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Fighting for Fatherhood: Dads Demand Ads Depict Them Better

Photo from Doritos "Fashionista" commercial

Photo from Doritos “Fashionista” commercial

Dad bloggers are engaged in a war against the Caveman Archetype.

You know what I’m talking about: the commercial depiction of guys as uncultured, unclean, unsophisticated, and unable make that uninterested! in caring for a child or doing housework. These lads, passionate about video-games, football, and beer, are slovenly pigs who need a woman to take care of them. Or, like in the Doritos “fashionista” commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, if they do get involved with their children they are literally emasculated, wearing dresses and having a princess dance party with their buddy’s little girl.

On the other end of the Caveman spectrum is the hunter-provider, the besuited guy who makes a killing at the office and then drives home in his luxury car to a happy nuclear family and perhaps a cocktail, Ý  la Darrin in the old sitcom Bewitched. These gentleman might be brighter and more worldly than their younger, working class counterparts, but they’re equally absent around the house. We see them treating their wives to jewelry and flying first class, not tucking their kids in to bed.

Despite evidence both anecdotal and statistical that the number of dads actively involved in raising their children is on the rise (an article in The New York Times last summer cites census bureau numbers that more than double the amount of dads act as the primary caregiver today than 10 years ago), the Caveman Archetype along with his modern cousin, the stoic, silent Cowboy looms large in advertising.

As The New York Times reported yesterday, the bloggers who attended the Dads 2.0 Summit a few weeks ago in Houston are working to change that cultural stereotype by providing companies guidance on how to best market to the Twenty First Century Man. Through their websites they also shed light on products they feel help them balance parenting, working, relationships, and relaxation.

These men are not just the consultants, they are the leaders of this movement. By documenting their lives online in all its complexity, from work, to caring for their children, contributing to the housework, and having actual, you know, emotions and stuff, these men have widened the media’s view of the American man and father. They’ve also built a social network of fans and followers, and when they’ve cried foul at unfair or derogatory depictions of dads in commercials, companies have listened. In other words, these dads have clout. (To get a good sense of who these guys are, check out Babble’s Top 50 Dad Blogs.)

Besides being good for company PR, data shows that men are doing more of the grocery shopping, which means that appealing to dads is potentially a big, and hopefully growing, market for companies. (This rings true for me: I do the majority of the food shopping for the family, while my wife works.) There are many husbands and fathers who, like novelist and GQ writer Benjamin Percy told me last week, try as much as possible to split the domestic duties around the house evenly with their wives and partners.

Yesterday’s New York Times article pointed out that one complaint dads have is how low the parenting bar is set for men. Doug French, who blogs at Laid Off Dad, was quoted as saying “Dads are seen as heroes as long as their kids don’t drown in the swimming pool.” (An idea, he writes on his blog, inspired by the wonderful writer Michael Chabon.) I get this a lot, like how great it is for me to be involved, as if its some amazing leap I’ve made, some evolutionary jump, and that my son will benefit by my presence whether I’m nurturing him well or not. (Believe me, some many days I fret over how good a job I’m doing.) I occasionally detect a note of pandering there as well. Like, “Isn’t that sweet? You think you can be a mommy?!”

The bar for dads as parents should be equal to that as moms, but until we start seeing more realistic representations of fathers in our culture, that won’t change.

We’ll get there. Even in the realm of hip-hop, once a place for macho-posturing, we’ve seen legends Jay-Z and Nas both rapping thoughtfully about being dads (in the songs “Glory” and “Daughters,” respectively). On network TV, the sitcom Up All Night followed Will Arnett as a stay-at-home dad while his wife (Christina Applegate) worked a high-powered full-time job. And the anthology I’m editing on fatherhood, When I First Held You, out next Spring from Berkley Books (Penguin), presents tales of fatherhood from masterful novelists, guys who balance artistic careers with family life. It won’t be long before commercial advertising, which on the whole lags behind cultural shifts, responds.

The bloggers who participated in Dad 2.0 Summit are on the vanguard, and hopefully, through their efforts, more companies will take notice. Everyone, men and women alike, will benefit from a more realistic, nuanced depiction of dads. We’re not all hapless idiots all the time! Or even most of the time. Nor are we just male moms, either. The new face of fatherhood is one that’s still being constructed, blog post by blog post, and it looks little like the bumbling-hairy ape that came before it.

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