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Women Aren’t Perfect and Men Aren’t Incompetent

I really loved the BBC video last week where the guy was doing a live broadcast and his kids entered.  I loved it for that first kid’s dance she did as she entered the room.  Everyone should aspire to internally (or, frankly, externally) do that dance at some point in their day.

What I didn’t love were the various parody videos, especially the one that showed a woman on air, feeding a baby, cooking a chicken, and tending to the laundry, all while running through her talking points.  Yes, I’m aware that it’s a parody.  I’ve already been told that I need to lighten up when I talked about it on Facebook.

But comedy is a trick thing.  Sometimes we laugh because we recognize a universal truth, and other times we laugh because the piece has pointed out something we never realized.  And sometimes we don’t laugh because the parody misses the mark on both counts.  There’s a big difference between comedy that moves the conversation forward vs. comedy that moves the conversation backwards.

It’s hard to laugh when it’s the latter option.

*******

Men — totally incompetent, amiright?  That bumbling dad in the original video put out his arm in his panic and stammered around.  If a woman had been in that chair, she would have executed dance-like grace, scooping up the child without missing a beat and using the moment to deliver a witty bon mot about work-life balance.

Except she wouldn’t have.

The parody is unfunny on so many different levels.  For every woman who struggles to get everything done, implying that real women have it all together makes them feel like shit.  I don’t know about you, but I do not operate like the woman in that video.  Does that make me as bad as the man in the original video?  Do I lose my woman card?

For every woman who would like to be known for something more than her child-rearing, meal-cooking, laundry-doing skills, it sticks our socially prescribed roles front and center.  Do you remember anything she said?  I’m guessing not because the focus was on the bottle feeding, chicken-sniffing, lint-brushing actions.  Sure, the portrayal is flattering on the surface — she’s supermum! — until you realize that you didn’t listen to anything she was saying due to the distracting exterior.  It’s a gotcha! moment; you think it’s women empowerment… but it’s not.

For every man who does an excellent job co-parenting (or, in some cases, single parenting) their kids, it turns them into a bumbling fool who can’t take care of the kids OR matching their socks.  How did that man get through life before marrying that smart, savvy, accomplished woman?  Or, the alternative is that we look at the man in the original video, who was doing the best job he could in the moment, and sneer at his inability to somehow stay the course when everything is going off track.

I don’t like being reduced to a stereotype — mostly because it makes me feel like crap about myself because I really don’t fit that calm, cool, collected supermum stereotype — nor do I like to reduce other people to a stereotype.  And that’s where the conversation went this week in terms of the roles of men and women (not to mention the various other discussions that came out of commentary on that video).  I want to blow those stereotypes out of the water; not reinforce them.  Even when it’s just a parody video.

10 comments

1 Cristy { 03.19.17 at 9:43 am }

I’ve seen the video and had to laugh because I’ve done both of those parents’ responses. I’ve done the gently pushing away and been the frantic adult flying in the room to gather up the kids. It’s funny because we’ve all seen it and many of us have had that happen to us. Nothing incompetent on either parents’ end.

What is incompetent is the parody with the woman who is supposedly doing it all. It’s incompetent because I work with people who BELIEVE I should be doing that and then treat me like crap when it doesn’t happen (no joke on this one, it literally happened last week). So I’m with you on being offended. It’s actually a very anti-feminist/anti-human message they’re sending.

2 A. { 03.19.17 at 9:50 am }

I thought it was stupid that people gave him a hard time for “stiff-arming” his daughter and then turned it into some kind of typical dad-fail. They are obviously happy kids with a loving dad, or they wouldn’t have felt like they could barge into the office the way they did, and working parents have a right to a professional space where kids are not the center. To imply that a woman would sort of drop everything to incorporate children into a professional interview is actually kind of insulting to both genders.

3 SA { 03.19.17 at 9:58 am }

I haven’t seen the parody but glad you wrote this. I bitterly resent the stereotype – it reminds me of the story every damn man retells about the handful of women in my profession who had a child on Friday and were back at the office Monday (sadly I lived that pressure, entering the office on Sunday morning after a Friday afternoon delivery – a workplace I vowed right then to exit before my mat leave ended). I hate that story – and I resent the women who did that to some degree too because it set an unattainable bar by which the rest of us continue to be measured, decades later. To think a video in 2017 is parading the same misogynist kind of message drives home your points.

