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Millennial Dads Demand Better Portrayals in Media

While British ad groups have pushed the government into banning all advertisements depicting women as mothers and homemakers, American dads are pushing back at an ad industry that refuses to acknowledge their role “in maintaining a home and caring for their kids.” According to the latest statistics published at Marketing DIVE:

  • Seventy-four percent of millennial fathers in the U.S. said they think advertisers and marketers are out of touch with modern family dynamics, according to a Saatchi & Saatchi NY survey made available to Marketing Dive.

  • The survey of 1,100 dads found that 85% said they know more than people give them credit for, and 80% think a "real man" is one who's comfortable expressing his feelings.

  • Thirty-two percent of 25- to 40-year-old dads consider themselves first adopters of tech, per the survey, compared to 22% of millennial moms.

In other words, millennial dads are the sensitive, thoughtful, equal-opportunity homemakers and parents that women and the media have been demanding for decades. We just haven’t noticed. Over half of the respondents attribute increased success in parenting to their interaction with parenting materials on social media. Yet, when most people think of the terms parenting and social media, the image of the perfect Pinterest mom comes into their heads.

What these statistics are is a wake-up call not just to advertising executives, but to millennial women complaining they can’t find the perfect guy; to the husband-shamers on Facebook; to the angry feminists who still think all fathers are disengaged Don Drapers. Dads, particularly those in the millennial generation (although my Silent Gen father who now happily dances in toddler music class fits the profile), are eager to take on the role of Dad in all senses of the term. Instead of complaining about them we should be encouraging them, even cheering them on.

Market DIVE concludes, “By reflecting changes in family and parenting roles, brands could tap into this progressive and digital-savvy group via updated ads portraying millennial fathers as engaged caregivers and emotionally available role models.” In other words, as the t-shirt says, “Dads Don’t Babysit.” Let England strike the image of a nurturing mother from their playbook and see what a negative impact that has on their cultural psyche. We, on the other hand, can lift up the image of a strong, supportive father that mirrors the millions of dads out there and encourage even more.

According to a 2015 study on portrayals of fathers in the media published by the National Fatherhood Initiative,

From Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best to Al Bundy in Married...With Children and Jay Pritchett of Modern Family, TV dads are usually portrayed as foolish, no matter what race or socioeconomic status is depicted.

The image of the foolish dad supports anti-dad and anti-male stereotypes that are far too pervasive in popular culture. This stereotyping contributes to the “negative slide” impacting parents and children alike:

If mass media is getting fatherhood wrong, what about parents and professionals who've had negative experiences with their fathers/husbands/partners of their own children?

This kind of negative slide is what [NFI President Chris Brown] says can lead to the "ultimate detriment of children and families." He says:

"When professionals hold a negative view of fathers, they are reluctant to engage fathers and may unwittingly support negative maternal views of fathers by not encouraging the mothers to involve fathers. Professionals also reinforce fathers' negative view of themselves by not proactively engaging fathers to show them they can be good parents."

If we want strong families we must demand that the media portray fathers in a positive light. As it turns out, this isn’t only healthy; for the growing majority of American families, it’s the truth. Dads out there are working hard to take care of their kids and their homes. They don’t just deserve the credit, they deserve our respect.