Two realizations prompted me to start blogging more than four years ago:
- You can develop and implement a flexibility strategy in a company and help someone manage their work+life fit, but that change won’t “stick” unless it is reinforced by the work+life mindset and language the broader culture. Currently, it is not; and
- The extreme or outdated work+life fit stereotypes that the mainstream media consistently reinforced were keeping individuals, organizations and public policy stuck in the past. Other voices outside of the advertiser/media market were going to have to make that change happen.
Dad as “bumbling, disinterested care giver” stereotype
A perfect example of an outdated stereotype reinforced in the culture by the media and advertisers is the “mom as the primary caregiver, and dad, if he is present at all, as a bumbling incompetent who mom needs to rescue.” For years, this picture never matched the reality I’d seen in my work and in my personal life:
- At Work: Even though they’d be invited as an afterthought, men are often at least a third if not half of the participants in my presentations. And often the organizers of the events are “surprised so many men turned up.” I’m not. Men, many of whom are fathers, have told me for years that they are just as interested in learning how to flexibly manage their work+life fit as women.
- In Life: My husband and most his peers who are fathers have always been incredibly involved and competent caregivers from day one. In fact, when I go to the grocery store on Sunday many of my fellow shoppers are men who are clearly buying food for their families and often have their children with them while they are doing it. Mom is nowhere around.
Why does it matter? We may see men in real life participating as involved, capable fathers who need to flexibly manage their work and life as much as mothers, but then we turn on the television, go to a website, pick up a magazine. The images presented sell us collectively a very different reality that ultimately hurts men and women.
Rebel Dad’s Pampers Boycott–One man’s mission to fight the “Dad as bumbling, disinterested care giver” stereotype
Unfortunately, the market is set up to reinforce this stereotype. Media outlets want advertisers dollars. And, advertisers have decided that playing up the mom as the primary, competent caregiver who makes all of the decisions is the best way to move merchandise. So, it’s going to take individuals standing up and saying, “Enough” before the outdated stereotypes are replaced. That’s exactly what one father, Brian Reid (aka RebelDad.com) is doing.
I first ran across Rebel Dad when he blogged for the Washingtonpost.com. Through his writing, I’ve been introduced to a group of men online whose beliefs and actions reflect what I actually see everyday–smart, involved, caring, competent fathers. So, I was thrilled when Brian and his community of dads decided to take on Pampers for its “mom-centric” advertising campaign. It’s one shot fired in a campaign that will hopefully build even more momentum. Here’s his story. Go Rebel Dad!
CY: As a Dad, what made you so frustrated that you said “enough” and started the Pampers boycott?
RD: Every year, on Mother’s Day, Pampers sends me an e-mail telling me how important “moms like you” are. And every year, I post on how tragic it is that the world’s biggest maker of diapers instantly assumes that everyone on their e-mail coupon list is a woman. This year, with tongue firmly in cheek (I’m out of the diaper stage forever now), I decided I’d try to protest a little more officially.
CY: What do you hope this boycott achieves with regard to Pampers specifically, and more broadly with the media’s recognition that dads are caregivers?
RD: I am realistic. I don’t expect or even want Pampers to institute some sort of marketing plan that calls for exactly half of all ads to be targeted at men. All I want is an acknowledgment, somehow, somewhere — in an ad, in an e-mail, in a campaign — that dads play a central role in raising kids, up to an including changing diapers. This isn’t rocket science: Huggies is doing it. But if you look across everything that Pampers does, it’s hard to find so much as an image of an engaged dad.
CY: Why is this important to Dads, moms, kids and the broader culture?
RD: There is no meaningful biologic reason why — with the exception of breastfeeding — dads can’t play an equal (or greater!) role in raising kids. The imbalance in gender roles, then, is largely a social phenomenon. And though a single mom-focused commercial doesn’t automatically make dads into indifferent fathers, the cumulative impact of the mom-as-caregiver image in medium after medium after medium has an impact after a while. There are a good percentage of working dads that have never even thought about a role reversal, in part, because they’ve assumed that the world don’t work that way. And — if all you did was watch TV — you’d be hard-pressed to argue.
CY: Although you are putting your own blogging about the boycott on hold for awhile, the boycott itself continues. The response from other dads/parents has been positive. What is the message you are getting from fathers responding to the boycott?
The feedback has been great. Everyone has been supportive. But what’s really heartening is the number of people, who — like me — pay attention to the companies that show dads as involved parents. I mentioned Huggies earlier, and they came on my radar screen in no small part because of a bunch of fathers who suggested that I look at their marketing, which is gender-neutral in its language and pretty dad-friendly in its approach.
CY: How long will the boycott continue, and do you plan to expand it beyond Pampers?
At this point, I have other issues on which to focus my attention, and I am under no illusion that I will bring Proctor and Gamble to its knees. I’ll keep posting — and keep mentioning the boycott — every time I see something mom-centric from Pampers, and I look forward to calling off the dogs as soon as I see some dads in their marketing materials.
CY: I look forward to that day too. In the mean time, keep going. The your voice and the voices of other fathers in your community are critical if we are to change the broader cultural misperceptions about care giving that keep us all stuck. Thanks, Brian!
What do you think of Rebel Dad’s Pampers boycott? What else can we do to make the we the broader culture talks about and thinks about work and life match the reality most of us live in?