by DK Badenhorst (@BrandCultureSA) In earlier articles I’ve written a substantial amount about the continuing shift we see in masculinity and fatherhood. But these binaries, like male and female, tend to change each other as they change themselves. That is to say, if we turn the dials on the one, the other responds to any change.

Advertising has worked hard to change the perception of femininity through what is now referred to as femvertising. Commercials that ranges from Dove’s “Real Beauty” to Always’ “Like a Girl” all have been playing their part in making society more sensitive to how women are depicted. Masculinity is shifting in response, most notably in the realm of fatherhood.


It would now seem that motherhood is also shifting — maybe not in response to fatherhood but rather in response to what we think of femininity. Much like fatherhood holds its weakest incarnation in the out-of-touch office worker, so motherhood has her lowest moment in the stereotype of Kitty Forman — the subservient mother figure from That ’70s Show. Much like Red, Kitty adheres to a very old-fashioned gender stereotype. This is where the comic tension builds — we see the violation of progressive gender roles but, at the same time, it holds no threat as it is a caricature and a depiction of a bygone era. The humour reveals that we’ve moved beyond, but also that these stereotypes rang true not too long ago. This is so recent in history that most of us could probably see traces of this somewhere in the roots of the family tree.

In 2012, for the Summer Olympics in London, Procter & Gamble launched a fantastic piece of communication called “Best Job”. The commercial is set to a rolling soundtrack that reinforces the day-to-day work of being a mom. The skeleton of the commercial follows a young champion’s route through hard work and dedication to where it culminates in success but, throughout, it shows the importance of moms — the hero behind the hero.

While it’s not quite the disempowered Kitty Forman, it does still depict mothers in a support role, a behind-the-scenes character. The 2016 Rio Olympics take on motherhood by the same company with the same theme looks very different.

A fantastic step forward

The 2012 commercial was “Thank you mom — best job in the world”; the 2016 is “Thank you mom — strong”. It takes a step back and starts from further back than just preparing for a sport. Instead, it looks at how life may be intimidating. It’s a fantastic step forward: mothers are pillars of strength and, instead of following the children with bags and lunchboxes, the 2016 mother leads and puts their children at ease.

In an earlier article, we saw how care and nurturing — values traditionally associated with motherhood — are making their way into fatherhood. Parallel to that, it would seem that the values of bravery and strength — traditionally masculine qualities — are making its way into motherhood. It’s a refreshing perspective, and a much-needed one. In a world where leading politicians make statements such as ‘M is not for make up your mind and W is not for whatever’ (comments made regarding the gender toilet policy in the US), it is great to see how male and female values are not necessarily and immovably welded to a man or a woman.

Point of view of parenting

Where gender fluidity usually centers upon sexual preference and the taboos associated to gender identity, it’s so helpful to look at this topic from the point of view of parenting. It does not ask: “How can fluidity in gender-related values and gender identity help you enjoy your life more?” Instead, it asks, “How does the fluidity in gender-related values and gender identity make for a better society?” and then implicitly poses the counter question, “What is the true cost of unnecessary conservatism and rigidity?”

It’s tempting to think that parenthood is slowly being politicised by gender issues. But I like to think that the opposite is true.

I hope that we’re realising what damage is being done by politicising gender identity and, in doing so, that we are reaching out to a relationship that is, in its archetypal form, apolitical, wise and benevolent in order to just calibrate our true north again as we set about with the endless project of building a more-functional, more-representative and, ultimately, a happier society.


DK BadenhorstDK Badenhorst (@BrandCultureSA) is head of strategy at Cape Town ad agency, 140BBDO, and brings cultural context and long-term trend insights to brand communication through cultural insight and semiotics. He contributes the monthly “Brand Culture” column, exploring the value and meaning interaction between brands and society, to

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