Father's Tattooed Hands Hold Baby

On Sunday, June 17, we will celebrate Father’s Day across the U.S. But did you know that this annual recognition of male parenting was invented by a woman?

In 1909, while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in her church in Spokane, Washington., Sonora Smart Dodd had the idea to create a day to honor dads. It became her cause, and, a year later, it became an official holiday in Washington State. Over the following decades, support grew, and in 1972, Father’s Day was proclaimed a national holiday.

As Ms. Dodd so dramatically highlighted for us more than a century ago, gender equality benefits everybody—a good parent’s a good parent. That also was the message of a recent presentation to SeeHer members by Dr. Yalda T. Uhls, adjunct professor of psychology and director of the Center for Scholars and Storytellers at UCLA, who makes the same compelling case.  

“We need to pay closer attention to the cultural messages we deliver to BOTH males and females,” said Uhls, who was a senior film executive at several movie studios before earning her Ph.D. in psychology and embarking on an increasingly high-profile career as a researcher and scholar.

Uhls noted that the aggressively competitive, hypersexualized stereotypes that appear very early on in content, even in children’s programming, are exceptions, not the rule.

“That’s not the reality for many men,” she said. “Maybe they want to be a teacher. Or be at home with the kids. Men and boys also should be portrayed accurately.”

So how do content creators and marketers take bias out of their portrayals of men and boys? Uhls offered research-based ideas to promote balanced gender roles for characters of all ages:

  • Show boys and girls playing together. Boys with girl friendships are less likely to think of women as sexual conquests.
  • Show tough male characters being sensitive. Role models are particularly important for boys.
  • Show boys doing housework. Girls do two hours a week more than boys.
  • Show males talking about love, females making the first move, or girls buying flowers for boys. Because it’s time to flip the script.

So, this Father’s Day, as you spend time with the men and boys in your life, take a moment to give thanks for Sonora Smart Dodd as well. She knew even then what Dr. Uhls teaches us now, that “there’s more room for everybody to be authentically who they are.”