BBC3’s Don’t Just Stand There… I’m Having Your Baby was part of the channel’s Baby Britain series that focused on ‘what it means to be a young parent in Britain today and how having a baby changes your life’. As it focused on fathers-to-be at a time when I was a few weeks away from becoming a father, it felt like it was a programme that was made for people like me. However, there were several reasons why I also found the programme somewhat frustrating.
The basic premise was that the show set out to provide a ‘crash course in pregnancy’ for dads-to-be and was setting out to tackle the fact that dads sometimes feel marginalized during the period when their partner is expecting. Consequently, it sounded like it was taking a modern and progressive approach to pregnancy and the role of men in supporting their partners.
However, I couldn’t help feeling that the show actually ended up perpetuating gender stereotypes in a similar manner to BBC3 wedding show Don’t Tell the Bride. Don’t Tell the Bride, which has also spawned versions in other countries such as the United States, Ireland and Australia, is based around a key premise. A groom-to-be is given a budget (£12,000 in the UK edition) that he is to spend on organizing every last detail of his wedding to his bride-to-be during a three week period within which he is not allowed to have any contact with her. The couples on the show are generally fairly similar. The bride-to-be is normally represented as being well organised, having a clear vision of her ideal wedding and less than total confidence in her husband-to-be’s ability to organize their big day (although the wedding is often referred to as her big day rather than their big day). The groom-to-be is typically portrayed as being disorganized, lazy and impractical in order to create a sense of intrigue stemming from the idea that he has been assigned a challenging task to which he is supposedly not well suited.
In Don’t Just Stand There… I’m Having Your Baby, the couples often followed a similar patter. The mums-to-be were generally portrayed as being practical, well prepared and focused. On the other hands, the dads-to-be were frequently presented as being boys in men’s clothing who needed to grow up quickly, stop messing around and face up to the responsibilities associated with parenthood. Perhaps most frustrating of all was the programme narrator’s frequent use of the phrase ‘man up’ to denounce supposedly impractical and incapable fathers-to-be in a manner that suggested that they simply needed to pull themselves together and quit complaining rather than actually talk about their fears and emotions. Given the ways in which boys and men are traditionally not encouraged to show their emotions, I found this tone particularly frustrating in a show that was supposedly taking a progressive approach to parenting. As has been suggested recently on the American website Good Men Project, the phrase ‘man up’ could benefit from a long overdue makeover in order to encapsulate a more progressive and modern notion of what it means to be a man or father rather than being used as a mallet with which to bash men over the head.
On the positive side, Don’t Just Stand There… I’m Having Your Baby did try to address the fears and questions of fathers-to-be by bringing them in to a maternity ward for something resembling a one-to-one crash course on pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Whilst this did seem like a positive approach, I couldn’t help wondering what was provided that wasn’t covered in the traditional free antenatal classes that are provided by the National Health Service all over the UK. In short, the answer appeared to be that there were few additional or different aspects apart from the one-to-one tuition and frequent strategy of showing the fathers-to-be on the show what a recentlyexpelled placenta looks like.
If BBC3 had wanted to take a more genuinely progressive approach to parenting from a dad’s perspective, they would have done well to work with an organisation such as Daddy Natal whose tag line is ‘practical, memorable and enjoyable antenatal education for men, by men’. Daddy Natal founder Dean Beaumont has discussed images of dads and approaches to fatherhood on a variety of radio shows in recent months and has also just published a book entitled The Expectant Dad’s Handbook.
The ending of the episodes of Don’t Just Stand There… I’m Having Your Baby followed a pattern that was so familiar it almost felt as if it had been scripted in advance. The previously incapable layabouts that were about to become fathers generally became involved in the birthing process in a very positive, practical and supportive manner. Call me a cynic if you wish, but I couldn’t help feeling that this challenged the way that the programme initially represented them rather than proved that involvement in the show had provided some sort of miracle solution.
Ultimately, the portrayal of dads in ‘Don’t Just Stand There… I’m Having Your Baby’ appeared to typify a trend whereby television programmes frequently portray dads as being lazy and incapable that was described in a recent article in The Independent by Jonathan Brown (thanks are due to @ImpracticalDad for tweeting a link to this article). Now I don’t mind admitting that I don’t get everything right as a dad, just as people in almost any line of work don’t always get things right. After all, I ended up accidentally setting off our car’s alarm outside our local hospital’s maternity ward at 5am back in April. However, frequent representations of dads as lazy, incapable and uninterested almost condemns dads-to-be in advance. Instead, it would be good to see more programmes show what it is like to play a positive role in being a supportive and involved father. To a certain extent Don’t Just Stand There… I’m Having Your Baby perhaps did so but it also trotted out quite a few tired gender stereotypes along the way.
Did you watch Don’t Just Stand There… I’m Having Your Baby? If so, to what extent do you agree or disagree with my take on it?Please feel free to use the comment box below.