Spring. It’s the time of year when we see bleating lambs, blooming flowers, cuddly chicks, and an influx of parental stereotypes clogging up greeting card stores. Take a look! Your local store will inevitably showcase the so-called heartfelt messages about dad’s flatulence, couch potato tendencies and unhealthy drinking habits, alongside Mum’s unhealthy shopping addiction and domestic slavery. Here are some typical examples:
Dads are Lazy
put your feet up…”
Take a look at the Father’s Day cards in your local store, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking that you’ve been warped back to the 50s. The stereotype that Dads are lazy, uninvolved, disengaged and morally inferior continues to thrive. According to the greetings cards industry, Dads evade domestic chores, cut corners and lounge on the sofa with ball-scratching, finger-sniffing apathy. The text on these cards may as well read, “I hope your Father’s Day is even more relaxing than every other day of your highly sedentary existence”.
Dads are Free Money
over the years, I say Thank You. For all the money you’ve lent me, I say…”
I learned at an early age how to save my money…”
a small fortune over the years. But when I think about it, things are
not so bad… you started out with nothing…”
Can I get you a drink? Can I get your slippers?”
A man’s children may love him, but they often don’t respect him, preferring to view him as a walking meal ticket, an ATM on legs. Or so you would think if you took parenting tips from Hallmark.
Picture the scene: Dad is in the lounge (reclining in his armchair and watching TV obviously). In walks his teen son. “Dad, can I borrow 20 quid to buy you a Father’s Day present?” Dad replies, “How about I just keep the 20 quid?” Son replies, “That works for me Dad. Happy Father’s Day, yeah”.
Dads are Alcoholics
Easily Drunk – 100% All Rounder”
So I’m sure that…”
Another trend in Father’s Day imagery, is to emblazon cards with alcohol-related paraphernalia. A significant number of these cards piggy-back on the ‘lazy dad’ stereotype by showing Dad crashing out on his armchair surrounded by his beloved bounty of liquid depressants.
Notice how images of alcohol on Father’s Day cards go well beyond Dad being a little ‘chemically inconvenienced,’ and instead show proper rat-arsed pavement-pizza style intoxication. While it is true that statistics show much higher levels of heavy drinking and alcoholism, as well as substance abuse and addiction among men than among women, these conditions are far from normal, and affect a relatively small percentage of the population. So why the prevalence of liquor on Father’s Day cards? Perhaps it is because alcohol is linked with risk-taking and thus a symbol of masculinity. However this custom has the side-effect of encouraging people to give gifts that send the message that addictive behaviour is OK.
What about stereotypes for mothers? Their range is considerably more limited…
Mums are Domestic Slaves
of the Washing Up! OK, I know you’d never fall for that kind of stuff
but I thought I’d try anyway. Not even Great High Priestess…?
Thanks anyway for everything you do. You’re a great Mum”.
Second card: “Mum, for Mother’s Day I know a great place for lunch… …Your place!”
I just want you to know I’m always here for you…
I may be plopped in front of the TV but I’m here! Happy Mother’s Day.”
and in the TV room… Happy Mother’s Day”.
are the best! You get so much accomplished and you never seem to rest!”
us money when you shop for bargain deals. You keep track of our appointments
so we’re where we need to be, and still make sure we have some time alone,
just you and me”.
sure lucky to have a wife like you! Happy Mother’s Day!”
Second card: “Mum, when I grow up, I want to be SUPERWOMAN”
it was all the cooking. 4 said it was the endless amount of cleaning. 5 said it was
all the shopping…the other 88 were too busy cooking, cleaning and shopping to reply!! Happy Mother’s Day!”
We saw above how Dads are the cash cows of the family, producing a stream of delicious wonga from their paternal udders. However they are only able to do this because Mum is willing to pick up their shit, like an over-worked, under-paid farm hand.
Vacuums, irons, feather dusters and other markers of domestic drudgery adorn a significant proportion of Mother’s Day cards. What better way to celebrate her special day than to remind your lovely Mum that women tend to take on the bulk of domestic duties. The message is: Mum cooks pies. Dad cooks up meaty farts. Mum readjusts her apron. Dad readjusts his balls. Mum picks up dirty clothes from the floor. Dad picks his nose.
No other stereotype features as prominently or as ubiquitously, not even the beloved ‘shopahoplic’. Regrettably, the domestic slave stereotype has a firm basis in reality. “Women still shoulder the overwhelming burden of household tasks, particularly after they have had children. Eight out of 10 married women do more household chores, while just one in 10 married men does an equal amount of cleaning and washing as his wife” (The Guardian).
Mums are Shopaholics
The image of a cheerful, superficial, trendy woman, over-laden with designer shopping bags adorns Mother’s Day cards as a jovial alternative to the exhausted housewife. It conjures up thoughts of self-indulgent, reckless spending. Being a shopaholic is often thought of as something to joke about; however, a shopping addiction is actually considered in the same category as other addictions such as alcohol, drugs and gambling and can have similar life-destroying consequences.
Why don’t you ever see the shopaholic stereotype displayed on Father’s Day cards? The implication is that men are seen as the sources of money, whilst women are the splurgers of it. That the shopaholic stereotype is almost exclusively applied to women, makes little sense when we consider that excessive spending affects both genders. A study conducted in 2006 by Standford University found the number of male and female shopaholics in the U.S to be nearly the same (Ameh).
The stereotypes feed each other
As you can see, the biggest problem with Father’s Day and Mother’s Day is all the attendant rhetoric that reinforces tired gender stereotypes and does not advance the cause of equal parenting. Take the “Dads are Free Money” stereotype for example. Men, being the emotionally crippled creatures they apparently are, communicate love via cash (which the “Shopaholic Mother” appreciates). Dad has the ability to be generous with money due to the fact that men earn more money than women on average. This trait signals inequality in the workplace. However, there will never be equality in the workplace until there is equality at home. This is where the “Mothers are Domestic Slaves” stereotype comes into play. Mum dutifully carries out the domestic chores, which in turn facilitates the “Dads are Lazy” stereotype. A do-nothing dad image leaves the impression that mothers should, naturally, have the primary or sole responsibility of domestic chores because men are somehow innately lazy.
None of these outdated labels are to be celebrated, yet we do just that with our greetings cards. Why not just give a box of After Eights and a soap on a rope and be done with it.