In movies, dads not treated as equal to moms

What about the divorcing dad looking for encouragement to enter the “female” domain of trying to get sole custody of his children? Movies are exactly where he should not look for that encouragement.

By Jerry A. Boggs

Where is mom? You’ll find out.

If a woman wants to move into a “male” occupation, she has for decades found encouragement from women in movies. Females on the big screen are physicists, astronauts, politicians, CEOs – virtually anything men are. Even in the ultra-macho “James Bond” world of spying, Bond’s boss is a woman. 

But what about the divorcing dad looking for encourage-ment to move into the “female” domain of having sole custody of his children? Movies are the last place he should look for that encouragement.

In the countless films depicting a divorced couple with kids, the ex-husband almost never appears in the traditional female domain of custodial parent. Instead, he is often portrayed as emotionally distant, if not abusive, and comes across as so parentally challenged that he couldn’t possibly deserve to raise his kids by himself. Think of the wholly inept dad played by Tom Cruise in “War of the Worlds.” 

Some movies do show dad raising his kids alone. Oddly, though, these movies don’t even come close to encouraging fathers to seek custody. The huge majority of them have dad rearing his children alone not because he deserved them and obtained custody in his own right, as divorced moms are readily presumed to have done, but because the movies set a condition that is quite bizarre. 

SleeplessInSeattle

“Sleepless In Seattle”

Consider the following films. They are, according to VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever, which synopsizes the last century’s American movies that are available on video, most of the few films from the 1990s depicting a dad as the sole caretaker of his brood: “She’s All That,” “Contact,” “Billboard Dad,” “Fly Away Home,” “Casper,” “Clueless,” “Johnny’s Girl,” “Sleepless In Seattle,” “The American President,” “Imaginary Crimes,” “Jack the Bear,” “Fathers and Sons,” “Hidden in America,” “Eyes of An Angel,” “My Girl,” and “Ghost Dad.” From the 2000s: “The Contract” (John Cusack, 2006), “The Holiday” (Jude Law, 2006), “Impact” (ABC TV mini-series, 2008), “The Descendants,” (George Clooney, 2011), and the animated children’s movie “Hotel Transylvania” (2012). (I credit most if not all of these movies for depicting good father and child relationships.)

After watching just a few of these movies, you may recognize the bizarre condition on which dad is allowed custody. In every single one of these films, the children’s mom is dead. (In “The Descendants,” the mother is comatose.) In fact, she is dead in almost all of the 34 movies that the VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2000 lists as produced in the 20th century and showing dad raising his kids by himself. 

A handful of the 34 father-with-custody movies, such as “Slums of Beverly Hills,” “Milk Money,” and “Commando,” makes no mention of mom. But for the moviegoer accustomed to nearly always discovering that mom is dead when the father has custody, the impulse is to think she’s dead in these as well.

What gives? After all, in the far more numerous movies in which mom is raising the kids alone, dad is almost always alive and in at least a peripheral role. Is this a sneaky way, as some feminists might insist, of limiting the roles of actresses?

Father And Child ReunionBelieving it to be instead an effort to limit the rights of fathers, I sent a list of the films and my opinion on the matter to Dr. Warren Farrell, expert on gender issues and author of the riveting Father and Child Reunion. 

He emailed back a confirmation of my hunch: “Any scenario other than death or an inexplicable absence would risk making mom look like she might have chosen to forfeit her maternal responsibilities. Or, heaven forbid, that she was on drugs, or in prison, or unable to handle the child. Implicit in the Hollywood formula of mom-by-option and dad-by-default is mom never at fault…to a fault. Ironically, we have rejected a world in which Rosie can only be a Riveter if Johnny is in a war, but replaced it with a world in which Johnny can only be a dad when Rosie is in a grave.” 

Blunt, maybe, but there it is.

