Fifty years ago 11% of kids lived absent from their biological father. Here was the most popular t.v. dad way back then:
Ward Cleaver had a job. He had a family. He had some sense. His wife respected him. His kids obeyed him. He was not perfect. He may have been a little distant emotionally at times. But he was present physically, he was wise, he worked hard, and he seemed to be a pretty well-respected (albeit fictional) character.
Today, approximately 33% of kids live absent from their biological father. Today’s most popular t.v. dad is Phil Dunphy:
In addition to pithy quotes about lemons and Julia Childs, Phil keeps busy acting like an idiot. He has a job and he’s present in the home, but his role is as a barely-adult, goofy, ridiculous character. It’s not so much that he’s got a good sense of humor, but that he is a joke.
Phil is not the first. For the last twenty years, the role of television male has taken a disturbing turn. Particularly in television comedies, there are very few respectable male leads. Don’t believe me? Let me give you three examples from current or relatively recent programs:
3. The Dude from King of Queens. I forget his name. Probably: “Chubby Clueless Guy.”
This caricature of what it means to be male is pervasive. Television dramas may provide some macho men with half a brain, but comedies and commercials pitch the man as a numbskull. If it weren’t for his wife, he probably wouldn’t make it through the day.
A recent study by Break Media revealed a huge gap in the varying depictions of men and how real dudes view those perceptions. Here are the three most likely caricatures and the three most unlikely, which the actual guys surveyed viewed themselves as:
Will the REAL men please stand up?
I’m not perfect. And I suppose my wife and I struggle with gender roles as much as the next couple does. But here’s the deal:
There are a lot of hard-working, generous guys out there who get up every day not to chase skirts and not to brainstorm ways to make steam come out of their wives ears. Rather, they work hard, love their families, do the right things, turn the television off and talk to their kids, and take their wives out on dates. There are reasons a man might take a turn on the dishes, and not all of those reasons are because they did something moronic during the day and have to make up for it.
How did we get from Ward Cleaver to Phil Dunphy? Why did we go from Ward to Phil? Some may argue that these television dads were merely reflections upon the real thing. In other words, the character was based on a real person who already existed, not the perpetuator of the dad-as-dummy cultural climate. One thing is inarguable, however: somewhere between Charles Ingalls and Tim Taylor, something went wrong. Whether perception or reality, it ain’t pretty.
Or maybe the perception displayed on show after show ushered in this new reality.
The more men are portrayed as the knuckle-dragging, dopey type the more it’s likely to set a standard for actual men to follow. Every time you see a kid in their late 20s who talks about video games and doesn’t have a job, every time you meet a man who is one by name only, every time you run across a guy who is led on an invisible leash by his wife, you have to ask yourself–where did they learn that?
To be sure, some of it has always been around. Cowardice and irresponsibility was Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. But our society is suffering greatly because men aren’t leaning into their God-given roles. It’s easy to play “blame the media.” The truth is, it’s going to take an army of men standing up, waving their arms, and saying, “That’s not me!” to curb the cultural trend.
As it turns out, the army is forming. As I wrote all this, I wondered if I was the only one who had noticed the misrepresentation. Here are just a handful of assenting voices:
From a Woman Who Disagrees w/ the Characterization:
From an Advertising Blog Which Claims the Act Isn’t Selling:
From a Completely Non-Christian Perspective:
I am a Christian, but you’ll notice I haven’t included much faith-based stuff here. I could. There would be entire theological defense of manhood that could serve this conversation well. However, it is a societal issue that touches the religious and non-religious alike.
So what do we do?
- Stop laughing. I mean, some of it is pretty funny. But remember–there’s a fine line between laughing at a joke and being the joke.
- Live a life that defies the stereotype. False characterizations are broken down when people look around and their experience doesn’t sync w/ the portrayal. Men will make these portraits seem out of touch by living lives that are rooted in truth, loyalty, hard work, and goodness. Women will assist by not being over-bearing, bossy, or harsh.
- Don’t support companies that pitch products to women who do most of the family shopping and are an easy target for: “Hey! You’re husbands and idiot. You are keeping this place held together. You deserve this dish soap/chocolate/car/weed killer/stackable clothes washer!”
- Take a look at what the Bible says about gender roles. It calls for men to be tough, tender, responsible, passionate, loving, truth-filled, and wise.
Lastly, heed this warning:
If we determine it acceptable to continue to portray men as morons, we can’t complain when we look around and that’s all we see.