Are men finally getting political? In the early Seventies one of the symbolic campaigns that pushed the women’s movement into the mainstream was the protests against the sexist portrayal of women – notably in the Miss World contest.
Now an increasing number of men seem to be making a fuss about the sexist portrayal of men in the media. But could this be the symbolic issue that sends men’s issues mainstream?
The latest uproar has been caused by Huggies in the US. The disposable nappy brand had launched an advertising campaign called the Dad Test which claims to “celebrate daddyhood”.
The response is interesting on a number of levels. Firstly it’s interesting how many big brand advertisers are still playing to old fashioned assumptions about parenting whether it’s the Mums Shop At Iceland campaign or Kellogg’s new Mum Knows Best campaign.
Second its interesting to note that while advertisers are happy to push the “mums are great” message, when it comes to men the standard message seems to be “men are a bit crap”. As Danute Kean said in her Daily Mail article Why Does TV Love To Portray Men As Idle Feckless Idiots says: “it was lazy stereotypes that pushed feminists into burning bras and invading Miss World back in the Seventies and just like in the Seventies, anyone who fails to see the funny side is damned as a prude with no sense of humour”.
Thirdly, it’s interesting to see just how subtle the Huggies ad that has caused upset appears to be. As blogger Jim Higley points out at The Good Men Project it seems at first to be pro-dad – but the underlying message is that dads are incompetent. And it is that sexist underlying assumption – no matter how subtly expressed – that appears to have cause the anger, particularly from new dads and their partners.
Fourthly, this assumption that dads are incompetent which is pushed by advertisers may seem trivial but it only reflects the attitudes of our national institutions towards fathers as seen in the ongoing refusal to give unmarried fathers the same automatic parental rights as unmarried mothers. For a stark example of this in practice, you may want to read a recent story of a dad in Wales denied the right to take his newborn baby home from hospital.
Fifthly, what’s interesting is the type of man who is now standing up and speaking out about such adverts. Previous male uprisings against advertisers have tended to come from the more strident wing of the the men’s movement, most notably seen in the high profile campaign in the US (backed by many UK campaigners) against the “Boys Are Stupid Throw Rocks At Them” brand.
Skimming through the comments of the Huggies facebook page there are – so far – no comments of the “this is typical sexist, radical feminist, misandric man-hating crap” variety.
What there is however is comment after comment from mums and dads simply saying in different ways “we do not accept or recognize your stereotype – stop it”. Some of the comments include:
“This has GOT to be one of the DUMBEST things I have ever seen. I never knew men were incompetent as parents. As someone who was raised by her father, I can say Huggies needs to get a clue.”
“Wow. Terribly insulting Huggies.”
“I find it insulting. The idea that a man, husband, or father is a complete inconsiderate idiot who cannot even do the simplest things such as change a diaper.”
“I’m tired of this crap. We are not all Homer Simpson. The dumbing of Dads is an inaccurate stereotype. This commercial is enough for me to boycott Huggies. Nice way to insult your customers, Huggies.”
“I’m letting everyone I know with babies to stay away from Huggies. What an unbelievably stupid campaign.”
“As a dad who changes and purchases most of the diapers in my household, I can see that Huggies are not for me. I’m going to find a brand that shows respect for all parents.”
“I’m usually not much of an “activist” about anything, but media male bashing is the worst! How are boys supposed to grow up to men, when all the media does is make them look ridiculous. Show some respect Huggies!”
“It’s a good thing Huggies are so great. Now all I have to do is figure out how to feed myself when my wife isn’t around.”
“Ugg, me man, no can cook, no can kids care.”
“In related stereotype news … woman can’t drive!”
“Unbelievable, Huggies. Dads are incapable of “normal” child rearing tactics at a basic level, eh? Please explain.”
“If some company made a commercial that attempted to sell their product to me by insulting my wife and mother of my children, I don’t think I’d find it cute.”
So is this the beginnings of a revolution? Will we look back in 40 years and talk of how men took to the streets burning their Y-fronts in protest at nappy ads? Maybe not.
But it’s great to hear non-activist men talking about this issues, it is a positive sign for those of us who are working hard to build the men and boys sector in the UK and raise the profile of issues like fatherlessness, men’s health, male suicide, lack of male role models, the education of boys, violence against men and boys etc.
You can read all of the comments for yourself and see the offending ad here at the Huggies Facebook Page, read Jim Higley’s post at The Good Men Project and support Jim’s petition to Huggies by clicking here now.