Real Media Messages: Dadvertising

Two Narratives

I don’t regularly watch cable or broadcast television – which might seem weird for someone who is a media literacy educator, but I do watch videos online frequently.

I’ve also never been much of a sports fan, always identifying more as an “art and music” guy. I’ve only been invited to two Super Bowl parties in my life. The first of which I was quickly dis-invited to and asked to leave for talking too much during the game, and the second time a co-worker invited me over “just for the commercials”. Truth be told I only went for the beer and nachos.

With that said, I’m always surprised when people enthusiastically ask,

“Did you see that new (insert brand name X) commercial? It’s awesome!”

As if it was the actual show, and not the advertisement that disrupts the show.

Of course this tends to happen frequently in the weeks leading up to and just following the Super Bowl each year, when advertisers showcase what is to be considered the most innovative and often risqué commercials of the television season.

This year’s advertising zeitgeist produced the phenomenon now known as “Dadvertising”, marketing specifically aimed at men who are fathers, often invoking strong emotional imagery of dads and their kids bonding and sharing a special moment together as a hook.

One particular ad has been garnering a lot of attention lately – Dove’s “Dove Men +Care” and their accompanying social media campaign #RealStrength.

The commercial and ad campaign have been heralded as the harbinger of a kinder, gentler brand of fatherhood in the advertising world, proof that the “New Fatherhood” or “Fatherhood 2.0” has reached a tipping point within popular culture.

Dove has regularly attracted positive attention for their “Dove Real Beauty” ad campaigns calling out the unrealistic expectations society holds women and girls to and challenging harmful and unhealthy dominant narratives of female beauty. So it would seem to make sense that they would also challenge traditional narratives of fatherhood – to celebrate dads as nurturers and caregivers.

However, like many advertisers Dove is only telling part of the story.

Dove is owned by a larger parent company, Unilever. Unilever is British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company producing a number of nutrition, cleaning, and hygiene products. Dove is just one of over 400 brand names owned by Unilever and each brand has their own marketing and ad campaigns including Axe/Lynx – a popular line of hygiene products aimed at young men.

Both Dove and Axe/Lynx brands sell hygiene products for men, such as shampoo, deodorant, body washes and sprays, and shaving gels. Unfortunately the stories they use to market and sell those products are polar opposites of each other.

While the Dove marketing campaigns seem to be challenging traditional gender norms, celebrating diversity, and rebranding beauty as a holistic expression of the true self, Axe and Lynx’s campaigns relish in old school, hegemonic themes of male privilege and entitlement, misogyny, and objectification of women.

Two brands. Two narratives about masculinity. One parent company.

To highlight the discrepancies between the two brands and their campaigns I created this mash-up parody video based on the Dove Men+Care ad with samples of various Axe and Lynx ads mixed in. The video highlights why developing media literacy skills is important not only for yourself, but also for your kids.

I’m not suggesting that both the “Dove Real Beauty” and the “Dove Real Strength” campaigns are completely without benefit, as there is value in their ability to signal boost new healthier narratives about gender, beauty, relationships, and parenting to the masses, but as savvy consumers of both products and media we should expect and demand more.

It’s important to note that for all of their merits both campaigns continue to assign traditional gender characteristics to their target audiences. Women = beauty. Men = strength.

In a 2006 survey by the National Fatherhood Initiative, fathers identified negative media and popular culture portrayals of fathers as the #2 barrier to responsible fathering. Countless studies demonstrate the connection between idealized female beauty and the real life body and self-esteem issues girls and women struggle with. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified media literacy education as an important tool in the primary prevention of sexual assault. This speaks to how important and powerful the stories we tell about who we are and how we relate to each other are. In essence these stories define our culture.

Share how media literacy makes you smarter at #RealMediaMessages.

Link to the original “Dove Men+Care”.


The Problem With Men’s Rights Groups

The problem with “Men’s Rights” groups isn’t that individual men aren’t in need of support and advocacy in their personal lives, or that they aren’t also victims of violence and injustice. The problem is that as a collective of men we haven’t yet really listened to the voices of women well enough to justify amping up our own.

Why Feminist Fathering?

When I first started exploring the overlap between feminism and fatherhood there wasn’t a lot out there. Sure I was up on all of the heavy hitters in regards to men’s work and feminism – Jackson Katz, Michael Kimmel, Tony Porter, Byron Hurt, Alan Johnson, etc.

