In my last post, I went on a sarcastic rant about Huggies new "Nominate a Dad" campaign. Now that I've had some time to digest, I'd like to address it with a little less sarcasm and a little more analysis.
Here is a Change.org petition asking Huggies to stop using this campaign. And here's why I signed it:
Excludes: This Campaign Hurts Fathers
There are countless men in the world who are good, caring, loving fathers. A campaign based entirely on old stereotypes about how fathers are bumbling idiots when it comes to taking care of children ignores these men and their role as caregivers.
Cultural norms still dictate that men must be providers while women are caregivers, even as these norms don't reflect the reality of many families' economic and lifestyle choices. Many families equally share the responsibility of bringing in income. Some choose this option because work is important to both of them; some have to share this responsibility whether they want to or not because it is the only economically feasible option. In addition, many families are opting for a non-traditional arrangement where the father is the one who stays home full-time. Gay and lesbian couples raising children together also face the difficulties of limiting gender roles.
It may not seem like a big deal to have these norms remain in place even as they fail to account for the reality around us, but it is. When we constantly show men as incompetent fathers, we ignore their capabilities and experiences. Many men report the time they spend with their children as emotionally rewarding and an important part of their lives. Portraying men as incapable of being competent caregivers and as perpetually "less-than" mothers in this role excludes them from an important part of parenthood.
Excuses: This Campaign Hurts Mothers
In addition to excluding men from caregiving, this campaign (and any other promotion of the stereotype that men cannot be good caregivers) also hurts mothers by excusing men from caregiving. When the Huggies commercial suggests that men need only take care of their child for five days to give mom a much deserved break, they imply that it is mom's job to take care of the baby full-time and that dad is only there as a temporary--and inadequate--relief. This demonstrates to mothers that they can't really take a break. They shouldn't leave for a night out with their friends because they never know what their incompetent husbands might be doing to their children while they're gone. It also places a social responsibility on mothers to constantly oversee the caregiving so that even if they have a husband/partner who takes on caregiving responsibilities, they must constantly approve of it, placing them in the role of manager-helper rather than equal caregiving partners.
Beyond Cultural Myths
So, what's the big deal? So guys who take care of their kids get teased a little by their buddies? So women who want to work outside the home are side-eyed for abandoning their children? If they just deal with it, people will eventually stop, right? Toughen up. A little criticism never killed anyone.
If it was just abstract criticism, I'd still think it was awful, but it wouldn't push me to encourage people to sign the petition. The truth is that abstract cultural norms affect our policies and procedures. Policies like maternity and paternity leave suffer when we continue to maintain a cultural vision of mothers as sole caregivers and men as sole breadwinners. When this vision doesn't match reality, the lack of resources can make it hard for families to share their responsibilities the way they need to.
So, please, tell Huggies that portraying all fathers as incompetent and neglectful is not okay. Tell them that you won't be buying their products until they stop with these damaging stereotypes. Sign the petition and let them know. Go to their Facebook page, send them a tweet @Huggies, and make your voice heard.