Frantic Fathers And Misplaced Mothers: Hegemonic Patriarchal Reinforcement Of The Traditional Family In American Film




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Movies play an integral part in the formation of cultural identity and therefore should be subject to critical examination. This study examines the roles of mothers and fathers in films by looking at several basic techniques used to reinforce patriarchy. The focus will be an examination of post-1990s Hollywood film with relevant background information coming from earlier Hollywood films.
Films which ridicule fathers who try to take on traditional female roles are first examined. In these films it is necessary for a woman to come in and rescue the man by embracing the role she was "intended" for. Another popular discourse uses comedy in ridiculing fathers who take on the role of caregiver, but in these films, the father successfully navigates this traditionally female terrain. Patriarchy is reinforced by illustrating that men can still be men and take on the traditional female roles as well. In a backlash against feminism, fathers successfully navigate and take on the role of childcare. The next focus is films that continue in the "Fathers Knows Best" tradition, showing that men can become better mothers, but along with a commendation of the father comes a condemnation of the mother. The 1990s began to slowly usher in an age of telling fathers that though they had been successful in all areas, it was time to slow down. The 1950s instilled in fathers the need to be the family breadwinner, leaving the mother responsible for the care of the home. Now that we have been told that fathers can be as good at parenting as mothers, it is time to tell that career oriented father that he is needed on the home front. In other films, the father remains a strong caregiver, but in essence, "it takes a village" to raise a family successfully. These films give examples of group parenting or step-parenting. Hegemony seeks to allow dominant values to be enforced without the knowledge of the oppressed. It is imperative to understand how hegemony works through film in order to educate filmgoers in how to identify the values that are reinforced.