Let’s Kill the Media’s Stereotype of ‘Incompetent Dads’

I am sick and tired of the stereotype of incompetent fathers.

The new movie Mom’s Night Out is just the latest example. The story goes that an overworked, stressed out mom arranges one night out with her girlfriends only to have the children’s fathers lose the kids, neglect the kids and almost forget the kids in a madcap series of what are supposed to be hilarious accidents, mistakes and misunderstandings. Whether the movie actually turns out to be funny is for viewers to decide (the trailer doesn’t look that promising). But what I object to is the stereotype the movie is propagating: Fathers can’t do the job.

Commercials are even worse in this regard. Askmen.com even produced a gallery of Top 10 worst male bashing ads and no. 3 features an idiot father.

“Negative general portrayals of fathers/husbands/men in TV commercials and sit-coms contributes to a decrease in men wanting to assume those roles in society, and creates the impression among others that men need not assume such roles anyways, that such simply aren’t important,” Matt Campbell, an administrator for Mensactivism.org told reporter Sarah Peterson.

A couple of years ago CNN produced a story on how a bunch of dads had decided to fight the “doofus dad” trope. “We’re not the Peter Griffin or the Homer Simpson that we’re often portrayed as,” Kevin Metzger, who runs the Dadvocate blog told reporter Josh Levs. The protest was prompted by a series of Huggies commercials portraying fathers as idiots.

But the stereotype isn’t just in movies or commercials. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out sans my husband and kids and someone has asked if my husband is babysitting. My husband doesn’t babysit his own children. He takes care of his kids just as I do when I am alone with them. Happily, most of the time we take care of them together.

Another thing that bothers me: My husband has often been praised for driving alone with our four kids in the car. But as he always remarks to me afterwards, he has no idea how to respond to such comments. He’ll say, “They are strapped into their car seats, what damage could they possibly do?”

Chris Rock has a great bit of standup on the same topic. He’s vulgar but effective when Rock complains of being tired hearing dumb African-American men brag about what is otherwise just average behavior for everyone else. “[They say] ‘I take care of my kids’,” Rock declares before exploding in response: “You’re supposed to!”

Media images both positive and negative do have an impact on how we think and feel. And since the composition of so many families today are single-mothers and no fathers, it surely isn’t helping make the case for the role of fathers that so many commercials, films and TV shows rely on the stereotype. But let’s not overstate things. Mom’s Night Out is still just a movie.

Modeling behavior of respect and gratitude toward a responsible father and correcting those who will call my husband’s parenting “babysitting” are much more important than a movie portrayal of bad dads. So I’ll keep focusing on supporting my husband and the incredible father he is and try to ignore the rest. If we can get to work reducing the idiot- dad stereotype in our daily lives, then maybe we can move on to more important things, like promoting the value of fathers as authority figures, which has been debased even lower than dads as caretakers.

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  • Nexialist

    It’s not fathers, it’s masculinity, that is under assault.

    • zipporah

      You got that right!… even though, i love it when men are close to their little children, Masculinity says I AM GOING TO WORK 18 HOURS a day in my trade TO TAKE CARE of my wife and CHILDREN. When women have little kids or babies under 5, their bodies aren’t actually ready to handle long commutes well; we are the ones who carry the babies 40 weeks, and then take another 6 to get back to normal before we have another baby.

  • Tony Fotia

    I agree with this. I also have noticed that in many TV program dramas, the black man who is suspected of a crime is always found to be innocent and wrongly convicted. When photos of politicians are used to suggest that they have done something wrong, they show Republicans. It’s not a surprise when you realize that the writers, directors, producers and actors are liberals and have an agenda. It’s called “brainwashing” and it stinks.

    • zipporah

      hmm, i don’t watch much tv, simply because of the stereotypes! I know families of all colors who live in a traditional manner. Dad at work mom home with little ones.
      i never BUY the products that show men being stupid–its my way of boycotting. If you want to see ‘real men’ watch the old youtube commercials on 1950s 60s tv, unfortunantly they rarely showed black men with their wives but they did show some

  • Laura Mitler

    As a family custody and divorce attorney, I spend most of my time litigating custody for dads. The courts default to moms whether they are a competent nurturing parent or not. Dads, and especially when they are the better parent, have to fight extremely hard to protect their children and have reasonable parenting time or custody of them. When the children are (rarely) removed from a mom (drugs, mental illness, alcohol, etc.) the court insist on ” reuniting the children with the mother”. Why? When the standard is “best interest of the child(ren) why does our culture as represented by the court system, insist on denying dads the responsibility to parent their children. This is supported by the media, women’s groups, etc. that continue to portray men as incompetent. They are not. Our streets and jails are filled with men and women who were raised w/out their fathers. When will we learn that dads are just as essential, and sometime more essential than moms.

    • Thanks Laura Mitler for that perspective. I’m very sorry to learn that.

  • Cyndy Stout

    Thank you. I always say how tired I am of TV emasculating men. It is no wonder our daughters don’t want to get married. My daughter always comments that she does not want to get married so she can be told what to do my a lazy, dumb man.

