JC Penney took a calculated risk that enough of their customers would be impressed (or at least not offended by) their stance on equality for it to not damage their business. Lisa Belkin’s article on the Huggies controversy makes clear that the brand’s attempts to appease fathers were really only a way to appear attractive to their core customers: women. Huggies brand director Aric Melzl told her: “All of this… is targeted at moms. I don’t want there to be any question about who we we’re going after.”
In our capitalist system, businesses are inevitably less interested in encouraging social change than in pushing product, but by responding to the fact that customers want to see more a progressive stance, even if it’s only an act, they’re still creating some positive images that could help to subvert gender stereotypes for a new generation.
But while we (rightly) criticize sexist ads, we still live in a society where women’s contributions are devalued and it’s assumed both men and women will conform to gendered expectations (like that women will be primary caregivers and do the majority of the housework). There are far fewer single and stay-at-home dads in real life than we see in the media, but it would be truly revolutionary if the increase in hands-on fathers in ads, TV shows, and movies translated to a greater number of men taking responsibility for their kids — or at least realizing that sharing childcare is a viable option.
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