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Research Blog - March

'The Power of Stereotypes - and the importance of breaking them down'

March 2012

Over the last month, there seems to have been a spate of stereotyping scandals, reaching the twittersphere at least. Telegraph reporter Emily Barnett started ‘Sexist trouser-gate’ when she posted a photo of her boyfriend’s new jeans, bought recently from men’s chain-store Madhouse. The washing label of these apparently innocuous trousers instructed the owner to ‘Machine wash warm … tumble dry medium’ and so on, but then suggested an alternative: ‘Give them to your woman – It’s her job’. Where to start…?

Dad changing nappy

But of course women are not the only ones subjected to this sort of casual but pernicious stereotyping. A recent row in the US has shown that men are not willing to accept this commercialised brand of sexism either. An advertising campaign for the nappy brand Huggies enraged fathers. This campaign suggested that Huggies nappies and changing products are so good, that they can even be subjected to ‘the toughest test imaginable – Dads’. Indeed, the social media dimension of this huge campaign told mothers to ‘Nominate a Dad … hand him some diapers and watch the fun!’ Television ads also featured clips of helpless dads who had apparently been left to look after their kids alone for five days.

This campaign, seemingly mocking dads for their lack of parenting abilities, provoked fury from men and women in the US and beyond. Huggies have pulled parts of the campaign and have been quick to claim they wanted to celebrate fatherhood, not belittle dads. Both these examples demonstrate the lazy instinct of advertisers to rely on traditional, well-worn stereotypes to sell products.

The title of my research project, ‘Hiding in the Pub to Cutting the Cord?’, has also provoked some controversy (though I’m yet to find the topic trending on twitter...!) Most people find the title engaging, powerful and positive, but some have suggested it may come across as condescending to men, or deny that fathers have always wanted to become engaged fathers. The title was meant to capture the imagination and get people thinking – and indeed it has done so. It was also meant to highlight change. With the very intentional question mark, I hoped to suggest that the research is aiming to get behind these stereotypes and to examine diversity in forms of fatherhood and in terms of childbirth experiences.

This month also featured International Women’s Day – and the most interesting development I’ve seen around this is writer Linda Grant’s new website ‘A Thousand Reasons’, which highlights women’s experiences of negative stereotyping. Examples of female doctors who are always assumed to be nurses, women whose banks will only talk to their partners about jointly held accounts and mortgages, and female employees who are required to wear skirts in the workplace demonstrates that there is still a need for those who believe in feminism, or simply equality, to fight against harmful gender stereotypes.
Why not check out this fantastic, simple website here?

And, if you’re a Dad in the Midlands area, come and help us fight stereotypes by taking part in a creative writing/poetry workshop on 29th March – show us your sensitive side!