Why filmmakers script mom as dead in their father-custodyMoviePaysTributToMother movies seemed obvious to both Farrell and me: They don’t want to offend moviegoers, especially female moviegoers, by having dad trump mom in “her” domain. That possibility is hinted at when, as often happens, these movies seem to apologize for dad having the kids by showing both him and the kids longing for mom and remembering how wonderful she was. Were mom alive and the kids not in her charge, female moviegoers might wonder aghast, “Why does he have the kids,” and set about bad-mouthing the film. (In movies about male-female relationships, the fear of offending female movie-goers might also be why the filmmakers almost always show the wife or girlfriend ending a relationship, rather than showing the husband or boyfriend ending it. If either a male character or a female character could be seen as unworthy of a relationship, it will be the male.)

Movie makers in the past avoided offending men by barring females from “male” realms. Before, say, 1975, a woman as James Bonds’ boss wouldn’t have worked. Too many viewers, especially male viewers, might have choked on their popcorn, thinking, “Why does a woman have that job?”

Today men are more accepting. “Even the macho man,” says Farrell, “has become more secure with a woman as his boss than the average female moviegoer is with dad as her equal.” 

Whatever the reason mom is dead (or implied as such) in the dad-with-custody movies, in both these movies and the mom-with-custody movies, the accumulative effect carries a clear message to divorcing dads who want custody of their children: You’ll get the kids over mom’s dead body! For the dad who needs loads of encouragement to seek custody, that could make him throw in the towel before he even starts.

__________________________________


UPDATE: In October 2010, a similar trend continues: In Fox TV’s new sitcom “Raising Hope,” baby Hope’s mom is in jail. This is, I’m sure, intended to calm female viewers, prevent them from getting turned off and tuning out as they complain, “Why doesn’t the mom have custody of that child?” The implication would be that while women have every right to be full equals in the world of work, men should not even think of being full equals in the world of children. Also, note that in the new 2012 Fox TV drama series “Touch,” Keith Sutherland plays a dad who is raising his visionary son alone. The dad, naturally, is a widower.

[Thanks to Warren Farrell for crediting me in his Father and Child Reunion for discovering and documenting this insidious bias against movie dads.]

Update November 8, 2013: I have discovered another subtle bias against males in the world of children. 

My granddaughter is 15 months old. I have spent a lot of time with her at her home, feeding her, burping her, rocking her to sleep (pure heaven!), and playing on the floor with her. She has more toys than I can count. Many if not most of them have speaking or singing voices. In the last month or so, I realized that all the voices are female. What message does that inculcate in baby boys starting almost at infancy? What does it tell grown men about their inclusion in the world of children — even as they are ordered to get out of the way of women’s inclusion in the world of work?

Here are some of my granddaughter’s favorite speaking and singing toys, all of which are gender neutral but feature female voices only:

  • VTECH Rhyme & Discover Book
  • VTECH Tiny Touch Phone
  • Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn™ Love to Play Puppy™
  • Fisher-Price Smart Screen Laptop
  • VTECH 3-in-1 Smart Wheel
  • VTECH Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker

(I have heard only one male voice: Sesame Street’s My First Story Reader.)

Now consider something else: My granddaughter spends six to eight hours almost every week-day at a daycare where the pre-school children range in ages from a few months to four or five years. All the daycare’s employees are female. This reinforces the message that men don’t belong in the world of children.


A Male Matters explanation:

I divide society into two “worlds”: the world of work (the productive world) and the world of children (the reproductive world). Each needs the other for its survival. Both obviously are needed for civilization’s survival. Thus, the two worlds are equally important. Despite this equal importance, what seems to be the result, intended or not, thus far of ideological feminism’s 35-year-old push for “gender equality”? It seems to be this: A push to end men’s dominance in the world of work and to preserve women’s dominance in the world of children. Movies, which are mostly the product of a mostly liberal and hence feminist Hollywood, certainly seem to project that. 

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13 Responses to In movies, dads not treated as equal to moms

  1. Feminist Hollywood! So does can have men in them? U seemed very biased when u said “female viewer”. Many “men viewer” accept that as well. How many men do u think are ready to accept the job of a caregiver? At least all the male friend I have think men who do so are girly or gay! Besides generalizing “female viewer” u r also generalizing “feminists”! An average feminist does not have a genocidal view of some RadFem! Stop generalizing and that might help. As a feminist, my 2 cents will be stop looking at people just as men or women. They are individuals. Let them chose what they want instead of defining things for them.

