Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Case For Calling Out Offensive Companies

In early October, I went to the At-Home-Dads Convention in DC. I've been home for nearly 5 years, and I even got a ride from Baltimore, so it was really a no-brainer.

I had a great time, meeting some of the people I felt I had knew from blogs/Twitter/Facebook/Google+ (just joking. I don't know anyone from Google+), and attending some interesting sessions. I've met Chris from Daddy Doctrines, Matt from The Real Matt Daddy, Lance from the NYC Dads Group, and OF COURSE, John from Daddy's in Charge?, who does in fact look like his LEGO alter ego. It was definitely worth the trip just to meet these guys.

Two sessions stood out most for me. The first, which I'll mention in a later post, was given by Jeremy Hilton, the U.S. Military's first male Spouse of the Year, and truly an inspiring person. If you think coming to terms with your masculinity as a stay-at-home-dad surrounded by women in the playground is challenging, try doing it in a military base... I'll write more about him soon.

The second session I wanted to mention here was about the image of dads in the media, especially when it comes to advertising. Obviously, as any reader unfortunate enough to read any of my I Have Opinions posts knows, I've been pretty vocal about this issue. I've been harassing companies that ignored dads and fatherhood, and attacking those who've been using lazy stereotypes to try to define fatherhood in generalized, harmful ways.

While I've been on both sides of some of these issues--defending Huggies when many other attacked them, and not joining the attacks on P&G (following their mom-only Olympics commercials)--I understood where the attacks were coming from, and appreciated the passion behind them. 

Just a quick note about the P&G Olympics commercial: My mother bought me a soccer ball when I was 5. She played soccer with me for hours until the day I started playing with the other kids on the street. Even though I am now a father of two future gold-medalists, who will thank me and buy me houses after their first Nike campaign, I'm also the son of a mother, and that side of me won the internal argument, so I wasn't going to fight a mom-helped-me-become-an-athlete commercial. It was personal.

Now back at the conference, not everyone in the room appreciated the fight against offensive brands, and someone in the crowd even used the argument-closing word WHINING.

To be clear, I understand where this argument is coming from. Annoying/offensive ads offend dads, and in a way, that's where it ends: people get offended. So what?

Well, my answer is that it doesn't actually end with people getting offended. Media portrayal is important because it defines the ways dads are viewed by society, and if even one dad decides not be involved with his kids, or one dad decides not become a stay-at-home-dad because he's been socialized into thinking of himself as a secondary caregiver, then it becomes a real issue.

In the end, we all have different issues we're passionate about, and using a word like "whine" ends the conversation instead of advancing it further. Maybe our fight to portray dads in a positive light will help other dads, who see custody issues as the main problem dads face nowadays. After all, these dads depend on old institutions catching up with a changing society, and advertising helps shape that society.

While we attack brands and PR companies who remain behind the times, I think we should note positive signs of progress while we can. In the past, I've applauded Giant Food for their campaign featuring a father-and-young-son making food together, especially as it avoided the lazy stereotype of a grill being the only cooking item a real man can use. Other sites, like 8BitDad, also search for positive signs while never shying away from attacking those who should know better.

I believe change in the way brands and marketers feature dads will come from this combination of positives and negatives, but I also believe this change is a starting point rather than a goal. If we want society to change, if we want dads or future dads to realize staying home would not make them less masculine, and if we want courts to judge fathers and mothers equally, then we must change the perception of dads in society. One of the first steps of doing that is calling out those who stand in our way of changing that perception.


  1. I get seriously ticked off about the lazy dad stereotypes that exist in advertising and internet memes. I'm married to a wonderful, active father. I feel that pop culture attempts to minimize the importance of dads is insulting and demeaning.

    1. I still feel it's two steps forward and one step back, though. There have been some great examples of companies that "get it," including Huggies, which has been on the other side in the past. I think calling out companies that demean fatherhood is important, but I try to balance it with praising some of the good guys. We'll get there eventually...

  2. Great post Oren! I seriously applaud the noise you have made over this issue. It's posts like those that actually do make a difference, bit by bit.


  3. I think you describe it well as an "argument closing" word, though I have to admit that at the time, much to my regret, it felt like our panel got argumentative. I wish I'd responded to it better, rather than getting defensive. I appreciate the different perspective and dissenting opinion, but felt like a sour note to end on.

    That said, I of course completely agree with you. In my experience, the majority of the times companies are called out for how they portray dads it's not about "whining" or even really being "offended" so much as recognizing the power that media has in forming perceptions.

    1. I don't think many people were expecting that comment. It's not just an argument-closer, but also condescending, so it invites defensive counter attacks, and we all end up nowhere. The person who used that word has done more for SAHDs than I ever will, so I definitely appreciate his opinion, as long as we all understand there's more than one valid opinion out there.



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