The Media Loves To Hate On Co-Parenting Fathers

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Men’s parenting efforts are always up for criticism. While the media always has an insatiable appetite for mothers who make mistakes, fathers who slip up are prime targets as well. Donald Unger has authored a book on the subject entitled Men Can: The Changing Image and Reality of Fatherhood in America. Unger tackles the myth that men aren’t capable of being as good a parent as mothers and critiques the media’s participation in such a stereotype.

The always poignant Good Men wrote that Unger’s book is particularly relevant in the context of the two baseball videos that circulated on the interwebs recently. While the mother who caught the baseball was considered universally awesome, the father who dropped his daughter was portrayed as a comment on fathers’ shortcomings everywhere. Andrew Ladd wrote:

Everywhere [Unger] turns, in fact, he seems to come face-to-face with the notion that men just aren’t as good at parenting. Even the two baseball stories, he would argue, are an example of our subtle cultural biases at work: the man is presented as a typically bad father—not an unusually bad parent—while the woman is presented simply as a good mother, even though the ability to hold one thing and catch another is not exactly the first item in Dr. Spock.

The notion that men are incapable of successfully parenting is a stereotype that not only belittles men but also harms women and children. By enforcing the idea that fathers are somehow biologically unable to care for little ones, the subtext is that childrearing is strictly a woman’s responsibility — and not her choice. Painting men as domestic boneheads alludes to a larger a gender essentialist approach to family (the argument that men and women are “naturally” a certain way with no regard for cultural conditioning).

Keeping to these archaic gender essentialist depictions of men and women prevents children from having a close relationship with their father  and, in turn, encourages them to impractically rely on their mother for everything from clean laundry to emotional support. Luckily, there are men and women willing to combat this detrimental myth. Let’s add Donald Unger to the list.