    • Thanks for the comment. If you give me the specific, exact statements in my commentary that you disagree with, I can more thoughtfully respond to you.

      Everyone generalizes. You did in this question: “How many men do u think are ready to accept the job of a caregiver?”

      I’m old enough to remember men asking decades ago, and still today, such questions as “How many women do you think are ready to accept the job of a truck driver?”

      • Deboleena Panja says:

        Pursuit of Happyness had a very awesome dad! In that movie the woman surely left, but nobody would have taken her side. She was a bad partner and a bad parent. See, you do have a bad woman in a relationship shown on the big screen! As for Gardner, you might see him as an inept dad (that too in the starting), but for me the trouble was him being a single parent, managing the work and the child both!

        Why is it that Women could change their roles, but not men? Don’t you think there is a huge unwillingness amongst most men?

        Now what you said is valid in your country, may be. Come to developing countries, here as well you can see that women defining new roles for themselves but not men. I would not even be allowed to not bear a child if I wish! Not taking care is simply out of question. My boyfriend will be ridiculed by the society including men! Seriously if men really want this role, I will be the happiest person as I know that I am not the caregiver type! Your post as well as few comments reflect what I said, most men will not support each other for this role!

        Overall what I meant was men like you are marginal, such movies are not made solely for the “female viewer” but also the “male viewer”. Just like a man who would want to be a caregiver, woman like me also exist who hopes for that. Even I an being ridiculed!

        PS: We have women truck drivers here (but security becomes as issue due to some men who love to rape women)! We have female conductors, female auto drivers (a type of light commercial vehicles used in India) as well.

        PPS: And I would like to know about the seductive and sultry voice installed in many gadgets (like the GPS systems) to attract men (the so-called main audience!). What message does that send?

      • Thank you for a very thoughtful comment.

        Re: “Why is it that Women could change their roles, but not men? Don’t you think there is a huge unwillingness amongst most men?”

        Most men, unlike most women today, don’t feel they have society’s permission to even think about changing roles. Men feel pressured to continue doing what brings them love — being the primary provider who gives his wife the option of staying at home to raise the children while he raises the income so she can have that option.

        I recommend Warren Farrell’s book “Father and Child Reunion.”

        Again, thank you!

    • Nick says:

      I am a man and I would LOVE to be the one who stays at home with the children, but when talking to my fiance about it, she says her family EXPECTS ME to make the money. Maybe you need to make more male friends.

      • Deboleena Panja says:

        Not in countries like India.
        Even in your case, why don’t you stand up against them? Society will always resist change. Even in your case, your girlfriend’s family has a problem, not you! Go for it, why are you succumbing to the pressure. As a woman, I had to go against my people to get employed!

  2. Mike Smith says:

    In the last year I started a blog to emphasize the importance of Dads in their children’s lives. I found out there are about 1700 dad blogs. Sounds impressive but there are over 70,000 mom blogs!
    It seems women do a better job helping each other in the area of parenting where men do a better job helping each other in the workplace. Men must not let parenting discussions to women alone!

  3. Daddy of 5 says:

    As a hands-on father of six (yes, beautiful, kind, accomplished and above all healthy) children (with 3 ex-wives, with 2 of them being on almost daily collaborative relationship) and someone who have been keeping eye on gender equality (according to the law and actual practices and in various aspects of life I wish to present few observations and some thoughts on this array of aspects – primarily due to the fact that I have both daughters and sons and grand sons and grand daughters and I do not wish any of them – or anyone, particularly males when the statistically INEVITABLE DISCRIMINATION of males and double standards will hit them.

    While I might mention other aspects of life when that is taking place I will focus, as the article it self, on family and parental roles and rights.

    Context: Thanks to (in essence due to male invention caused technological changes modern economy is much less in need of brutish or any other physical power. Thus relative value of males decreased. On other hand, at least in developed world docile, paper and information shuffling and procession worker is in demand. While many believe that companies or governments need “innovators” they need only so many, because implementing just few of them takes so much time, resources and effort. Unlike males, females are more docile, pliable workforce. They also do not demand pay raised, do not go that readily on strike. Corporations and governmental administrators love them.

