Op-ed: Why Dumb Ads Hurt Moms and Dads

Ads that shut out fathers do a disservice to the entire family.

BY Michelle Garcia

January 15 2014 6:00 AM ET

I'm not a mother. I will be (stop hyperventillating, Mom, we're working on it), but I'm not one right now.

But ever since I learned about burning bras and the wage gap, I become incensed when I hear advertising slogans presuming that women are the default parents. Like, dads can be parents, but wink wink, nudge nudge, moms are the real parents.

The first time I was conscious of this was hearing the slogan "Choosy moms choose Jif." Did my mother do the majority of the grocery shopping in our house? Yes. But it's not like my dad would walk into Waldbaum's and lose his freaking mind, drowning in incoherency, and not knowing how to buy peanut butter. I'm sure this happens in many homes, but I think it's happening less frequently, despite the proliferation of stay-at-home mommy blogs.

Dads are parents too, and I really cringe at how that message gets lost decades after a generation of career-minded women went to work and demanded that their husbands share the duties of running and maintaining a household, including the child rearing. In my case, before my parents split up, my mom checked my homework, and my dad took me to get manicures. Both my parents taught me how to ride a bike.

And after my parents split up, we went to the suburbs to live with my dad — it was a major adjustment for this city kid, but both Mom and Dad were still ever-present in my life and my sister's. My dad took me to my first track and field team meeting, and my mom (whose latest hobby is boxing at the moment, by the way) got me a basketball coach. They helped me with science projects and term papers and dealing with the drama of high school. Both of my parents parented me.

So the other night during the Golden Globes, I nearly stabbed my TV with my scrapbooking scissors when I saw an ad from Procter & Gamble titled "Thanks, Mom." To be clear, I'm not knocking moms. Obviously, I think being a mom is a great thing. I've got an incredible mother, and I hope to be a fraction of how great she is. But being a dad is a great thing too. My dad taught me how to properly throw a football, cooked dinner (OK, only sometimes), and let me blubber on about every dumbass who broke my heart at school, threatening to commission the entire U.S. Army to take that dumbass out.

However, I take great umbrage at ads that still pretend mothers are the only people who raise children. I've noticed that fewer ads portray the bumbling father who accidentally puts a diaper on the baby's head or orders a pizza because he can't turn on an oven. Believe me, I'm thankful for that.

But I've also noticed that Procter & Gamble is especially unable to grasp the fact that women are no longer the only ones responsible for raising children. To those uninitiated to feminism, you might think I'm making an antifeminist argument, but quite the contrary. Simply shutting out the mere thought of men being parents "otherizes" them when they do decide to take active roles in their children's lives. It just reiterates the idea that women should be primary caretakers, therefore disallowing them to embrace a career. It makes photos like this such a big freaking deal, when, in all honesty, it's just a father brushing his kid's hair. He's being a parent.

Even the LGBT-supportive, progressive company Amazon.com is a proponent of this message that moms are the primary parents, with its service Amazon Mom. Is it basically Amazon Prime with the promise of a steady stream of diapers and baby food? Yes. But apparently moms are the only parents keeping tabs on the supply of baby wipes and Gerber organic prunes.

Saying that "choosy moms choose Jif" and thanking only moms for pushing their kids toward Olympic dreams sends the message that it's normal for men to not perform equal parenting duties. This only amplifies when we're talking about gay parents. It says that two men raising kids is a constant comedy of errors that persists for 18 years of mangled pigtails and terrible lunchbox choices. It says that two women raising children will have the most beyond-nurtured children on the planet. It also says that when kids don't have a "traditional" mother-and-father setup, they're grossly missing out on something, aside from accidentally walking in on their parents trying to make a younger sibling.

Do we really want to tackle things like workplace inequality and breaking the glass ceiling? You want straight men to be better men? Then let men be parents. I've seen through friends and my own family how being a father changes men, when they can embrace the role of a parent without being judged for changing diapers or pushing a stroller.


MICHELLE GARCIA is the managing editor of Advocate.com, and she only buys Trader Joe's peanut butter, anyway. Follow her @mzMichGarcia.

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