Part 1b: No, Dudes, Sitcom Dads Are Not An Evil Feminist Plot. They're Postmodern Patriarchy.
Turning Inside Out Upside Down

Being able to openly laugh at this is insufficiently empowering to make up for the fact that guys are STILL taught that it's ok to act like this in 2015.

If you happen to be a feminist on the internet, especially someone who comments on media representations of women, you have likely had some of your critiques met by self-righteous dudes who insist that the portrayals of men in sitcoms are THE WORST INSTANCE OF MISANDRY EVVVVAAAAR!!!! and that you, the feminist, should abandon whatever critique of gender norms you were in the middle of and divert your attention to assuaging their man-feels.

I got one of these pests on my post about Inside Out, and I thought I should address it in more detail, both as it relates to this movie, and to media representations of gender, generally:

So... because the writers didn't choose to do what all TV sitcoms do, and make the male a blithering idiot and the female a model of calm, grace and intelligence, and instead gave the ambitious working role to the father, and the caring empathetic role to the mother... they're sexist.

Um, dude--the doofy sitcom dad is a product of patriarchy, not feminism. It's really just a backhanded compliment to women that essentially says "You'd better take it upon yourself to do all the family duties, because you'd be nuts to count on your husband." It means we've moved sliiiiightly beyond the Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best days where overt patriarchal attitudes were acceptable, but we're still too uncomfortable with portraying men who are genuinely involved in the emotional and practical responsibilities of domestic life. Just for starters, here's a brief sampling of feminist criticism of the Doofy Sitcom (or Commercial) Dad Trope:

Aaaaand another thing: the women in sitcoms are NOT the main characters. They are there to be the supporting character for the male main character to bounce his comedy off of. In fact the only female comedic force in a family sitcom I can think of is Roseanne, and I seriously doubt you're going to call her "a model of calm, grace, and intelligence"!

Furthermore, a huge portion of these sitcom wives have a certain pattern with regard to their employment, see if you can figure it out:

  • Jill Taylor--housewife (some on-and-off work and studying)
  • Norma Arnold--housewife (for most of the series, eventually finishes school and gets a job)
  • Marge Simpson--housewife (does a few stunt jobs for a single episode for laughs)
  • Debra Barone--housewife
  • Angie Lopez--housewife (with occasional unsuccessful forays into employment)
  • Kate Lawrence--housewife (who later goes to school)
  • Gloria Pritchett--housewife
  • Kim Warner--housewife
  • Claire Dunphy--housewife (until someone takes pity on her and gets her a job as a real estate manager)
  • Cindy Walsh--housewife (oh, and for good measure, they relocate for the dad's job)
  • Lois Griffin--housewife (taught piano lessons here and there)
  • ...and that's specifically NOT including all the sitcom housewives of the 50s and 60s!

If these women get jobs, it is later on in the show's run to add some plot fodder, but their identities are OVERWHELMINGLY centered around the home. Like, to a stifling degree! That's not even counting sitcom moms who take jobs at their kids' school, who are rejoining the workforce only after their kids are grown, or those whom we are told have jobs, but their actual screentime is mostly indistinguishable from housewife characters.

This modern crop of Sitcom Moms is most emphatically NOT empowered. They have a very irritating "sassy" and "demanding" act that pretends they have way more agency than they actually do in their stereotype-limited, insipidly-written lives. They are a pernicious form of pseudo-empowerment whose role is twofold: 1) to imply that the empowered woman will naturally choose a domestic life as an accessory to her husband (who, invariably, is the subject of the show!), and 2) to present an outspoken woman as an annoyance to her husband so we as a culture agree that any further female empowerment would be unseemly.

I have long been highly skeptical of claims that anti-feminist men are so beleaguered by their sitcom portrayals, mainly because it's a gripe that only seems to show up to shut up women are arguing for better representation, and to date I have not seen ONE of these anti-feminists praise a male character who changes diapers or emotionally supports his family. But there's something even more ridiculous about this one:

This anti-feminist commenter dude is claiming to be maligned by Sitcom Dads, while utterly failing to realize that the character he's praising has a very bad--and very obvious!--case of Sitcom Dad himself!

Yeah. Look up at the top of this post. You know whose picture is illustrating it? Yeah, that's right: Ol' Daddy Andersen. Because the writers of this movie decided to make him behave like a threadbare sitcom dad trope at one of the most pivotal scenes in the movie! (Stay tuned for part 4, where I'll be addressing this in depth...) I have a very hard time believing that someone who is genuinely put off by Sitcom Dad portrayals could somehow miss such a glaring case of domestic incompetence that is Riley's dad in the dinner table scene. Rather, I strongly suspect that the anti-feminist dude brigade is totally fine with fathers with no domestic skills, as long as the narrative universe acts like they are ENTITLED to ignore domestic matters. Inside Out presents this type of father as widely-relatable and tacitly in charge of his family's destiny. In contrast, the problem with Sitcom Dads, to anti-feminist dudes, is not that the Sitcom Dads are incompetent: it's that their wives try (however ineffectively) to hold them accountable for it.

Finally, I categorically reject this commenter's notion that ambition and empathy are mutually exclusive. I have two wonderful parents, BOTH of whom are ambitious, BOTH of whom are professionally successful, BOTH of whom are empathetic, and BOTH of whom are caring. I'm sick of human goodness being divvied up between these two mutually-exclusive bins for this gender and that gender. Not only does it limit women who aren't encouraged to pursue a wide array of talents that might benefit them, it also completely erases the caregiving and emotional support that real-life fathers (like my own!) provide for their kids. EVERYONE deserves better than this, and brushing off yet another stereotypical female role does not "get even" with the universe for sitcom dads, it entrenches the same gender stereotypes that make things worse for everybody.

Continue on to the next part in this sub-series. Part 2 of the Inside Out review resumes here.


  1. Helpful! I always knew it wasn't feminists writing these terrible characters anyway, but good insight on why it's still just patriarchy anyway.

  2. Yeah... I still don't get what point the comment was trying to make. Are the options really only

    Blithering idiot and Calm grace


    Ambitious and Nurturing?

    I feel like there must be some other options out there for characterization. :P

    At least in Inside Out the dad is nurturing in other scenes. so he's more rounded than some instances of the trope.


About the Author

Satiricalifragilistic grew up during the Disney Renaissance, and The Little Mermaid was the first movie she ever saw in theaters at age 3. Her mother flatly refused to let her leave the theater when Ursula got huge and terrifying, and maybe that explains her troubled psyche.

While she'll admit to being an inveterate nitpicker, she firmly believes in loving a piece of art even while criticizing it, and in the importance of engaging critically with what she loves. She has special contempt for anyone who tries to claim the politics in Disney films don't matter because "they're just movies," because she knows exactly how much the Disney Canon influenced her little gradeschool self—for good and for ill!

She loves art, design, music, dancing, movies from Hollywood's Golden Age, and British comedy...expect a lot of these to turn up in her reviews and mashups!