    Now, when 62% of college grads are female, thousands of books, programs, institutions, set-asides, etc. still exist to “help girls and women” to get college education. On other hand, males, unless they happen to fall into preferred minority, have none of such resources available.

    Yet, even in this era of progressing “equality” wives EXPECT that their husbands will a) have at least as same education as they have and b) make at least as much money and c) if they agree to have a child that it will be them, not their husbands who will be at-home parent. (this is true, based not only on extensive anecdotal evidence, but also on studies and surveys, even when the subjects are Yale graduate school females: They too expect that their husbands will “afford them to stay few years” at home with future children).

    It is not only corporate management bias against male workers who wish or actually take break and are at-home parents …. it is, primarily and above all, their very own wives who in one way or another do not wish, resent or do not in one way or another like any idea, especially when they take place and end up with their husbands being at-home Dads. And, in no-fault divorce environment, which as we know required no actual and court-approved evidence as a basis for successful divorce petition, for whatever reason unhappy spouse of any gender can make life of the other unpleasant with numerous visible and invisible tools.

    Women and mothers, cultural stereotypes in society and media, at child and family services agencies, at judicial bench etc. etc. sill, openly or more or less not too well covered displeasure and disapproval look at at-home Dads as leaches, free-loaders, even those who DENY their wives and mothers of their kids the “pleasures” of being at-home parent.

    Even those wives and mothers of children who have much more stable and lucrative professions such medicine in various ways RESENT to be either primary income earner and not be at-home Mum or primary child care provider. I speak here from experience and years of observations at marriages and families with kids where wife is (a lucrative specialty) physician.

    On the so called “glass ceiling” and “15% pay gap”: For variety of reasons, mostly due to relizing that female workers are more docile and can handle mostly communication and multitasking, not exactly innovative nature of 95% of all jobs’ daily requirements love to employ women. Sure, when they need an executive or potential partner who will be ready and willing to SACRIFY 70 hours a week, personal and family time and often health for corporate career or promise of partnership, they will still prefer a male.

    Because – in statistically general – female are WISELY not willing to sacrify everything. starting with their and family lives and health to (now increasingly elusive) hope for a corporate career.

    So that’s where that 15% pay gap and glass ceiling come from. No longer from outdated gender discrimination but from females’ smart avoidance of highly risky adventure of being corporate slave.

    I often – half-jokingly – say that “In my next life here, I wish to be an oppressed woman”. Because, at least in Western world, being a woman as compared to man has overwhelming number of substantial advantages.

    Here is a partial list:

    1) Women live, on average 8 years longer. And we know, that for good reasons, life expectancy is #1 criteria of progress that any society, country, or social class can demonstrate its progress and well being.

    For that reason “oppressed” women enjoy, on average, twice as many GOLDEN YEARS of retirement, twice as many years of joys with grand kinds, twice as many years of pursuing hobby they always dreamed about (just look at at painting classes around the country or senior fitness classes: Those “oppressors” males are long dead)

    2) 80% of divorces are filed by women and 90% of child custodies are awarded to mothers.

    That means that “in interest of a child” also family home (which im most of the cases has been slaved on or paid by a father) are awarded to mother while father is being kicked out from family home and from his children.

    Interestingly enough it was Karl Marx who taught that marriage is a “yoke on women” and Lenin, having the first chance to follow the master’s command introduces first, extremely easy and very formal divorce laws to get rid of that. But after Lenin’s death, faced with millions of kids running around without parental supervision (bez prizoru, “bezprizorny”) he quickly went to the old “capitalist” way as far as marriage and divorce laws is concern.

    Many of our friends on the right do not know and do not like the fact that their hero, Ronnie Reagan, was the very first who in 1968 as governor of CA signed the law making that communist dogma of “marriage a yoke on women” reality here. It took some years until the last vestige, NY state also adopted no-fault laws.

    Academic studies show that no-fault, just “irreconcilable differences” phrase laws are advantageous to women.