And while many of these pioneers in the new men’s movement often dropped “the F word” few did so within the context of fatherhood. There didn’t seem to be a conscious effort to galvanize the two terms or concepts into a single idea. Kimmel and Porter seem to have come the closest and in much of their work the linkage is implied, but things often do not manifest fully until they are properly named and invoked.

As recently as a year ago when you searched for “feminist fatherhood” on Google it would turn up no results and Google would instead ask “Did you mean: feminist motherhood?” It was as if the two terms could not conceivably co-exit together.


Silly Dad feminism is for moms!

It wasn’t actually until last January 2011 that Google started displaying hits for both “fatherhood” and feminism” and it was in relation to various feminist blog postings about the birth of rapper Jay Z’s daughter which precipitated an awakening within him to the plight of women’s issues. Unfortunately the story turned out to be an internet hoax, which is unfortunate because as dads we could really use a celebrity feminist father in our corner.

So that is how this blog came into being. To claim space and create a venue for what I believe to the most important new frontier for fathers in the 21st century – having the courage and conviction to raise our kids with a mindfulness to how gender socialization and politics effect three core areas:

  •  Our personal orientation to parenting as a male-identified parents
  • Our child’s personal development and self-identity across the gender spectrum
  • Our relationship with your child’s mother or other co-parenting partner

A Feminist Father is a dad that seeks to transcend the sociopolitical gender landscape in the noble pursuit of raising a fully realized human being.

 Dads in what ways is feminism enhancing your parenting style and creating positive outcomes your kids and co-parenting partners?

Top 5 Family Friendly Feminist Jams To Rock With Your Kids

I’m taking my daughter to her first music festival this weekend at Doheny Days in southern California. I figured this playlist would be a good way to get us in the mood this morning. Here’s my pikcs for Top 5 Family Friendly Feminist Jams To Rock With Your Kids. There were a lot of other great bands ans songs that missed the list – the criteria being at least PG-13 rating as far as lyrics go. Share your tops picks in the comments section.

5. You Don’t Own Me – Leslie Gore

Recorded in 1963 when she was just 17 years this song is a great primer for teaching your kids that healthy relationships are devoid of power and control issues. Yes means yes and no means no!

4. Oh Bondage, Up Yours! – X-Ray Specs

“Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think   BONDAGE UP YOURS! 1-2-3-4!”” Released in 1977 by British punk Bank, X-Ray Specs, lead singer, Poly Styrene rallies the anthem cry to get your kids excited to tackle issues of sexism head on.

3. Ladies First Queen Latifah

Released in 1989 as hip-hop began to take an ugly turn away from its socially conscious roots towards the more commercially viable gangster rap, Queen Latifah brought a much needed female perspective to the genre. She would later go on to collaborate with hip-hop legend KRS-One with the Stop The Violence initiative.

2. Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill

The classic Riot Grrrl Anthem, this song will get any kid bouncing about the living room furniture. With a catchy hook this song is all about female partnership and empowerment. (Worth a listen is founder Kathleen Hanna’s late band, Le Tigre’s “FYR”, unfortunately the lyrics are a bit too adulterated to be considered family friendly – but hey sexism and misogyny should piss you off a little bit right?)

1. Kool Thing – Sonic Youth

There would be no Riot Grrrl or Third Wave movement with out the influence of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Even my gay male friends had a crush on Kim back in the late 80s and early 90s. The song was released in 1990 and originally written as a dis to fellow New York artist, rapper LL Kool J. Public Enemy front man, Chuck D lends vocals.

Dads, so what are you going to do for the girls about male, white, corporate oppression?

Four Corners Strengthening Families Conference To Be Held In Durango, CO 9/20/12

This coming September 20th the Administration for Children and Families in partnership with Colorado Department of Human services and Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence will be hosting a free conference in Durango, CO for anyone interesting in supporting the positive development of healthy kids, families, and communities.

The theme of the conference is “Thinking Outside The Box” with the goal of connecting family service providers from multidisciplinary backgrounds for a boundary stretching, exploration of promising practices in Human Services. Presentation topics include:

  • Breaking Human Services Silos & enhancing collaborations to provide holistic services
  • Partnering with fathers to promote positive outcomes for kids and families
  • Domestic Violence and sexual assault – it’s everybody’s business
  • Teen Pregnancy prevention strategies and Relationship Education trends
  • ASSET building – can people in poverty save money?
  • Media Literacy and gender socialization
  • Engaging men and boys

Presenters include:

  • Tyler Osterhaus – Colorado Men Against Domestic Violence, Feminist Fatherhood
  • Beth Collins-Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Jennifer Morganto – Colorado Dept. of Human Services PREP Program
  • Sandy Naatz – Administration for Children and Families

The conference is free but you must register in advance by following this link. You can download the flyer here.

