Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Penis-free Parenting: A Rhetorical Analysis

There's a more serious discussion of issues along these lines at dadwhowrites.  Check it out. 

The twins are startled when I come bounding into the playroom, shouting, "The new issue of Parenting is here!! The new issue of Parenting is here!!"  Soon enough, though, their fear dissipates and turns to mere bewilderment.

"Well, you might not understand; but you certainly will reap the rewards," I tell them as they go back to chewing on spent AA batteries.

Although I'm confident that my childcare instincts are sound, it can never hurt to get some practical tips from the experts; and Parenting (Early Years), which mysteriously started showing up in the mail, should be just what the case worker ordered.

I thumbed through the last couple issues when they arrived, but I didn't have time to really put my arms around what I'm sure were sensitive treatments of the pressing issues facing modern parents.  I seem to recall something about a vibrator giveaway.  Nah...that must have been some other magazine.

So I skim the pages of the April 2010 issue to get a quick sense of what a Parenting parent looks like.  The pages are filled with photos of happy, beautiful children and equally attractive parents, all in stylish clothes.  These are people I can identify with!  And diverse?  It's an ethnic rainbow inside, featuring gorgeous people of every shade!  This is a magazine I can feel comfortable with because, like many white people, I firmly believe in media images of a happily integrated society.

I finish my once-over and pause.

Well that's curious, I think, starting from the back and flipping my way through the pages again.  Although ethnic groups from Ethiopians to Azerbaijanis are represented in the photos, there is one thing conspicuously absent in the vast majority of these model parents: a Y chromosome.  (For those of you who, like me, barely made it through high school biology, Y chromosomes are what make dudes dudes, genetically speaking.  I consulted with my wife on this.)

In all, I count five images of fathers in the entire magazine.  One (a caricature) is teaching his son to be a good loser.  One, pictured from behind such that only the back of his head, his stocking feet, and his remote control hand are visible, accompanies a feature in which an advice columnist explains how to deal with us typical guys who ignore our families so that we can watch sports on TV.

The other three men are fixin' to get buck wild with their babymommas.  This IS the magazine that had the vibrator giveaway in a previous issue!

In the issue I'm looking at, a feature article called "Mama Sutra (Hot tips for a more satisfying sex life)" advises, "A hand job here or a blow job there will go a long way toward keeping him physically satisfied and the pilot light (for both of you) smoldering."  Elsewhere in this issue are a chart with foods that will increase your libido and a review of mom-tested vaginal lubricants.  This is not the parenting advice I was expecting. 

The only other place (aside from a very small number of ads) where I can find even a suggestion that there could be a man somehow involved in this whole parenting enterprise is in the "Hot Dad Alert!" where the reader is asked to go to the website to submit pics of her hot husband.

Okay, I get it.  This is not really a "parenting" magazine so much as it is a "mothering" magazine.  I'm sure there are other publications out there for parents that are directed to a mixed audience.  Right?  I realize that stay-at-home dads are a statistically irrelevant minority not worth advertising to; and probably most of us don't actually care that we aren't represented in glossy magazines full of diaper ads.

But when men are mostly "out of the picture" in depictions of family, and the few times they are included they are portrayed as boorish obstacles who nonetheless must be kept on standby for booty calls, the ideal of gender equality is not served.  I suspect that the writers and editors of this magazine don't actually condone a society in which moms do all of the parenting (even sometimes parenting of the dad himself), and there is probably nothing more pernicious happening here than marketing and social attitudes reinforcing one another in an endless cycle that guarantees a glacial pace in movement away from traditional gender roles.   

So should fathers feel slighted by the clear message that their role as parents is not only secondary, but insignificant to the point of being invisible?  Sure.  Should women be exasperated that, despite their advances (and the demands placed on them) in the working world over the past half century, they are still expected to do all the heavy lifting in the area of child-rearing?  Of course.  Should I, as a stay-at-home dad, be indignant because I am largely ignored by the parenting media?  Absolutely.  Will I work up a sense of righteous indignation sometime in the very near future?  Probably.  But right now, I have other things on my mind:


  1. Heheheh

    When you're done with that could you send it over here so I can leave it around my house too?

  2. @Dan--I'll send you the back issues as I finish with them!

  3. I've never even looked at an issue of Parenting magazine...maybe I should go buy one :)

  4. Great piece!

    It's almost identically proportioned to the magazines that dropped through our door for a while. But without the sex.

    The worst one I saw was something called 'Green Parenting' which actually (drum roll) featured a father with his own column! The man involved then spent his first paragraph apologising for a) being green and b) being an engaged father. "I've even been known to have the odd pint..." I don't think he was being ironic.

    Problem is, they're written for women by marketing companies targeting women who stereotypically own the parenting dollar. That's how its perceived, anyway. We'll just have to start our own.

    There was an online dad's zine (there are any number of group blogs) but they all seem to exist in a stew of testosterone and sports.

  5. @dadwhowrites--

    Thanks for the comments! I agree with you about the dad group blogs. A lot of them seem to be an outlet for dads to assert their masculinity "despite" their roles as dads.

    Yeah, let's work on getting the dad zine going. What do we need? Typewriter, copier, stapler. That's about it, right?

  6. Did you have a problem with the part about the blowjobs and handjobs? I didn't think so.


  7. Morris--

    Honestly, I'm not sure I know exactly what those things are. Should have a problem with that part?