4 Working mom of 2 { 03.19.17 at 11:19 am }

I haven’t watched and won’t, after reading this article: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/media/2017/03/bbc-pundits-children-video-not-funny-its-patriarchy-nutshell

I didn’t read that as saying women are perfect and men are incompetent. It’s more that the dad appears to be playing it easy while the wife takes care of things behind the scenes, and if it was a woman in the video, people would be criticizing her not laughing.

C’mon, haven’t we all seen this? You take your baby and toddler out alone and the world doesn’t react. Your husband does and people gush over him, handling two kids! Etc. we’ve experienced this and so have friends.

5 jjiraffe { 03.19.17 at 1:13 pm }

I loved the original video; it’s 47 seconds of perfect comedy. Why do we have to mess with it?

I agree with you and here’s why. The stereotype that husbands are bumbling idiots when it comes to dealing with parenting hurts both men and women. If we give fathers a pass when it comes to childraising because we think they are incompetent, guess who is expected to pick up the slack?

I especially don’t like those commercials / comedy with dads appearing as dummies when it comes to household chores. 1. It insults many men who do amazing jobs as equal partners. 2. It perpetuates the idea that men should NOT be equal partners. 3. It reinforces the terrible idea that moms should be responsible for everything domestic. 4. It demeans fathers to their children if the kids are watching, and begins this whole cycle for the next generation.

6 Jess { 03.19.17 at 9:06 pm }

That parody video didn’t sit well with me, and I couldn’t figure out why exactly (other than the obvious food safety issues with keeping a roasting chicken under your desk), but this post just captures it all. I really enjoyed the original video and the interview after where they talked about how all that went down, because it was real. I don’t like this idea of “a woman can do it all” but doing it all means being a domestic goddess and a professional (and how awesome to point out that what she said was overshadowed by all her other momly actions). I don’t have all that together and I don’t even have tiny people to feed and corral, yet. I wish they’d let it alone and just be a moment of a family working from home and forgetting to lock the door during the broadcast, trading off on doing the things that run a household. Thanks for putting into words what I was feeling and couldn’t quite put a finger on!

7 Justine { 03.19.17 at 10:38 pm }

I shared your thoughts with a colleague who has done research on effortless perfection. She hasn’t responded yet, but sharing it with her made me think: maybe the parody works on an even a level deeper: that our culture would never permit a woman to look anything less than completely put together, and that if a woman works from home she should be able to do all of those other things, too? So the real target of the parody is our unreasonable expectations? Of course, I suspect that the person who made this didn’t think it through that way … and neither will a lot of people read it that way.

8 Ana { 03.20.17 at 10:31 am }

YES. thank you for writing this. I completely agree and hate hate HATE that common trope of bumbling dad and totally have it together mom. It does everyone a disservice and reinforces the patriarchy. The original video was hilarious. And CLEARLY the kids felt comfortable barging in on dad because they probably do it on the regular. I would’ve done the exact same thing if I was being interviewed by the freaking BBC! Just haphazardly pushed the kids away and tried to focus on what I was doing.

9 Sharon { 03.20.17 at 2:07 pm }

The topic of this post is one that my husband and I have discussed often in the 5+ years since our sons were born. Because of our respective jobs and their attendant demands with respect to workload, schedules and hours worked, my husband has always shouldered a disproportionate share of time caring for our sons. (This is something that we discussed and agreed about before having children.)

Given that he takes such an active role in parenting his children — and has from the beginning: he took a 12-week FMLA leave to care for them from age 11 weeks to 5.5 months — he finds it particularly offensive when ads or shows portray fathers as bumbling incompetents. It’s definitely true that he parents our children differently than I do, and I do wonder how long it would take him to notice that our sons needed new clothes, or to plan their birthday party, if (G-d forbid) something happened to me. . . but I have no doubt as to his ability to adequately care for them. He’s a great father.

10 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.21.17 at 10:34 pm }

I had a similar reaction to the parody that you did. I like what JJiraffe said about such parody being bad for both men and women.

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