As we move toward a more tolerant society, variation in the structure of the nuclear family is becoming more and more common. While the traditional family is still the most widely adopted model, we’re seeing important shifts away from this longstanding norm to include families with gay, and queer parents, and families with nontraditional relationship structures- single parents, or others. Articles like the Belkin reading make it tempting to say that family models that share parenting roles evenly ought to be the new norm. But I believe we ought to move away from normalizing particular models altogether. Instead, we ought to focus on creating accessible avenues for people of all family structures. Our reading on the Swedish parental leave policy is a brilliant example because it provides space for new dads to be a part of their children’s early lives if they choose. The policy does not force dad’s to stay at home, but they have the option to (and 85% take advantage of it). Family ought to be determined by whatever structures and roles make its members most happy. Maria Bello’s Coming Out as a Modern Family is an excellent example of such an alternate structure. As long as we encourage and make space for alternative models of family, we’ll hopefully see greater numbers of fulfilled families, that foster acceptance both within and without the family unit.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share it All.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html (accessed December 15, 2013).
Bello, Maria . “Coming Out as a Modern Family.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/fashion/coming-out-as-a-modern-family-modern-love.html(accessed December 15, 2013).
Bennhold, Katrin . “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All .” New York Times . http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html (accessed December 15, 2013).
This AT&T iPhone ad has been airing this Christmas/Black Friday season, and though it’s harmless or even cute at best, it shows a lot of performed gender roles as they are reinforced within the family. The ad is called “Team Mom Hits the Mall.” The mother brings her son and younger daughter to the mall and hypes the kids up for finding Dad a gift.
The gender performances that lie under these simple show a difference in the way the mother treats each child. It’s true that the daughter is younger and that could add to the more condescending tone the mother uses with her, but it also shows the typical “man is strong” and “woman is weak and incompetent” tropes being assumed and catered to within the family. Sally is sporting a pink puffy coat and hat while Jack is wearing dark blue and a brown coat.
If we accept the construction of gender as Judith Lorber states it, as a structure and process, an important part of the way gender norms are perpetuated is the teaching and reenacting of gender. When are these gender roles and performances learned? From birth, “because parents don’t want to be constantly asked whether their baby is a boy or a girl” (Lorber 114). So perhaps it is a combination of societal pressures on the child and on the parents to raise the child as a gendered body that contribute to this indoctrination.
Lorber, Judith, Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology
This advertisement for Thomson Holidays, a UK-based travel agency, portrays several families and couples on picturesque, joyous vacations in a variety of locations. The advertisement urges the audience to take a break and cherish time with family. Unfortunately, the advertisement does not feature any non-normative people or relationships. Every single person featured is white, presumably upper class, and in a heterosexual relationship. This kind of advertising perpetuates the idea that the ideal, happy family has to fit into a certain mold. In reality, all types of families could probably benefit from this kind of vacation; as Belkin notes, even though most lesbian couples do not argue about the same issues as heterosexual couples, they still do bicker (Belkin 10). The advertisement advocates some positive ideals: spending time with family, putting away technology, and taking a break from the daily grind; it’s a shame that the creators of the advertisement did not care to portray non-heterosexual, non-white families partaking in a relaxing vacation as well.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” 2008.
This Chevy Malibu commercial targets the new generation of the “involved dad” or “family men.” The men who “don’t jump at the sound of the opening bell, because they’re trying to make the school bell.” The men who are “more into being a partner than making partner.” Or, “the richest guys on earth.” The slogan, “for the richest guys on earth,” and the commercial itself send a positive message to its viewers. The commercial contrasts the stereotypical “sexy” car commercial and takes a more wholesome approach. The advertisement tells men that a complete family life, i.e. involvement in childcare and perhaps even the household, makes a man “truly rich.”
Lisa Belkin’s article “When Mom and Dad Share It All” cites many examples of couples who practice equal parenting. The couples, Belkin writes, “understood that this would mean recalibrating their career ambitions, and probably their income, but what they gained, they believed, would be more valuable than what they lost.” The Malibu commercial challenges men to do just that—to set aside their career ambitions and focus on something that will make them “the richest guys on earth.”
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” New York Times Magazine. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web.
Aside from free choice constituting the ability of individuals to pursue their goals and present themselves through any manner they wish to choose, I would like to propose that free choice should also include the freedom from judgment that adversely affects an individual. Women in society are often forced into limiting dichotomies; is she a slut or a prude? Is she domesticated and maternal or career-driven and emotionless? For instance, many women feel they have to choose between raising a family and pursuing a career. Even in family structures where a male partner shares a good deal of the housework, “women… know that the world is watching and judging. If the toddler’s clothes don’t match…, if the house is a shambles, it is seen as her fault,” despite two parents having authority in the household (Belkin 6). Double standards are still widely enforced in society. Fredrik Friberg, who works part-time to help take care of his daughter, noticed that he “gets complimented on how much I help at home,” while his wife “gets no such gratitude” (Bennhold 7).
Women are often perceived in a very one-dimensional manner and furthermore, they are often criticized regardless of which end of the binary they fall into, as seen by the aforementioned working mothers. An essential part of feminism for me is the ability to exercise free choice without dealing with the subsequent criticism of others. I hope that we can work towards our society where true free choice and freedom from judgment is a reality for all individuals.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” 2008.
Bennhold, Katrin. “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All.” 09 June 2010. Web.
In this recent advertisement from Swiffer, via Procter & Gamble show a real-life old-age couple getting some help with their household cleaning with a lot of free Swiffer products. This ad seeks to charm viewers with a real-life couple that together keep up a household even though they are both 90, because hey, who doesn’t love old people? This seems like it will be in contrast to typical cleaning product ads where a young, beautiful women tries to do it all, keeping her kids happy, house spotless, and food on the table.
However, as we see in the video, the notion of keeping the household clean is still incredibly gendered here, which makes this commercial hard for me to watch. Even in their old age, the wife, Lee, takes full responsibility for cleaning the house. We watch her (and I cringe) as she tries to get up on a folding chair to clean hard-to-reach areas while the husband watches. In his words, “I don’t do anything.” Even though neither of these seniors works, it seems these two have decided the woman is responsible for everything in the household, which is their choice and should be respected but seems like this classical notion of suburban home life from the past, that the husband just sits around while the wife does it all.
When she sits in a circle with her female friends to rave about the cleaning products, I question whether this talk is just for the ad or if they always just sit around and talk about keeping up their household, because it is so much work for one person to do, regardless of gender.
The target audience for this ad is made up of adults who are running households themselves, but also those who have access to the Internet because this 3 minute-long video would never land on television.
Tide Laundry Detergent is using its newest commercials to reach an expanding demographic: men who do laundry. While this is a welcome change, as men are equally capable of doing laundry as women are, I found one of the recent commercials to be problematic. The commercial above introduces the newest blend of homemaker, the “dad-mom.” There is nothing wrong with stay-at-home dads (I love mine!), but the way this commercial portrays dads propagates gender roles instead of defying them. By calling the stay-at-home dad a “dad-mom,” Tide is saying that even though the dad is staying home, he is being a mom by doing the housework and caring for the children, which is considered to be women’s work. Tide additionally felt the need to validate the “dad-mom’s” masculinity by ending the commercial with him leaving the room to go do crunches and pull ups so that the “brute strength of dad” is not diminished by his ability to fold his daughter’s “frilliest girl dress.” Though this is just one example of the propagation of gender roles through advertising, it is unfortunate that Tide took a theme that had the potential to be progressive, the stay-at-home dad as an example of variety of family models that exist, and used it instead to reinforce existing stereotypes.