Thursday, January 24, 2013

You've Come Only Part of the Way, Baby

In the months leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, Procter & Gamble ran this ad:

"The hardest job in the world," it proclaimed of being a Mom. Not a parent, but just a Mom. I hated this ad (for one thing, even in the '60s and '70s it was my own Dad's job to get me up and off to hockey for the early morning weekend practices) and I posted my feelings about it at that time on Facebook. I cannot for the life of me find that post right now, despite my fairly exhaustive checking of my Timeline, but I don't recall receiving too much condemnation for my stance. After all, I wasn't complaining about Moms getting "their due"; rather, I was complaining about Dads not getting theirs. It's particularly disappointing to me because, as I wrote on this blog last June and again earlier this month, when I was a "stay-at-home Dad" in the early years of my kids' lives I appeared to be a trailblazer, but it seemed real progress was being made in the recognition and encouragement of Dads everywhere to take a more active role in the raising of their own children. I don't know what happened to those heady days, but the advancement stalled and backslid and these days I find we are really no further ahead than the early '90s when I was home with my kids.

To reinforce my point: yesterday I saw, as part of what Becel is calling their "Encourage a Mom" campaign, this ad on television:

This ad absolutely infuriates me. Quite aside from its obvious and shameless pandering to sell a product, there is the complete shunning of one-half of the parenting influence on these kids: the Dad. Was it a room full of single Moms? No, it was not—not that that alone would excuse this ad. I imagine some marketing "geniuses" were crunching numbers and decided that Moms bought the lion's share of Becel in the past year, so they decided to market directly to them. But guess what? 50% of the population is being disregarded if not outright mocked by this ad campaign (actually, well over 50% because women who are not Moms are ignored as well). Not only that, but the underlying message seems to be: make sure your Mom eats a healthy diet so she doesn't die of heart disease or stroke at a young age (I have no idea how the "tucking in" line relates to this, but I digress); your Dad, though, won't be missed so he can fend for himself. Too simplistic? Maybe, but that's how it sounds to me and I am not the only person who feels that way, as I've learned today. And, while heart disease and stroke—taken together—is the #2 leading killer of women in Canada, the combination is also—according to 2009 statistics—the #2 leading killer of men in Canada. The percentage is very close in each case: 26.4% for men and 26.7% for women. If there was a huge gap there, this kind of ad campaign might make at least some sense. But there is not. And therefore, to me, it does not.

I will never understand the mentality of offering a product which is clearly meant for everyone regardless of gender but marketing it in such a way that a huge portion of the demographic will never feel any desire to purchase it. But that's just the marketing angle of this campaign. The sociological aspect is far more troubling to me, personally, because it reinforces a stereotype that should have been altered long ago: Dads are not important to the daily upbringing and well-being of their children. And it's not just men who are diminished by this refusal to drag ourselves into the 21st century, not by a long shot. All the admirable and essential goals of gender equality are hurt when the myth of the unnecessary and useless father figure is perpetuated.

Until it becomes "the norm" to see Dads taking, at the very least, an equal role in the rearing of their own children then we will never approach anything like "gender equality" as a society. I believe that these kinds of ads—patronizingly placating Moms for having "the toughest job in the worlds"—are simply another kind of tool being wielded to avoid the Equal Work for Equal Pay debate (among other matters). "What do you want from us? We're already saying you are better than men because your jobs as mothers are so much tougher. Now you want more money, too? How greedy can you get?" Again, I understand if you think I am being simple-minded, but I can't honestly see any other reason for this kind of pedestal-raising of women as mothers. (At this point, I think it might be necessary to stress—once again—that I am categorically not disparaging women for their roles as mothers. I think my true point will become clear as you read on.) "Men = bad parents; women = fantastic parents" is a position that will continue to propagate the idea—which should be long-dead—that women should not seek gainful employment outside of the home because, gosh darn it, men would make such a gawdawful mess of things if they had to actually—*gulp!*—raise their own kids. See, I personally know that to be a load of hogwash and not just because of my own incredibly rewarding (and successful) experience as a full-time caregiver. I have at least two male friends who are stay-at-home Dads right now (one just starting out and the other an old hand who is so successful at it that I had completely forgotten about his role in his family until he reminded me today on Facebook). I also have two more male friends who have been raising two daughters each as single parents for many years with a very large measure of success. The fact that all of them (and me, I suppose) have done so well while flying directly in the face of convention should, technically, make their jobs "the toughest in the world"; I don't, however, think for a moment that that is true. Raising kids in general is the toughest job in the world and it shouldn't matter a tinker's cuss whether you are male, female or "undecided" any more than the gender of your partner should matter (a different debate for a different day). It shouldn't be harder to be a Mom than a Dad and the fact that we keep saying it is isn't doing anyone any good whatsoever.

Men need more peer pressure or, at the very least, less of a feeling of worthlessness in the parenting realm. We need more positive role models on television and in ads such as this one:

But even at that, Huggies didn't get it right the first time. They originally ran a "humourous" ad campaign depicting Dads as bumbling idiots being left at home with their children alone for what appeared to be the very first time. There was a huge backlash to this treatment that was so strong that the original ad (I saw it and hated it) has been almost completely eradicated from the internet (I can't find a link to it anywhere). So maybe—just maybe—there is hope for all of us yet.

But we really, really need to start getting onto the same page with this—and soon.

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I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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