Is Your Kid’s School Stuck In The Gender Box?

I’ve recently become unemployed. I gave up what had essentially been my dream job as a fatherhood practitioner and anti-violence educator so that my wife could pursue an opportunity to advance her career. That move brought us to San Diego, California and although I miss the great projects and people that I left in Colorado I am excited for our family’s new adventures here in California.

Unemployment has afforded me the luxury of helping to ease the transition for my seven-year-old daughter, Luna. After hitting the beach for daily body boarding sessions for our first week out here, it finally came time for Luna to go back to school. She was really nervous about a new school, in a new town and I wanted to be as involved as possible at her school to be supportive.

When we went to the school office to register her I was excited to find that the school had a Watch DOGS program to encourage father involvement. Watch DOGS (Dads Of Great Students) is a father involvement initiative created by the National Center for Fathering and organizes fathers and father figures in order to provide positive male role models for students and to enhance school security.

The school receptionist put me in touch with another father that coordinated the Watch DOGS program and after dropping Luna off at her classroom I met up with him and the other Watch DOGS fathers on the playground. They explained to me the role they play at the school: fix things, build things, and man the grill and hold a haunted house at the Fall Festival.


Ok, so not so much of a bummer about the haunted house. I liked that one. But I was surprised at how “in the box” the volunteer opportunities for dads were in regards to traditional gender roles. Unless its a computer, trust me you don’t want me to fix any of your stuff, and if you want something built square or level or basically not shitty looking, I’m not your guy. I also can’t cook steak or hamburgers very well. As a reformed vegetarian I still can’t figure out how to effectively cook meat. Mostly I just burn it because it still kind of grosses me out that meat is dead animals.

Plan B.

I went directly to Luna’s teacher before class the next morning and asked if there was anything I could do in the classroom to help. She couldn’t think of anything and seemed surprised that I asked. She took my number down and told me she’d call me if anything came up. Then I got a call from my wife. She was on her way out to the desert to take well readings for her hydrology job and had gotten a call from the school regarding a medical form that needed to be updated for Luna.

On my way out I stopped by the office to take care of this. I relayed the message from my wife to the receptionist and she called over the school nurse. The nurse found the appropriate form and explained to me that all my wife needed to do was to stop into the office some time and sign it.

I looked at her kind of dumbfounded and asked, “Can’t I just sign it right now?”

She looked up at me, confused as if I had been speaking in an alien tongue.

“You’re her dad?”


“Her biological parent.”


“Well I guess I don’t see a reason why a dad can’t sign the form?” she quipped to the receptionist, shrugging her shoulders.

As I signed the form I took out my phone to check the date. The nurse looked at me. I rock a purple and teal colored iPhone case.

“Is that your wife’s phone?’

“No, no it’s mine.”

“That’s just surprising because I have the same one and I just thought the colors were, well you know…”

“Totally awesome, because they’re the colors of both domestic violence and sexual assault awareness!”

“Uh, yeah, um…I guess I didn’t know that.”

I signed the form and walked out to my car, not sure if I should laugh or cry.

Are we really still that behind the times and that entrenched in traditional gender parenting roles that we don’t think a father can take the responsibility to sign a simple medical form?

Is this more a reflection of an educational institution that has failed to evolve in their thinking or is it it more a reflection of how we as men are still stuck in the box or choosing to remain in the box?

Does a purple cell phone cover really make a statement about my manhood?

As dads and as men we need to challenge these stereotypes and be willing to go out of our comfort zones to show that when dads get involved at school it shouldn’t be limited to building things or grilling or coaching sports teams or playing the protector on the playground. It should be to involve the whole of our being and celebrate all of our unique gifts and talents, even our nurturing sides. From teaching reading skills, to running math drills, to volunteering in the art room, to chaperoning field trips, to cutting out construction paper stars for the bulletin board, to making decisions about our child’s best interest, dads are capable of so much more.

More importantly as fathers we should be questioning what our kids are taught about gender in school. Traditional gender roles put unnecessary and hindering limits on our kids’ ability to follow their true path of growth. Traditional gender roles can dictate everything from how space on the playground is claimed to how school funds are spent to who has status, worth, and capacity.

One thing is for certain. Getting involved at school is a great opportunity for dads to make a difference in their kids’ lives and positively impact the school community. As for me, I’m going to keep challenging the status quo.

