London - They might make us laugh with their feckless, beer-drinking, bumbling DIY ways but media representations of modern fatherhood are little more than discrimination and threaten to convince future generations that men are “useless”, research has suggested.
A character like Homer Simpson fails to accurately represent the modern male experience and reflect the important contribution that fathers make to their families, according to a survey of parents by website Netmums.
The poll has cast new light on the so-called crisis of masculinity showing that dads are misunderstood and forced to endure near constant ridicule on TV, in books and in magazines for their perceived inadequacies.
More than nine out of 10 respondents to the survey said the stereotypes were out of touch with reality and would be offensive to women or racial groups. Half were critical of the way fathers were represented as lazy and stupid by the media, while a third suggested they were little more than a “subtle form of discrimination”.
Programmes including The Simpsons, Peppa Pig, My Family, Outnumbered and Shameless were all highlighted as failing to promote suitable role models for children or fathers themselves.
Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard said that while many of the portrayals were humorous when viewed in isolation, taken together they were having a corrosive effect. She stressed that she was not calling for them to be banned, but urged society to instead focus on the more positive aspects of fatherhood.
“It's never been harder to be a father - but good dads have never been more needed by their families. So it seems perverse [that] we are telling men to step up and be involved, while running them down in the media,” she said.
“The type of jokes aimed at dads would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups. Some people claim it's 'just a joke' - but there's nothing amusing about taking away good role models for young boys.”
Of the 2 150 parents questioned however, three quarters said the standing of fathers had improved in society and men were more hands-on compared to a generation ago. Nearly nine out of 10 fathers said they sought to be a better parent than their own dad.
Two-thirds of men said they were happier and more settled after having children, while a small number even suggested that being a parent has made them more attractive or helped them give up smoking, drinking heavily or taking drugs.
This week, research by the Centre for Social Justice found that one million British children were growing up without a father in their lives, while the number of lone parent families was set to top the two million mark by the next general election.
Ross Jones, policy manager for campaign group Families Need Fathers, said poor media representation was a big issue for dads.
“It shows them as incompetent when it comes to looking after their children or doing their bit around the house,” he said.
“It would be nice to see more accurate representations that reflect the many fathers across the country that parent equally. It comes up with our members who may be struggling see their children or to keep meaningful relationship with them. When they see these negative representations it makes them feel the role of father is being devalued.”
FATHER FIGURE ROLE MODELS TO AVOID
Beer, TV, doughnuts... Homer Simpson is the renaissance man of TV parenting. He might frustrate his wife and kids but he remains the philosopher king for two generations of couch potato dads.
Daddy Pig (in Peppa Pig)
He might not be feckless and is never seen with a can of lager in his hand but the porcine parent's reputation for ineffectual bumbling has made him a growing target for fatherhood campaign groups.
Frank Gallagher (in Shameless)
He was never going to win any awards for dad of the year but the Chatsworth Estate's most famous boozer had in the eyes of his fans a certain zest for life which more than made up for his wayward habits.
Pete Brockman (in Outnumbered)
There must be many dads in Britain who think Hugh Dennis's downtrodden history teacher is a modern-day hero coping against superior numbers of children.
He was never the most active of dads, permanently rooted as he was to the settee, but the patriarch of The Royle Family could never be accused of not being there for his kids. - The Independent