    Concerning pre-divorce, divorce and post-divorce facts and strategies for fathers:

    a) Regardless of how quiet marital or domestic situation is, be aware of the fact that there is at least 50% chance that your wife will one day turn her complaints about this or that, that you are not communicative enough, forgetting her first period anniversary, or not “providing” enough for family or that she “goes crazy” being at home alone with kids … will turn into her picking up a phone and call that lawyer her best friend or mom gave her some time ago.

    As a SECOND CLASS citizen at family court you have already so many things staked up against you and your material and parental well-being that you – and your children – can ill afford to be unprepared for this and be taken by surprise.

    Therefore, while doing your job in any aspest of marital, household and parenting lives be prepared with Plan B. You will not only have better peace of mind and enjoy every day, you will be stressed out much less when harmony is gone. You should even have Separation Agreement thought through and drafted, ready. So that it is YOU who beats her when it comes to who is the plaintiff.

    As a male and father, you are discriminated against in so many ways and you can ill afford not to be ready and not to take of small, but significant advantages as who is filing the divorce petition.

    Enjoy and have your neighbors, kids teachers, doctors, etc. know that you are primarily or at least heavily involved child care provider. Ideally, be at least for some years at-home Dad. Do not let male pride take over you: You are at more risk to die earlier then she, your kids have much higher chance to have their father die before their mom. Do a favor to them. Live more harmonious, less stressful life.

    Look after your health as women would look. You might not go to massage or chiropractor as they do, but be constantly mindful of not getting too tired and take care of your physical and mental and spiritual well-being.

    In general. males, being testosterone driven, see in their potential wives a subject of (frequent and regular) sexual gratification, and are much more than women looking for or accepting less educated, less money making partner than women statistically mostly prefer and look for.

    Again, even when now women earn significantly (63%) more college degree than men (overall 62% of undergrad degrees go to women and only 38% to men) wives still demad or hope for that their husbands and fathers of their children will be the primary or sole bread winners and they will “provide enough” so that they can stay with kids at home.

    And since college degree still means better career and employment potential and women and mother still expect to have husbans and fathers of their kids to be primarily or sole bread winners, tension, frustration and worse, including divorce are much more likely than before.

    Men are discriminated in numerous other ways: For example: women have been for decades now admitted to military, police, even fire fighter troops while in real life they are in essence NEVER placed in demanding of life threatening “front lines” in those positions. Recently, to satisfy “discrimination” cries from some feminist in armed forces, that theuy are not classified or formally assigned to “front line” roles which would qualify them for extra pay bonuses and faster promotion, Pentagon gave in, yet we all know that for practical reasons women will continue not to be regularly or in proportional share placed in those font-line positions (while getting their xtra pay and promotion anyway).

    While males must to sign up with Selective Service of face criminal cahrges and being denied many government benefits, starting with Pell Granst, student loans, etc. … half of the population, even when being “equal” has no such law required and potentially again life and health risking duty.

    In general: The RULING CLASS and females demand equality when it fits them and is happy with and demand no change and continuity of preferential treatment when it fits them.

    Not only in Titanic but even in today “progressive” ideas and laws life women (same as children) are the ones who are the first ones to be saved, get a seat, EXPECT to have a restaurant or date dinner to be paid by the man, etc.

    If there are 150 boys bestially tortured and killed by Islamist in Nigeria, media and Hillaries do not register. When 250 girls are abducted and shown more or less, relatively OK and while Christians being forced to pray to Allah … global media and the First Lady arouse global attention, sympathy and call for action.

    A note on media, Hollywood and popular “culture” systematically debasing males, husbands and fathers: It is not only in Married with Children, where husbands and fathers are systematically – to everyone’s supposed approval and fun – as bafoons. If women and mothers (or minorities forvthat matter) would be in these (or even “innocent” commercials) portrayed in this way, media and “grass root” and legal and class suit actions and government action will take place.

    You can ask why this is the case and why it is accepted.

    Before I close, one important thing to keep in mind: By evolution, males are in general endowed with bigger bodies, more physical power, more action-driving testosterone and … more frequent and serious and even deadly violence.