The Dark Night – Reflections on the Aurora Shooting

Like many Batman fans my 16-year-old nephew and I waited in line to be some of the first in the country to view the much anticipated film, The Dark Knight Rises. In line outside the theater we enjoyed talking and watching the spectacle of fans dressed in capes and cowls and just the general excitement and buzz that filled the air.

At 3:02 AM this morning we joined the exiting mass of fellow movie-goers engaged in the collective chatter of sharing impressions and favorite scenes. By 3:15AM we had arrived home and I climbed into bed, too amped up to sleep I browsed the Reddit website for other fan’s impressions of the film and that’s when I first heard about the tragic shooting that had just taken place 60 miles south of us in Aurora, Colorado.

At first I assumed it was a publicity stunt and a quick Google search confirmed the worst  – that this was indeed a real incident. Like most fellow Coloradans thoughts of the Columbine atrocity were immediately invoked. I was overwhelmed with emotion, both saddened and angered and even relieved that this hadn’t happened at the theater in Greeley where we had seen the movie.

Even though my nephew and I weren’t directly involved or affected first-hand I felt a sense of connection to the incident as this could have happened anywhere. In any town. In any theater. I felt a sense of surrealism, as did many of those who were directly involved in the shooting. The reports indicate that witnesses in the theater initially thought the incident was an elaborate special effect, as the the shooter’s demeanor and appearance mirrored that of the film’s lead villain, Bane.

As an anti-violence educator I often teach media literacy skills to both parents and kids. While I know that media such as film, television, music, and video games can have an affect on our socialization process and thus our general outlook and orientation to ourselves and others, I have also believed that most individuals possess the capacity to discern fantasy from reality and make healthy choices about their media consumption.

Last night I found myself questioning this belief. Was the media to blame? Worse yet had I contributed to the problem just in supporting the film and similar types of media? Had I failed in being a positive role model for my young nephew? Was I normalizing the violence and in effect a permissive by-stander allowing it to thrive by my own inaction?

The initial tweets and Reddit posts regarding the incident I read last night posted by direct witnesses suggested that perhaps the shooting was gang related. In my heart I knew better, and by early morning the media had confirmed that similar to other shooting incidents that the gunmen was indeed a young white male, acting alone.

I worry about my nephew. He fits the profile of so many of these gunmen. Young, white, middle class. No father, bullied at school. Reclusive and awkward. Entrenched in a fantasy world of violent video games and horror movies, with little supervision in regards to his media consumption. A good kid, but hard to reach and preoccupied with his own internal darkness.

The day has been filled with watercooler discussions, checking in with social and news media updates, prayers and positive thoughts directed towards the victims and their families. And an overwhelming urge to respond, reflect, and process the impacts of this tragic event.

What will I say to my nephew when I get home? How will I help him process this? How do we make sense of the tragedy?

Do I urge him to retire his violent video game collection? Do I tell him that was our last superhero movie together? Do I tell him that although far removed from the tragedy that I feel like I’ve failed him as an elder and as a positive male role model for participating in the enjoyment of the depiction of violence as entertainment?

The response to this mornings tragedy has quickly divided and polarized our communities, both here in Colorado and across the nation. Gun rights and gun control advocates are already hashing out the implications of this incident. Right vs Left conspiracy theories have been hatched. The media has been blamed and recanted. Now is not the time to polarize our discussions or to use these tragic events to promote our own agenda. That’s about as unproductive as arguing DC vs. Marvel, Batman vs. Superman.

Perhaps, like the residents of Batman’s mythic Gotham City now more than ever we need to embrace and wrap our support around our heroes. Not just the Bruce Waynes who overcome the darkness to become a beacon of hope, but perhaps more importantly the less flashy but equally important Alfred The Butlers who through their nurturing and caregiving provide guidance and hope to young men who are struggling alone with their own internal darkness.

Like Batman, none of us possesses superpowers, but we have a choice in how we respond to the darkness, how we use our resources for the greater good.  Despite criticism of the comic and the film’s portrayals of violence, Batman’s character has never advocated killing. In the film he tells a vengeful Catwoman, “No guns, no killing.”

In the coming hours and days and months we will all be called upon to help the community of Aurora and Colorado heal. You can start by helping your kids and those close to you process the tragic events that have unfolded today.

Here’s a great link for some tips on how to talk to your kids about the shooting:

I’m heading home to have a heart to heart with my nephew.

Tyler Osterhaus, Colorado Men Against Domestic Violence