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March 11th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The Kimberly Clark Company is under fire from fathers’ rights advocates because of a recent ad denigrating dads.  Here’s a link to a video of the ad.  Here’s a Washington Post article about the storm of protest the spot has received (Washington Post, 3/8/12).

The ad is all about a silly “test” Huggies (K-C’s diaper brand) is supposedly running.  It seems they’ve gotten five fathers together in a single house, each with his toddler.  In ways unexplained and inexplicable, we are told that this event constitutes the ultimate test for Huggies diapers.

To prove Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable – dads.

That opening salvo suggests that it’s the dads who are going to be wearing the diapers.  Otherwise, how is a baby wearing a diaper with Dad around any different from the same baby wearing the same diaper with Mom around?  Neither “test” is tougher than the other.

That’s backed up by the closing line of the ad which features one of the mothers saying “good luck, babe.”  That “babe” likewise suggests that it’s the dad who’s the baby and therefore the test of the diaper will in fact be tough.

Then we’re told that Huggies “gave the moms some well-deserved time off,” while the Dads did baby care.  That Huggies gave Mom time off means (a) Mom does all the child care and (b) it takes Huggies to give her a break, i.e. dads don’t help with childcare and it takes a third party to let Mom have some time off.

As one critic of the ad said, “what is this, 1948?”  The notion that fathers don’t do childcare, don’t know how to do childcare and would be incompetent at it if they tried should have gone the way of “Hi, I’m Rachel.  Fly me to Atlanta”  ads National Airlines featured in the 70s.  Apparently neither Huggies nor their ad agency knows that fathers now do almost as much childcare as do mothers.  Plenty of regularly-gathered data by, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, but for Huggies denigrating fathers is just too much fun to pass up.

It’s gratifying to notice that, with one or two exceptions, the comments to the Huggies Facebook page following the ad are scathing and uniformly indignant, as they should be.

Sexism alone isn’t necessarily so bad, but when it’s connected to wholesale discrimination against the targeted sex, it’s completely unacceptable.  In the Huggies case, the denigration of fathers tends to support and promote the radical inequality fathers face in family courts.  What judge would want to give custody to an incompetent parent?  The more the myth of fathers’ lesser parental abilities is promoted, the less likely fathers are to get the fair shake in custody decisions they deserve.  There’s far too much anti-father bias out there without creating more.

The diaper giant Huggies has made a mess this week by rolling out an advertising campaign that portrays fathers as hapless and helpless in the face of a child’s needs…

At a time when dads are routinely on diaper duty and national surveys show they are taking on more childcare and child-rearing stress, the antiquated Huggies stereotype is inspiring protests.

“How can you insult hundreds of thousands of dads, who serve as the primary caregiver, and in some cases, THE ONLY caregiver, to their children?” asks an irate John Taylor, a Virginia dad who writes the blog The DaddyYo Dude, in an open letter to Huggies he posted Wednesday…

Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania father has launched an online petition asking Huggies to yank the ads. “Changing diapers, cleaning, feeding, bathing … no aspect of parenting other than actually giving birth and breastfeeding is off-limits to involved 21st Century dads. The days of dad being unwilling or unable to take an active role in even the messiest aspects of parenting young children are past,” writes Chris Routly.

As of this writing, Routly’s Change.org petition was closing in on a thousand signatures.

Here’s the link to his petition site.

The Post writer, Janice D’Arcy, has a spot-on piece.  She’s even aware of the recent controversy that I covered  not long ago about the U.S. Census Bureau’s classification of father care as the equivalent of babysitting.  So D’Arcy understands that we live in a culture that’s happy to shove dads to the margins in the lives of their own children and then criticize them for being there.

For its part, Huggies claims that the ad wasn’t meant to denigrate fathers, but in all honesty, I have to ask them “how do you figure?”  All the familiar anti-dad tropes are there, so their defense sounds hollow.

To their credit, the next ad in the series is much better.  It shows the five dads peacefully sitting in rocking chairs, holding their sleeping children who are all utterly content in their fathers’ arms.  It’s a scene of domestic tranquility that is sweet and touching.  Here’s a guess: it’ll be followed by one of chaos.

I guess we’ll see, but for now, Huggies has hit, if not an all-new low, certainly a recent one.  I urge everyone to sign Routly’s petition and let Huggies know how you feel about yet another cheap shot at fathers.

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