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”.

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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.

Her Job, His Job, Our Family – Balancing Professional and Parenting Roles In A Pro-Feminist Household

Six years ago I had put my career as a social worker on hold to become a stay-at-home dad, a role in which I truly relished but found immensely more challenging than I had assumed it would be. I had served in the trenches as a caregiver for adults with disabilities and had already changed the diaper of a 300 pound man with behavioral issues while getting punched in the head on regular basis. Changing an 8 pound infant’s diaper was a piece of cake in comparison. The turds were so dainty.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the social isolation and the loss of personal identity that accompanied this transition of roles. The decision to take on the role of stay-at home parent was made primarily because my wife was suffering from severe postpartum depression and it just seemed to make sense to structure our newly consolidated family in this way. Plus, she made a bit more money than I did and had a better health insurance plan.

Shortly after our daughter’s first birthday my wife received news that she had been accepted into a graduate program in Colorado studying hydrology and groundwater. So we packed up our tiny pickup truck and left our home in Anchorage, Alaska for the long migration to Colorado.  I would be returning to the workforce as she passed the torch of primary breadwinner to me. She would be juggling the roles of part-time stay at home mom and full time student.

Now six years have passed and our family is once again in transition, my wife has completed her graduate program and recently accepted a position as hydrologist with an engineering firm out in San Diego. She is already out there and started her first day of work this past Monday, leaving my daughter and I to tie up loose ends in Colorado before joining her at the end of the summer.

Professionally I find myself in transition again, or more effectively limbo as I begin my employment search. When my wife was given the official job offer for her new position we sat down as partners and as a family and weighed the pros and cons. Together we decided that San Diego made sense. It was a chance to live by the ocean but more importantly an opportunity for her career to really take off. Hydrology is a niche field and you have to go where the jobs are. She worried about me though, knowing that I would be giving up a job I loved – working with men and boys, promoting concepts of responsible fatherhood and healthy relationships. I joked that it would be OK. “I’m a social worker. I can find work anywhere…there are people with problems all over the place!”

The next day at work I prepared to tell my boss of the impending closure to my employment. In a weird twist of fate before I could tell her I was basically offered a promotion, pending the interview process. Damn. Talk about poor timing.

As I processed this missed opportunity with my wife, I could truly feel her empathy for my situation and both of us began second guessing our newly hatched master plan. I realized that I was indeed grieving at the loss of hands down the best job of my career but worse yet I found myself justifying and rationalizing the loss through the lens of my role as a pro-feminist  partner and father. I began to have internal dialogs eulogizing myself as some selfless martyr to the cause of women in the workplace.

“I’m taking one for the team.You know, in support of women in engineering. It will be healthy for my daughter to have a strong female role model excelling in science. After all she wants to be a marine biologist, my wife will be opening doors for her.”

I’m happy to say that with a little help from some friends I quickly got over myself.

Parenting and marriage is all about partnership and compromise. Some times my wife takes the lead, sometimes I do. Sometimes her career takes precedence, sometimes mine does. It’s a give and take, an ebb and flow, a constant mindfulness to what will be in the best interest of our entire family. After all, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t acknowledge that new opportunities for growth and exploration await for all of us in the San Diego.

Besides, our daughter already has the perfect job picked out for me – ticket taker at Sea World so her and my wife can get in for free when I’m working.

Feminist Fathers Model Effective Co-Parenting

This past Mother’s Day when my five year-old daughter, Luna suggested that we take mom out to breakfast we headed to our local IHOP only to be met with a line of other families with the same plan stretching out the front door. Luna wondered why the pancake house was more crowded than usual and my wife explained that “For many of the moms here Mother’s Day is the only day that they don’t have to cook for everyone and do all the dishes.” Luna responded with a puzzled look on her face, “That’s not how it works at our house, Dad does most of the cooking.”

I was really struck by Luna’s comment and my wife and I both smiled and gave each other a loving glance. In that moment I knew that this was one area that I was really succeeding as a father – I wasn’t just challenging traditional gender roles, but more importantly I was modeling partnership and cooperation within my relationship with my daughter’s mother.

We all know that fathers play an important role in the healthy development of both daughters and sons. But we often take for granted how important it is to be a positive gender role model. When kids look to their fathers they see a model for how they believe men are supposed to act and treat others. Even non-violent fathers can do tremendous harm to their kids if they raise them with sexist beliefs or attitudes.

Becoming a feminist father basically means that as a male parent you strive to treat all people equally—first and foremost your children’s mother. You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of misogyny and sexism throughout our culture, some of which you might feel powerless to address, but there’s one thing you can do— don’t allow it in your home. Share the chores with mom, validate her perspective, treat her with respect, and show the kids that you are both equal partners. Both sons and daughters will thrive in this environment and it will set the stage for them to value and seek out healthy relationships with both men and women when they grow up.

While all fathers face the challenge of raising a son or a daughter or in many cases both, feminist fathers are able to see beyond the duality of nature and set their sights on raising human beings. Boys and girls are different, and in some cases they do have different needs, but when we come to realize that gender is a cultural construct we also come to understand that in most cases boys and girls are more alike than different and have essentially the same basic needs. All kids need both roots and wings to realize their full potential. When we force kids into rigid gender stereotypes we limit their capacity for growth.

With Mother’s Day behind us, I’m now looking forward to Father’s Day and the rituals that my family has created as a means of celebrating. But between now and then I’d like encourage other dads to remain mindful of your relationship with your children’s mother and your role as a positive male role model. Talk to your kids about gender roles and what it means to be in a fair and equitable relationship. If you’re not in a relationship with your kids’ mom and there’s still some drama there – take the high road and find a way to compliment her in front of them.  It can be as simple as telling your kid, “I love the way you laugh—you have your mother’s laugh. That laugh could light up a whole room.”