  8. Did I ever tell you I used to work at PARENTING magazine like 12 years ago? Let me tell you something: the editorial staff is 99% female. But here's the bullshit thing: the person in charge of the entire PARENTING group (about 3 or 4 magazines)? MALE!


  9. Michelle...Kwan? Is that you?

    You never told me about working there. Or maybe you did and I didn't pay attention. I'm sure all the gals in the editorial pool appreciate having a strong father figure in charge.

  10. This is interesting - not something I ever really thought about before.

    For what it's worth, I think "Parents" is a far better magazine. Not sure if there are any more dads in there, though. :/

  11. Piecemeal--I think I will end up surveying all the major parenting mags in the not too distant future. Thanks for the tip!

  12. and this, precisely, is why I hate (yeah, a little strong word I told my children a long time ago they shouldn't use blithely) Parenting Magazine. I despise it because it perpetuates all the worst stereotypes of "mothers" and "parenting" in our society. I don't like their ads, I don't like (most) of their articles. Do I hate all parenting magazines? Nope, actually, I LOVE Mothering Magazine. ok, I know the title may dissuade you from buying it, but check this out. A quick search on line yielded thise (and it's because I've had a subscription in the past and they mention dads all the time and have some great pictures of dads on fuzzy chests, etc.)

    Here's Jon Lajoie's goofy (ok, maybe he didn't mean it to be goofy?) video on being a stay at home dad.

    There's more: Jeremy Adam Smith's blog on fathering (also from Mothering Magazine.)

    and even more support (found on Mothering.com) for stay at home papas.

  13. Sylvia--

    Thanks for the info (and vitriol!)

    I've read some of Smith's blogs and heard interviews with him. I should probably read his book.

    I'll have to check out Mothering. It's funny that the magazine with the gender specific title is the less gendered.

    I have read some of the blogs and reader comments on the Parenting website, and it seems like the readers are not necessarily living the life depicted in the photo spreads. There are a lot of non-traditional families (unmarried w/kids, blended, etc.) and a lot of pretty crappy sounding problems. So, more like real life. I guess the magazine offers them an escape to a world where the biggest problems are imperfect sex and extra pounds? Or maybe it creates unrealistic expectations that make their real problems seem that much more devastating. I guess I should read more before making such pronouncements. But I don't really want to.

  14. Chiming in from stats-land here, but you stay-at-home dads are NOT statistically irrelevant. Statistically insignificant, maybe, but not irrelevant. ;)

  15. Kumi--Thanks! That totally makes sense. Is that even a real term, "statistically irrelevant"? Anyway, I'm glad I'm just insignificant, not irrelevant. I guess.

  16. Great post and discussion. It's ridiculous that we are as you point out, almost entirely out of the picture--literally. I know there have been dialogues with either the editor of Parent or Parenting (can't remember) and paraphrased, her response was the magazine didn't feel men were representative to their demographic. That caught them some flack. I need to go back and pull up that conversation from Rebel Dad.

    Again, great observations. Good to know we're not alone in our perceptions of the situation.

  17. The dad revolution is coming. Just you watch and see.

  18. Lunchbox--Thanks for the feedback! I'll be on the lookout for that dialogue.

    Jack--Will the dad revolution be televised? If so, will it only be on ESPN 2?

  19. Whenever we get the latest issue of one of these rags (I think we get Parents Mag, an error in judgment on my part as I didn't survey the publication before committing $12 to a 24 month subscription), I read the cover headlines and chuckle. My favorites are ones like "Discipline Tips and Tricks Every Mother Should Know". I just say "Sweet, this is just for you", then I hand it off to my wife and say "because discipline isn't my responsibility, obviously". Most of those things aren't worth the paper they are printed on.

  20. PJ--

    It's sad that those things sell so many subscriptions and so much ad space. I have to admit that I have read a couple worthwhile things in Parenting, though. I just had to make an effort to ignore the obvious fact that I was excluded from the author's perceived audience.

  21. Ahh...Croatia. Flaming spirits!

  22. Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder! HEDGEHOG!!

  23. I feel the same way, I picked up a parenting magaszine just recently (forget the title) because the cover said "talking to your kids about the divorce" It went into my office shredder because it was only written from the point of view that now that dad is gone Mommy has to do etc etc etc. I don't have my kids, but I am still a part of their lives, what about something thaat shows both sides.

  24. Wayne--

    That's brutal. Talk about adding insult to injury. I have not actually been offended by these mags (yet)--just annoyed at the kind of bullshit they peddle--but your experience must have been really painful. Sorry to hear about that.

  25. I subscribe to no such magazines, but simply have a mother-in-law living here to remind me of how silly it is when I do Mommy things. Whenever she comes in and finds me at the stove, she just stands there and laughs and says "Oh, Daddy's cooking!"

  26. Don't subscribe to any of these magazines, but do have my own live-in Asian (Chinese in this case) mother-in-law to let me know how silly it is when I (occasionally) do Mommy things. Whenever she walks in and finds me at the stove, for example, she just stands there and laughs and says "Oh, Daddy cooking!"

  27. oops thought i posted then thought i hadn't then see that i did. forgive/delete redundancy please. The second one is better; I forgot the Asian part, which suddenly seemed relevant. And no, she doesn't pronounce her apostrophe "s"s.


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