February 26, 2018

Where Have the Respectable Dads on TV Gone?

By Julie Samrick

Certain themes in education were trendy as I earned my teaching credential in the mid-1990s. Gender equity in the classroom was heating up as studies showed boys hogged all the attention in classrooms, while girls fell silently behind. Boys either had the confidence to speak up in class, or they subconsciously demanded attention by acting rowdier than girls.  Either way, it had finally been determined that teachers had been giving more instructional time to male students for generations.  So teachers everywhere, including me, tried to bridge that gap.  We became conscious of how to make our girls more successful in the classroom and they have been making great strides ever since.


Now fast forward nearly two decades. More girls graduate from high school and college than men do.  For the first time ever, more women than men make up law and medical school admissions. While striving to make classrooms more equitable for girls, our boys now lag academically behind.


I have noticed this shift spilling over into popular culture too.  The leading male characters in television programs, particularly sitcoms, are not remotely like Andy Griffith anymore. Griffith, whose passing this week reminds us of what he meant to so many of us, was the symbol of a level-headed, respectable Dad.  Leading male characters today, especially Dads, are more often than not cast as buffoons.  Meanwhile, leading female characters are shown as witty and strong, characters every girl would like to be.  These women roll their eyes at the inferior, boorish actions of the males around them.  Moms like June Cleaver or Carol Brady may have been somewhat flat characters compared to how women are portrayed today, but they certainly didn’t play the part of fools.


Even in today’s commercials men often act like adolescents, drooling over a woman or some kind of food. They’re also cast to act like toddlers, catastrophically messing something up or wrestling over something frivolous. Where have the respectable males on TV gone, and what message does this send to our boys?


I recently wrote a negative review of the movie Brave because I thought it was over the top anti-male.  Disney princesses have become stronger over time, so I expected Brave to have an empowering message for girls, but I didn’t like how every single male character in it had to be a fool to get that message across.  Because it’s about the heroine not wanting to get married, I went so far as to say the film is anti-marriage because with the men portrayed, I would run for the hills too.


I grew up with three sisters, no brothers, and my parents raised us to believe we were just as smart as any boy, so I get the girl power rallying stuff.  Yet I didn’t even think Brave is a girl power film for my two daughters because it made being a girl seem so lonely and isolating. I received some criticism for my review from women, saying it’s high time princesses stopped brushing their hair all day, waiting for a prince to rescue them.  I agree, but do we need to bash boys to do that?  


It made news this year that for the first time more babies are born to unwed mothers in America than to married moms- 53% to be exact.  What’s caused this shift, which is only expected to increase?  According to a recent report in The New York Times, one of the strongest reasons women aren’t getting married today is because they don’t think men are as reliable as they used to be. The messages these women get day in and day make this a sad, but understandable, reality in their minds. 


Girls have been encouraged and empowered, and that’s great, but what’s been a well-meaning crusade to lift up girls has now skewed so far in the opposite direction, I fear we are now letting down our boys.


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  1. Julie, you’re right as rain about boys taking it on the chin. Let’s see, I started teaching back in the sixities (I was young and male) and tried hard to treat the girls the same as the boys; I was certainly aware of the gender gap and tried hard to impress upon the girls that they were every bit as powerful and important as the boys. I had come from a long line of strong women and they had never felt ignored or inferior. But I never tried to over-tip the balance. I was aware then that boys, too, needed assurance along the way. This was at the height of the Viet Nam War, and we were sending our kids off to the slaughter fields of Asia. Many of my male students were killed over there and I was dismayed to see how the survivors were treated when they returned after the war was over. That was like a beginning of the mistreatment, the down-grading of boys in our culture. From that point, it seems to me, there’s been a constant, almost hysterical drumbeat of negativism directed at males in this country. You see it everywhere. I feel a deep sorrow when I see the young boys today: they are the negative targets of Madison Avenue (Julie is so right about how men and boys are treated in ads) If I were a boy growing up in America today, I would feel alienated, lost, and a bit frightened. Angry too.

  2. “If you think about media and technology, they’re delivering content that is shaping our society. They’re shaping our politics. They’re shaping our national discourse. And most of all they’re shaping our children’s brains and lives and emotions.” – Jim Steyer, CEO Common Sense Media. — You’ll find this quote in the documenary “Miss Representation” – which IMO is most appropriate for adult and older teen viewers because it contains some explicit clips – taken straight from the media that our children are bombarded by every day. Women, men, boys, and girls are misrepresented in the media. Perhaps some female characters these days are shown as witty and strong, but more often they are shown as sex objects, as something to look at. Neither girls nor boys are lifted up by the media. In my home, we limit media exposure by setting screentime limits, not watching television, not having cell phones, and not buying magazines. Also, we talk about the images and words that we do see and hear. But the problem is insidious nonetheless. We as a society are letting our children down – girls and boys alike. And we are all suffering the consequences.

  3. Vallerie says:

    Great article! The recognition of the unrealistic, ridiculous and frequent portrayal of men as bafoons in media is a running joke in our family. We call it out when we see it. Of course there are other issues in the media, but this one seems to get less attention, and it’s just as important and disturbing. Monitoring and limiting media, and raising awareness, as you’re doing here, may help. Thank you!

  4. I agree with that and wish we could all be equal instead of all this girl power crud going too far. But they show as the ones who always care too you know such as in Good Luck Charlie. It really depends.

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