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As Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded yet again of my wisdom, when my children were quite young, in banning its celebration from my personal calendar. I was never comfortable being honoured by generic rituals for a generic role in which my children were harnessed, via cards and gifts, into the equivalent of “compelled speech.” It was always my opinion that if my children loved me and appreciated what I did for them, they would let me know in their own way and in their own time. It would be me they were honouring, not a Hallmark “day” in which flowers-and-brunch correctness governed their actions.
But at least, back in the day, when one did receive a card from one’s child, it merely said innocent stuff like, “I love you” or “You are the best mother” or “Thank you for all the nice things you do for me.” It did not occur to children to use Mother’s Day as an opportunity to mock and deride their fathers.
In fact, it still wouldn’t occur to most children to do that. But it does occur to large corporations. Because women make most household purchases, big companies, such as Gillette, have taken to promoting anti-male message films in the belief that all women hold the same anti-male views that the squeaky activist wheels they are accustomed to hearing from do.
A case in point—and one of the worst for male-baiting I have ever seen – is a Mother’s Day ad produced on May 5 by Edeka, Germany’s largest supermarket corporation. The motif is a “Danke” (thank you) to “Mama” from a child, whose narrated list of reasons for gratitude to her mother is voiced over a series of images of children’s negative interactions with fathers.
For example, the girl says, “Thank you for always being there for me,” and we see a father running around looking for his child (fathers are negligent). “You take care of me,” says the child, and we see a crying baby in a high chair, with a father helpless before before a blender exploding liquid all over the kitchen (fathers are incompetent). In another image a father is ineptly brushing his daughter’s tangled hair as she grimaces in discomfort (fathers are impatient and rough). “You have a feeling for the right moment” is set against an image of the father blundering into his son’s bedroom while the boy is masturbating (fathers are blunderers and insensitive).
“You are my role model and you encourage me” is voiced over a father playing basketball with the daughter and accidentally hitting her in the face with the ball (fathers are careless). “Thank you for being so beautiful,” the voice says, and we see a girl brushing her teeth and glancing distastefully in the mirror at the beefy back of her father in too-tight underwear exposing a butt crack (fathers are physically repellent).
Finally, in the unkindest cut of all, we see a family watching TV on a sofa. First we only see the child and the father. The father is slouched down and shoving potato chips into his mouth, with many of them falling onto his shirt, a fact to which he seems oblivious or indifferent, but which elicits a moue of disgust from his daughter. We hear the voice-over – it was so unexpected and chilling, I recoiled when I saw the translation on the screen
—”Mama, thank you for not being Papa.”
Now the camera pans to Mama, the first mother we have seen in the ad, so she clearly stands for all mothers. She is lovely, dignified, well groomed, gracefully upright in her corner of the sofa. She and the child share a conspiratorial smile, as the child literally moves away from the father and snuggles up to her. The father, completely unaware of this little scenario of rejection à deux, continues to watch TV in a state of bovine cluelessness (fathers are idiots).
I can almost hear the Edeka PR team chortling, “Who iss ziss ridiculous Canadian woman? Does she not understand zat ziss ad is meant to be funny? Ho ho, zey say zat vee Chermans haff no sense of humour. Vell, it seems zat Canadians could take some lessons from us in irony, ja?
Sorry, meine Herren, you don’t get off that lightly. Your ad plays on stereotypes that indicts an entire class of men—fathers—as intellectually and morally inferior to an entire class of women—mothers. There is no irony or humour here, only pure derision. Why should paying tribute to one parent necessitate denigration of the other? All the encomiums of the voice-over—you are attractive in my eyes, you care for me, you are a good role model, you are understanding—can and do apply equally to many mothers and many fathers. Incompetence, negligence, impatience, carelessness, physical ugliness, insensitivity: these negative traits cross gender lines.
What is particularly revolting about this ad is that the mother—who is, let’s not forget, portrayed as the very avatar of human beneficence—demonstrates approval of her child’s disdain for her father. She encourages her child to look at her father not as a parent to whom she owes respect, but as a kind of overgrown schoolyard peer who has been billeted in their home and who, with his semi-feral manners and various other unpleasant shortcomings, must be tolerated as though he were “one of the family” out of kindness. What kind of wife wants to see her partner mocked by his own children? What kind of mother thinks it is a good idea to diminish her children’s father in their eyes? A disloyal wife, an undermining mother.
The ad does not go so far as to say that fathers are “toxic” or even badly-intentioned. Perhaps we should be grateful for that. But it is saying that fathers are negatively perceived by their children by comparison with mothers (misleading: most children never make such comparisons and love their parents equally), and that in all the parenting respects that matter, fathers are to one degree or other failures as compared to mothers. Which is ironic, because the single most common feature amongst people who are failures in real life – rapists, school dropouts, gang members—is fatherlessness. So “Danks” for nothing, Edeka.
Edeka, you have an opportunity to make things right. Father’s Day is June 16. Perhaps your Communications staff could do some homework on fatherlessness and its ills—a good place to start is right here—and then commission a cute ad about all the wonderful things fathers do for their children. Ordinary, non-misandric women and good mothers—most of your customers—will appreciate that.