    Therefore, as male you are by default and until (painstakingly and usually impossibly) proven innocent …. you are guilty. In eyes of police, prosecutor, judge, relatives, neighbors, media. The statistics of violence and serious violence thus a probability that you are “bad boy” is stacked against you 9:1.

    So when she says that you hit her, threatened her, had “bad fight” (even just verbal argument) with her …. you are guilty and cooked.

    Therefore: scrupulously avoid any raised voice, not to mention any raised hand or any kind of even minor physical violence, including throwing a plate into wall. SHE can do it and it will illustrate how much she “suffered” in the relationship, but you, man, can’t even afford to do a fraction of it.

    Does it sound unfair?
    Maybe. Probably yes. But life is never designed to be fair, so, adjust accordingly.
    Actually, ideally, when she has some “short fuse”, it should be you who properly documents and keeps record of it. Just in case, when divorce-related child custody (inevitable) differences and fight will take place. The fact that there might be public record that you had to call a police due to her physical violence against you or the children come handy in these cases and again – as a male you are by default guilty unless you painstakingly prove otherwise and that in your relationship it was always you who was calm and non aggressive.

    So, marry well, marry rich, be with and enjoy your kids from their day one. Take care of your health, be at-home Dad, behave as typical women would behave. You will do well and enjoy every day and if statistically likely divorce will come, you will be in much, much better position 95 percent of husbands and fathers are.

    That will be good not only for you but especially to your kids.

  4. Father of 2 Boys says:

    Daddy Of 5, you’re a credit to your gender. Corporations, media, and government are rolling out the red carpet for feminist causes and agenda. Males are being left behind in droves. On TV and in movies, males (particularly white males) are portrayed as stupid and incompetent, incapable of getting the most menial tasks done correctly. While the woman is hailed as a hero in every walk of life, at the job and at home. Most advertisements carefully and deliberately leave the male/husband out, which sends a message to young boys and men that they are not relevant to the future of the country or if they can’t possibly contribute to the betterment of the society. The female is all-knowing, all-giving, wise, and supremely confident. They even show a 110lb woman in a firefighter uniform. Just one of the boys! What? How is she going to carry a 200lb person on her back out of a burning building? A lot of movies are being remade to include females in roles of prominence such as scientists, astronauts, and geologists. And a lot of women get away with violence against men everywhere. I see advertisements, shows, and movies where women are beating guys up. It’s perfectly acceptable. Our roles in the new world are being completely trounced by the feminist machine that is bull-dozing everything. I went to my son’s middle school function a few years ago. The whole ceremony was completely feminized. Even the big muscle-head gym teacher cried on stage (no doubt buckling under the pressure to show his emotions and to show that he is “not afraid” to cry). Nearly all awards were handed out to the girls. The boys, it seems, are underachieving or don’t count anymore and are being left behind. Of course, the majority of teachers are female. We’re becoming irrelevant in today’s society. A friend of ours has a son in an Aerospace Engineering program. He said that 95% of students are boys, but the internship was awarded to a girl. She did not even apply, but the counselor told her to do it because the company was more likely to give it to her than the boys. If I had a daughter, I would encourage her to go into the IT field where companies are bending backwards to put women into management positions. It doesn’t matter if you’re a male and you have been slaving and producing for 20+ years, and you’ve done some remarkable things in your career and have leadership qualities. I have interviewed at several companies for senior management roles and hiring managers are being told to put women in senior leadership roles, at any cost. IT companies are not interested in hiring the best, they are more concerned about hiring someone to boost the company image and promoting the popular causes. We’re being told that women are more creative. I disagree. You’re either creative or you’re not. It has nothing to do with gender. I have heard it all before. Women’s groups commonly complain “It’s a male dominated field”. There are women dominated fields where men can’t even get through the door.

    • Your well-written, heart-felt statement tells me you ought to have a blog yourself!

      Thanks much for taking the time to express what I believe is the feeling of a huge and growing number of men.

    • Your well-written, heart-felt statement tells me you ought to have a blog yourself!

      Thanks much for taking the time to express what I believe is the feeling of a huge and growing number of men.

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