed in advertising:
“Ad after ad makes doltish Dad the butt of all jokes. He’s outwitted by his children. He’s the target of condescending eye rolls from his wife. He’s a dumb, incompetent, sometimes even selfish oaf—but his family loves him anyway.”
The New York Times described this as “a clever reversal”:
“The portrayals began as a clever reversal of traditional gender roles in campaigns, prompted by the ire of women and feminist organizations over decades of ads using stereotyped imagery of an incompetent, bumbling housewife who needed to be told which coffee or cleanser to buy. As those images disappeared, the pendulum swung, producing campaigns portraying men in general, and husbands and fathers in particular, as objects of ridicule, pity or even scorn.”
While fathers don’t feel accurately portrayed by advertising, women now agree. Marketing Week described a Saatchi & Saatchi report, finding:
The suggestion that dads are clowns, or worse sideshows, in the parenting department is the final faux pas that marketers make. Sixty per cent of women say their partner is just as involved in parenting as they are — and there is no difference between the opinions of mothers who work and those who do not, so it is important not to isolate fathers but to communicate to the ‘parenting unit.’
Media Post reported on millennial women:
“I hate commercials that make fathers look like the lesser parent. It’s not funny. It puts out the message that men are incompetent and irresponsible at home. It’s a subtle message that men belong at work and women belong at home.”
Unfortunately, some still haven’t gotten that message.
McDonalds took significant action to show their feelings for women, turning their logo upside-down for International Womens Day.
— Sharon Vinderine (@PTPASharon) March 9, 2018
How does McDonald’s feel about fatherhood?
The company’s recent commercial depicts an African American father who orders, saying;
“I’d like the ‘My Wife’s Out of Town and I’m in Over My Head Meal.'”
He’s later bewildered at seeing his daughters and their friends in their room, leaving without speaking. Finally, he’s mocked by his daughter while on the phone, as the other children laugh.
The McDonald’s website states:
“Our belief is rooted in “Diversity IS Inclusion,” a bold and seismic value proposition where EVERY individual feels their culture, identity, and experiences are valued and respected.”
Should African-American fathers feel their “identity, and experiences are valued and respected” by McDonalds? How will the ad impact African-American boys’ perception of fatherhood? Or is it simply that fatherhood is of less value than a Happy Meal?
In movies, Barbara Kay noted:
“From Atticus Finch to today, there’s an unspoken Hollywood rule that fathers can’t shine too brightly in the face of active mothering. Dads are more likely to be accorded respect when they are ‘coping’ — in effect, when they are surrogate mothers.”
Films targeting young children require mothers to be dead to portray fathers positively. For movies aimed at older children, dads are missing or immature. In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi substitutes for Daniels missing father, teaching him to become a man. Robin Williams portrayal in Mrs. Doubtfire begins with an uncontrolled children’s party where he’s table dancing as the police arrive.
Newer films are no different. The Guardian recently stated:
“While Hollywood has been smashing its own patriarchy off-screen, we’ve also been seeing a curious absence of fathers on it lately. Especially in family movies. Dead parents have long been a reliable source of sympathy for young heroes, but it’s dads who seem to be dying or disappearing right now.”
The piece examined Steven Spielberg. In ET:
“Poor Elliott is in yet another single-parent family, with a working mum just about holding it together. When they ridicule his alien sighting, Elliott glumly says, ‘Dad would believe me,’ and everybody stops laughing. Sure enough, ET becomes the stand-in man of the house. He unites the family, offers Elliott companionship and advice, and then, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movies, abandons him again.
Spielberg once described ET as “my story about my parents who got divorced when I was a teenager … and the effect it had on me … that picture was about looking for a surrogate father, looking for someone to fill the void of the missing parent.”
Many of his other films share this theme:
“Absent or distant fathers are a running theme throughout his work, from Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters” and Roy Scheider in “Jaws” (who abandon their families to go hunting aliens and sharks, respectively), to the orphaned heroine of “The BFG” (who finds a BF father figure). Then there’s Indiana Jones who, like Lara Croft, goes on a quest to rescue his long-disappeared father in “The Last Crusade.” Indy then becomes an absent father himself in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (his son grows up to be Shia LaBeouf, which kind of explains things). No surprise that Spielberg’s next movie, “Ready Player One,” centers on a teenage hero who lives with his aunt and is drawn into a virtual world created by a wise old man.
If they can actively support these causes, they can at least stop denigrating fatherhood. Over time, perhaps a generation, such would certainly impact fatherlessness.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.