Guest blogger and PPBB Community Member Eryk Woods shares with us his feelings on being a father and being marginalized by marketers and the media. Fathers and male mentors play a huge role in the lives of children but too often we see their contributions mocked or altogether forgotten. Today, we look at how marketing to parents needs to be more inclusive….and how that will shift perceptions of both motherhood and fatherhood for our kids.
It’s mid November and my Christmas shopping has been done for a while now. My almost seven-year-old is getting a couple of science sets and a computer of his very own. His main presents are hidden away in my closet but I’d still like to fill out the tree with a couple of ancillary gifts, so every now and then I’ll jump on Amazon to see if anything catches my eye. That’s when I stumbled upon their holiday toy list.
The list was divided into categories: Active Playtime, Wood & Recycled, STEM, etc. But it was the category titled, “Mom Picks 2014” that made my heart sink. I’m a dad.
Where is the “Dad Picks 2014” category? Of course, it’s not there, and sadly, I’m not surprised in the least.
This is the way dads are systematically excluded from parenthood, and retailers are a prime culprit. Try this: type www.amazon.com/mom into your browser. You’ll find yourself at a page titled Amazon Mom, where you can get great deals on diapers, formula, baby shampoo, strollers, and all kinds of products for babies and kids. There are categories here too: For Baby, For Kids, For Parents, and For Mom. This last category is interesting, containing things like pregnancy books and diapers bags, things no dad will ever need, right? Why would a dad ever need to know anything about pregnancy and childbirth? That’s mom’s job! I’ll be out in the waiting room passing out cigars.
Note that there’s no category “for dad,” even though Amazon’s own billing for Amazon Mom says, “Amazon Mom is open to anyone, whether you’re a mom, dad, grandparent or caretaker.” THEN WHY IS IT CALLED AMAZON MOM?! Wouldn’t “Amazon Parents” work just as well?
Yes, yes, I know all the excuses by now and have heard them many times before. “It’s just a clever name for marketing purposes.” Or, “They’re just playing to their target demographic.” Or, “Well moms still do most of the shopping these days.” And sadly, those excuses are often true. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but they’re nonetheless harmful.
I have been what you could call a “father’s rights activist” since the day I found out I was going to be a dad. I distinctly remember shopping for a car seat, and reeling at the Graco box with the words, “Ask moms who know” printed on the side. I remember feeling overwhelmed by my sudden awakening to just how anti-dad the world of parenting really was. The word “mom” was plastered all over everything in the baby aisle. I instantly noticed how absent dads were from cereal, diaper and laundry commercials. Parenting magazine’s slogan, printed on the front of every issue, was, “What really matters to moms” and featured articles very much intended for women.
It all felt so disheartening. I obviously didn’t belong in this world of parenting, and it would have been easy for me to “take the hint” and leave it all up to my wife, but no matter how frustrating it was, it was not going to stop me from being the dad I knew I could be, the dad that my absentee dad was not.
If there’s a silver lining to growing up without a father, it’s that he wasn’t there to teach me the wrong way to be a dad. The kind of dad who passes the baby off to mom when there’s a diaper that needs changing. The kind of dad who tells his friends that he can’t go for drinks tonight because he has to “babysit” his own kids. The kind of dad who only sees his son’s Christmas gifts on Christmas morning when they’re unwrapped, because mom did all the shopping and wrapping and filled out the card, “From mom and dad.”
I have the confidence and convictions to be faced with a category called “Mom Picks 2014” and click on it anyway because I know that’s just marketing slang for “top trending toys.” But how many dads out there will use this as an excuse to pass the job off to mom? How many dads will see this and allow it to reinforce their existing beliefs that the shopping and the diaper changes and the doctor’s appointments and the parent-teacher conferences are not his job? None of that benefits moms, dads, or most importantly, children.
I’ve had this discussion before, and this is the part where someone says, “But it’s his responsibility to be a good father!” I agree, wholeheartedly! It’s nobody’s responsibility but his own to be the father that his children deserve. But does that mean we can’t make fatherhood more inviting? Does that mean we can’t welcome him in and make him feel included? Why can’t the target demographic for holiday toy list be all parents? What is there to gain by deliberately leaving out dads? We could argue that all the moms out there who are doing all the shopping for their kids can feel a bit of recognition for their hard work, but in truth, this exclusionism hurts mothers as well. I heard it said that decades ago, men went to work and women raised the kids, and now men and women both go to work, and women raise the kids. There’s a lot of truth to this. We’re pushing hard to get women into the boardroom, but what are we doing to push men to be more involved at home and in their children’s lives?
Things are getting better. Graco and Parenting Magazine have dropped their mom-centric slogans. Commercials with dad competently pouring cereal and doing laundry are becoming more common. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that these changes happened organically. They happened because people spoke out against the exclusion of fathers in all facets of parenting, including something as seemingly trivial as the name of a category on a holiday gift list. Keep the momentum going!
Moms, we need your help! You are our biggest allies in this fight. Please, reach out to these marketing agencies and tell them that you don’t want to be pandered to at the expense of fathers. And dads, don’t let yourself be convinced that you are anything less than half of a parenting team. You’re not mom’s assistant and you’re certainly not a casual observer. You are dad! Don’t be anything less.
Eryk Woods is a single dad, a former Marine, and a current tech guy living in the great Northwest.