    If we would work as hard making our husbands and men feel like they matter and are intelligent they would become the most amazing creatures ever. My husband is a gem and I cannot imagine treating him like the husbands on TV are treated. Another commercial is the Time Warner company. There are several commercials that put men down instead of recognizing they are as grand as we women.

    Thanks again

  • Judester

    Those stupid ads on TV make me sick. No father dances around the house that takes a drug for his health problems. Reality just is not in the ads.

  • PABill

    Look at all the sitcoms on TV. Every guy is characterized as some bumbling dolt while the wife or girlfriend is some genius who always saves the day.

  • joe viljoen

    I can’t for the life of me understand why especially the advertising industry continues down this path of portraying men as idiots. This is an industry that is supposed to be finely attuned to what people want and react to and still they continue to piss of 50 % of the population.

    Do they honestly think that by making men out as Homer Simpson clones they are going to appeal just that much more to most women to run out and buy that specific product?

    Thanks for this article and keep it coming.

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  • MC88

    Agreed. I also call people on the “it’s like having another child!” I always ask “Why would I have children with [much less marry] a man who needed care like a child?” Why would I even date a man like that? How would I find him attractive enough to MAKE a child with?

    Most men I know are adults, and while they can be doofs, so can we in our own way. They have a different way of thinking. Men keep things simple, women overcomplicate. We’re complementary partners.

  • Mark

    It’s been going on for a long time. Look at the madcap comedies of the thirties. Dull albeit brilliant, bumbling scientist (usu. Cary Grant) spends the whole film running from/being pursued by zany, rich, empowered go-getter (usu. Katharine Hepburn). Dull has been traded for oafish, clueless and worse; empowered has been traded for aggressive and exasperated… but this trend has deep cultural roots.

  • Greg

    I think that the problem is that there isn’t any balance in the number of bad dad’s verses good dad’s on television. Homer Simpson was funny when he was the exception to the rule, contrasting to Bill Cosby on the other station. I feel like an old timer thinking back on tv shows like Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, Cosby, Family Ties, Home Improvement with parents (including dads) who while not perfect, were decent and could be looked up to. Obviously television isn’t real life, but fiction is a reflection of what we look like as a society, and is often a way of moving us toward change. This issue is even more clear on channels that program only to children, like Nickelodeon or Disney, where adults are almost non existent. The dad’s on these shows (Good Luck Charlie) are even more cartoony than on regular shows.

    I do think that Tim Allen does a pretty good job on his sitcom Last Man Standing to show a decent dad. The dad’s on Parenthood aren’t too bad in a politically correct way. I must admit that I still like to watch old episodes of King of the Hill because it was one of the few shows where dad is the voice of sanity and mom is the one who is a little nuts. We need more Hank Hills.

    • Matt

      Nickelodeon is just horrible. The plotline of every episode of iCarly was the physical and verbal abuse of every male character on the show. It’s among the most despicable shows in TV history.

  • Matt

    I think part of why men are depicted so badly is that, in comedy, most of the time somebody has got the be the “butt of the joke” — and the Grand Inquisitors of Political Correctness have made it nearly impossible for a woman to ever be the “butt of the joke” no matter how remotely. So it falls onto men by default.

    I’m guilty of it myself. Every year for my office Christmas party I have to write a humorous “shout out” for each employee. The female employees are mostly impossible to write something humorous for because everything is off limits. EVERYTHING. More than once I’ve resorted to taking a pot-shot at a male co-worker or supervisor simply out of despair for something to write about.

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  • DrTorch

    One of the roots that most people ignore is the Berenstein Bears books. Instead of criticism, those books are praised as “children’s classics.” Yet the father bear is just as incompetent as Homer Simpson.

    Those books set the tone for kids at 3 and 4 years old. Change has to start with those (and similar picture books.) Personally, I think they’re garbage and getting rid of them poses no great loss.

  • I had that same sinking feeling when I saw the trailer for “Mom’s Night Out.” Having grown up with a kind, Godly man as a role model, I know what I’m looking for in a husband, and sadly, because of the media, and because of lack of role models for boys turning into men, I’m honestly worried that I won’t be able to find someone as great as my dad.
    When I was growing up in the 90’s, two of my favorite shows were “Home Improvement,” with Tim Allen, and “Boy Meets World.” Tim Allen’s patriarch was a bumbling idiot most of the time, but when it really came down to it, he was a responsible father who wanted to teach his sons to be upstanding citizens. In Boy Meet’s World, Cory’s father, Alan, worked hard for his family, and showed Cory what it really meant to take care of the ones you love, even during the hard times.
    Where are THOSE role models, I ask you? And why must Hollywood keep playing to type?

  • Christi

    I happened to go see “Mom’s Night Out” last night with some of my girlfriends. We all thought it was hilarious. It wasn’t demeaning to fathers at all. Did both the mothers and fathers in the movie make some decisions that led to some funny outcomes? Yes. But I did not feel in any way that it made the dads in the movie look incompetent.

    I agree that too often fathers are made to look that way in the media, but “Mom’s Night Out” is not contributing to that. I’d encourage people to go and see the movie before passing judgment on it. Also, “Mom’s Night Out” was produced by one of the actors from the film “Courageous,” which is all about men who are standing up and leading their families. So, they produced a film honoring fathers and then one to honor mothers.

    Anyway, just my two cents. 🙂

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