May 25, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Social media have been in an uproar ever since Heather Whitten posted a photo she took of her husband comforting their young son Fox who was ill from the bacterium Salmonella. Why the uproar? Both father and son were naked. Salmonella poisoning is serious business. Its virulent effects include high fever with long bouts of vomiting and diarrhea that have the power to kill due to dehydration. Thomas Whitten had taken Fox into the shower in the hopes of lowering the boy’s fever and for the expedient of easily washing away the vomit and diarrhea. Eventually the Whittens took their son to the hospital and all is now well.
Here’s one article about the whoop-di-doo (BBC, 5/20/16).
Except on Facebook where many took one look at the Heather’s photo and saw, not a loving father comforting a sick child, but a pedophile with a mark. Facebook watchdogs apparently saw the latter. They’ve taken down the image several times, only to repost it later. Heather Whitten is flabbergasted.
"Thomas had spent hours in the shower with him, trying to keep his fever down and letting the vomit and diarrhea rinse off of them both as it came," Whitten wrote in her post accompanying the photo.
"He was so patient and so loving and so strong with our tiny son in his lap... I stepped out and grabbed my camera and came back to snap a few images of it and, of course shared them."
But for some people the image is inappropriate at best and at worst has undertones of paedophilia. Whitten has been surprised by this reaction and was shocked when people posted negative comments about what was for her a beautiful moment…
Whitten told BBC Trending she has been "blown away" by the response to her image, which was actually taken in November 2014. "I wasn't prepared at all," she says. "I was very intimidated by it."
"A disgusting lack of boundaries," posted one person who was less keen on the content.
Why the blowback to a photo that isn’t just innocent, but depicts the deep love a father has for his child? The prurience of contemporary society is a guess that resonates with me, particularly when combined with our recent history of denigrating fathers and our frank double standards when it comes to mothers and fathers, and their children.
Fifty years ago, American and British societies thought fathers were pretty swell. Sometimes, father even knew best and TV dads could always be counted on for some sage advice and guidance for their innocently miscreant kids. Since then though we’ve undergone a steady torrent of messages from all quarters that men generally and fathers in particular are the vilest villains. Now fathers are considered some combination of brutal, uncaring, incompetent and lazy. Courts assume as much as do laws regarding child custody and child support. Judges agree. Half a dozen studies of U.S. family court judges demonstrate a profound anti-father bias. So, of course, do essentially all the data on child custody and the blind resistance to the slightest effort at improving children’s relationships with their dads.
That mothers are about twice as likely to abuse or neglect children is a fact as demonstrated by multiple datasets, but the myth about fathers keeps its tenacious hold.
Then there’s the double standard.
Last month, an Australian woman Kelli Bannister posted a photograph - in a similar pose to Whitten's photo - cradling her daughter Summer. It was taken by her five-year-old son on a mobile phone. The reaction to that image was overwhelmingly positive.
And of course our unelected censors at Facebook found nothing alarming about a photo of a naked woman in the shower cradling her naked child.
Heather Whitten saw the truth about her husband and their son, but she little reckoned on the zeitgeist into which she lovingly dispatched her image of love.
But however taken aback Heather was, the good news is that most people who viewed the photo on Facebook saw it for exactly what it was.
But the majority of the comments have been positive. "All I see is a loving caring dad comforting his sick child," reads one. "This is a beautiful image," says another.
And in an online poll run by the Telegraph newspaper 94% of the more than 7,000 people who responded indicated they didn't think the photo was inappropriate.
As with most magazine polls, I suspect the Telegraph’s results are skewed. In situations such as this one, people who care strongly about the topic are the ones who vote, so the sample inevitably suffers from selection bias. But still, 94% - 6% is quite a landslide. I’d venture to say that the responses to Heather Whitten’s beautiful and touching photo roughly reflect the views of everyday people regarding fathers and children. Vastly more regard dads as positive influences on children and families, haven’t swallowed the nonsense peddled by popular culture and disagree with the courts. Indeed, not a few surveys of people’s attitudes demonstrate the fact.
But We the People, who every day show ourselves to be not only smarter but kinder than our betters – Facebook censors, judges, lawmakers – aren’t the ones to decide which paternal behavior we deem appropriate, which children should lose a parent to divorce and the like. Sadly, the ones who were horrified by the photo of Thomas Whitten comforting his sick son have a lot more in common with legislators and judges than the majority of us do.
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