This Week in Family
To commemorate the season of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, The Atlantic’s senior associate editor Julie Beck ventured into the alternate universe of the greeting-card aisle and reported back on what she found. It turns out that even as norms of parenthood have changed, greeting cards are still relying on the oldest tropes about motherhood and fatherhood. Beck noticed that the moms in the cards tended to be depicted as doing all the child-care work, while the dads were largely absent from household life, enjoying hobbies like golfing or fishing. Dads were also more likely to be portrayed as comical, goofing up in one way or the other. (Or farting. There was a lot of farting in the Father’s Day cards, Beck observed.)
All in all, these findings hint at the persistence of certain stereotypes in American life. These cards “absolutely would not sell if they didn’t correspond to at least some dimension of lived reality, or an ideal that people hang on to,” an anthropologist who has studied greeting cards told Beck.
This illustration by Jessica Love accompanied a piece by Sarah Rich about how today’s model of masculinity limits young boys. Rich writes:
While society is chipping away at giving girls broader access to life’s possibilities, it isn’t presenting boys with a full continuum of how they can be in the world. To carve out a masculine identity requires whittling away everything that falls outside the norms of boyhood. At the earliest ages, it’s about external signifiers like favorite colors, TV shows, and clothes. But later, the paring knife cuts away intimate friendships, emotional range, and open communication.
Have the young boys in your life experienced this “whittling away” of anything outside the bounds of boyhood? Are there ways to change this pattern? Tell us your thoughts in Homebodies, The Atlantic’s Facebook group for discussing family life.
Every Wednesday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.
This week, a reader writes in about a volatile relationship with her sister, who she feels has long been threatened by her success.
Lori’s advice? It’s time for the sisters to have a real conversation and to start revising the story they’ve been telling for years:
When people come to therapy, I listen not just to their stories, but to their flexibility with their stories. I think what you two are really fighting about—indirectly, passively, and sometimes explosively—is an outdated story with the same tired plot points, the same heroine and villain, and the same lack of resolution. It can be hard to revise these ingrained childhood narratives to match our adult realities. Sometimes it happens organically; more often, it requires a conscious recalibration.
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