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Why does the BBC make dads disappear?

Courtesy: D Sharon Pruitt

Editor of RESET Magazine, Martin Cordiner, questions why a BBC documentary about the pressures on modern family life erased fathers from the discussion.

Most TV programmes these days have titles designed to tell you everything in an instant – The Man with a Cow for a Head, The Woman who Lost a Shoe and Got Fed Up and Went to the Shops etc – but the BBC gave us something with the opposite problem a few nights ago.

Parents Under Pressure (an exploration of why British kids are amongst the unhappiest in Europe presented by news reader Sophie Rayworth) may have been worthy in many ways but should really have been called “Mothers Under Pressure”.

The programme spoke to various parents and kids about the issues facing modern families, and explored possible remedies to foster greater emotional health amongst family members. Unfortunately, during the hour-long programme, we heard from only one father (as compared to about five or six mothers each with individual five minute segments) and that was only as part of a couple, rather than interviewed individually as the mothers were.

To be honest, it was just a bit strange. Either they were making some kind of meta-documentary with a never-mentioned subtext, or they just didn’t see a problem with ignoring fathers.

Ignoring fathers

We heard about the unhappiness of three sisters who never got to spend any time with their parents because they worked too long every day, and how their mother had moved to part time and would be home to greet them from school. She was happier, they were happier. But the father – had he changed his working hours? Did he get a chance to spend extra time with his children? If not how did he feel about that? How did the kids feel about that? Don’t know.

Another mother suffered from post-natal depression, and received counselling to help her deal with the pressure of being a new parent that she felt was all too much. But what about the father, was he understanding? Did he help more? Was he working at the time, at what and for how long hours? Don’t know.

The programme also talked about on-going research looking at possible neurological stimulations that occur in the brain when a parent interacts with their child, but the whole segment used the words “mother” and “parent” almost interchangeably.

Not as in, “this mother’s brain went ping at this point” but as in, “new evidence suggests mothers’ brains react certain ways in response to their child”. So are men’s brains different? Does science feel that the genetic elements of motherhood/fatherhood are possibly so different as to require separate studies? On a genetic level, does the uniquely-female physical relationship of child birth afford mothers some additional link to children over and above that possible for men? Is there any evidence to show it?

Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know.

Thought experiment

I don’t necessarily think it would have been particularly useful for this programme to have taken a, “this is what it’s like for a mother and this is what it’s like for a father” approach for all these issues, but where were the bloody men? They couldn’t find anyone who had anything interesting or relevant to say?

One of their demonstrated ways of improving children’s happiness couldn’t have been what happens when both parents are equally emotionally engaged with their children? None of this occurred, at any point?

Maybe the programme meant to echo the legal situation, where men’s legal rights to be with their new born children are not equal to those of women. If maternity leave was meant to ensure women didn’t lose out at work as a result of having kids, men are still in a position where they are losing out at home. Maybe the programme meant that, but I doubt it.

Here’s a thought experiment. If the BBC ran a documentary on the traditionally male world of business entrepreneurs, do you think they would interview only men? Not on your life – they’d make absolutely sure the programme showed women were just as capable as men at setting up their own businesses. So why does the corporation not follow through and show men are just as capable and important as women in looking after children?

Instead, the programme reflected another sad problem all too well. We are often told of the negative effects of absent fathers. But here, too, they were also absent. This programme didn’t criticise fathers or blame them, but it did forget and ignore them. Which just might be even worse.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

6 Responses to this article

  1. I didn’t see this but the fact that only one dad got to say anything is absolutely disgusting. I’m just gobsmacked that they could broadcast a programme that was meant to be about parents and effectively blatantly ignore 50% of them. It’s utterly ludicrous. Sort it out BBC, and if you come back and say “We couldn’t get any men to talk about the pressures of being a dad.” I won’t believe you.

    nicebloke1977 11th March 2011 at 3:01 pm
  2. The BBC should be blamed for such a blatant oversight. They had a chance to expose a father’s role in the modern world. Seems like they had a brain freeze (for the entire length of the programmes production).

    Frankly though, understanding a (particularly new) father’s role in a young family, and providing support, is completely lacking. At least in the UK. If you’re a soon-to-be new father, the chances of receiving some level of mental health readiness check, are zero.

    Support options for new fathers really are archaic. The system does not expect men to openly talk about such issues, so doesn’t bother asking them if they would like to, or need to.

    I feel the BBC simply acted out the media-equivalent of this blind-spot.

    martin.chapmanfromm 15th March 2011 at 9:05 pm
  3. Following reading this article, I think there was a subtext to be followed. Although, the programme highlighted a majority of female issues. Maybe, it was because it was the target audience. Fair-play to the BBC to actually did highlight a male case. They could have left the male population out altogether.

    Although, It is a shocking fact that despite the efforts of the the feminine movements there are still some facets of life that seem that they may never change. This could be viewed as sexual discrimination, but I think that there have been some positive strides in equality and even though there are a few areas that still seem unfair it may only be a matter of time before the rights of Women are the same for Men.

    Here’s hoping anyway!


    C H H - 8th May 2011 at 6:50 pm
  4. Simple, it’s because the BBC, like much of the British mass media, is a feminist corporation. However, they have toned it down recently because it was becoming too blatant and giving ammunition to the rapidly growing men’s movement.

    Ed 9th May 2011 at 12:55 pm
  5. In response to Ed: ‘it’s because the BBC….is a feminist corporation’.

    The word feminist doesn’t equate with ignoring men. It actually stands for equality where there hasn’t been equality in the past. So even if it were feminist (which it’s not in my opinion, but that’s an entirely different matter), that is no reason to explain why it has ignored fathers.

    Good fathers in this country should be valued and celebrated, because they’re vital to the next generation’s future. Life’s harder without a dad: emotionally and economically, not just as kids, but as an adult too. I can vouch for that, as someone who grew up without her father. Dad’s should be cherished, and if we as a society ignore the value of fathers then we’re making huge errors for our future generation. Everyone deserves the love of a good dad, and it’s only when you haven’t got it that you see just how important it is!

    Pavan 24th November 2011 at 9:33 pm
  6. To Ed
    Refreshing to find well grounded and articulated arguments about a programme that was clearly one of BBC ‘s massive clangers in getting things wrong yet again, being unable to read the culture (because of small elite group who are employed there and whose experience rarely reflects that of the general populace).

    However, I must take issue on the BBC being a feminist organisation! Almost all senior management are men, all the ‘chunky’ docs are made by men, and I’d bet my life on the fact it was the decision of an ureconstructed Oxbridge graduate male who does see parenting as a female issue, because he’s too busy shagging his secretary, to show parents as mostly female.

    Don’t make women the enemy! Big Fat Cat Men make most of the decisions, it would be awful if Calm were to become an anti women organisation, most women love Dads!

    katy proud 14th June 2012 at 12:10 pm

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