Mummies to the rescue! On Daddy Pig, Father’s Day and gender stereotypes

Poor old Daddy Pig! As usual, he’s in trouble. This time, however, he’s not broken his lawnmower / dyed his football strip a girly shade of pink / chosen a Christmas tree that’s too big to fit in the car / mistaken a field of potatoes for Potato City. He’s been found guilty of being a bad role model. Ho ho!

According to a Netmums survey, 93% of parents “claim children’s shows don’t represent real-life dads this Father’s Day” (and, one presumes, at any other time):

Almost half of parents polled (46%) slammed books, adverts and children’s TV shows like Peppa Pig, The Simpsons and even the Flintstones which show dads as lazy or stupid. Almost a third of parents (28%) claim it is “a very subtle form of discrimination against dads” while a further 18% were more strident, saying it makes children believe dads are “useless” from an early age and there would be an “outcry” if it was done against mums.

Misandry a-go-go! Or possibly not. This is, after all, Netmums, not exactly known for enlightened views on gender equality. I don’t trust them on feminism (or feMEnism, as they like to call it), so I’m hardly going to take their word for it as far as Daddy Pig’s concerned.

As it happens *cough, pats big fat tummy* I am a bit of an expert on Daddy Pig, and Mummy Pig for that matter. And here’s a secret: spending your life baking cookies, sorting out mixed-up laundry and doing some vague in-front-of-a-computer-at-home-with-a-toddler-on-your-knee non-job (and volunteering in a Mummies’ Fire Service on the side) does NOT constitute living the dream. Especially not when your partner gets to bumble about being an affable buffoon. While I wouldn’t call him my parenting role model, given the choice, I’d much rather be Daddy Pig than his long-suffering partner. The only reason mummies aren’t up in arms about the portrayal of Mummy Pig is because we’re too busy deciding whether the Miss Rabbit’s Day Off episode was offensive to mothers, or to non-mothers, or both, or neither. And because we’ve got bigger fish to fry (such as working out why George Pig, Chloe Pig and Baby Alex Pig don’t have alliterative names. Why? For the love of god, WHY?).*

And here’s another secret regarding Daddy Pig: the bumbling, useless-but-loveable daddy is not a creation of the feminist movement. Let’s face it, if he was we’d have seriously shot ourselves in the foot.

Hey, sisters! Let’s portray all families as middle-class, heterosexual, man-and-wife-plus-perfect-gender-mix-of-kids set-ups!

Yeah! And all men as head-of-the-family main-earner types who are totally incapable of taking on any domestic work without ballsing it up!

Cool! And let’s make all women put-upon but smug – because smugness totally makes up for having to stick to some bizarre 1950s stereotype of middle-class wifedom while also holding down a paid job as a special treat!

I’m sorry, non-feminists, but that conversation never happened.

Daddy Pig, Homer Simpson et al are not symbols of some new, misandrist world order. They’re just gender stereotypes – you know, those things that ordinarily no one apart from a feminist would challenge because they’re “scientifically proven” or “just the way things are” and “boys will be boys” etc. etc. They’re part of a much broader picture and yes, their portrayal does represent all fathers unfairly. But that’s not all it does.

It also excuses continuing social and domestic inequalities. It suggests that men are perfectly capable of doing work that brings financial reward but curiously incapable when it comes to unpaid tasks. It suggests women are mildly frustrated by this but generally find it quite endearing and amusing – after all, it allows the ladies to feel important! Mummies to the rescue! cry Miss Rabbit’s Fire Team on their way to putting out the BBQ started by the Daddies’ Football Team. It’s a ludicrous extension of negative social expecations – female servitude, male entitlement. The problem isn’t simply how we see fathers – it’s how we see men and women overall.

Strange though it is, I’m actually quite a fan of Peppa Pig. I do like the silly humour, the in-jokes, the fact that nothing much happens at all apart from, say, Tiddles the Tortoise getting stuck up a tree and Peppa learning to whistle by blowing on a biscuit. If anything, the gender roles remind me of sitcoms my parents used to watch when I was growing up – Ever Decreasing Circles, Terry and June – but I find them less oppressive these days. With Ever Decreasing Circles, I always half-worried that the self-indulgent Richard Briers character would really lay into his wife once an episode finished. At least with Peppa Pig there’s no undertone of miserable passive aggression. Unlike Martin, Daddy Pig doesn’t really give a toss when he messes up. It doesn’t matter. He’s still the Daddy. Way-hey!

It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that Father’s Day merchandise picks up on stereotyped portrayal of dads. If we’re celebrating parenthood in a gender segregated manner and have all these stereotypes to hand, where else is there to go? (Personally, I’m pushing for a one-size-fits-all “liberal wussy Guardian-reading parents and/or guardians” day, but I don’t hold out much hope.). Only today I’ve seen Father’s Day mugs bearing the legends “I’d rather be in the pub” and  “You’ll have to ask the expert – my wife”. With the latter, I wonder who the real target of mockery is – the supposedly ignorant man or the know-it-all wife? And as for the other one, well, perhaps I’d rather be in the pub, too. But that would make me a rubbish mum rather than an endearingly flawed one. Best stick to a mini bottle of rosé. It’ll be a treat for me while I cook the Sunday lunch. Hopefully I won’t be too off my face to extinguish the next barbeque fire.

PS A little something I found on Youtube. Poor Daddy!

* I think I’ve worked out the Peppa Pig pet conundrum, though. The Peppa Pig animals are all mammals, therefore they can have non-anthropomorphised fish, birds and reptiles for pets. I’m pretty sure those are the rules, anyhow (please don’t anyone tell me there’s a Christopher Crocodile. I just couldn’t cope).

7 thoughts on “Mummies to the rescue! On Daddy Pig, Father’s Day and gender stereotypes

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  2. I think I love you. Seriously. I’ve been trying to find a decent voice on this stupid ‘argument’ since it happened and you’ve summed up exactly what I think, so thank you!

    I sort of lost faith with the Peppa pig haterz the day I saw an article on Mumsnet/Netmums/allthesame discussing whether or not Peppa Pig set a bad example by encouraging kids to jump in muddy puddles?! Aah!

    1. Crikey. To say that Netmums and Mumsnet are ‘all the same’ is a real insult to Mumsnet, which is home to some extremely robust feminist discussion. Netmums, on the other hand.. *sigh*

      I love this article, by the way. And I’m also quite a PP fan. the humour is great, and it’s gratifying to have a popular TV show all about a female character, where she isn’t just obsessed with being pretty.

  3. Apparently Peppa Pig is hated by MREs. For that reason alone it is worthy of my children watching it. Despite its distinct lack of feminist heart, I still can’t help enjoying the humour and the quirks.

    So I agree entirely with your post. The gender stereotypes perpetuated end up hurting women more and Netmums (and those MREs) should realise it isn’t really about men being incompetent at menial tasks but about keeping women doing those tasks. But let’s look at the (imagined) damage it maybe doing men. God forbid we should men look incompetent at anything. Where will it stop? Driving, being in charge of the finances, leadership, running the country?

    P.S. The Mumsnet jumping in muddy puddles thread was a daft thread deliberately misrepresented by the media.

  4. This is spot-on. I know it insults and frustrates men, but it is ancient, women as a civilising force, women as creatures with an extra-special skill-set, which mean that men would be lost without us, back home, holding the fort. Marge Simpson may have ten times the competence of her husband, but she can’t hold a job down.

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