I occasionally check out our own SarahMC’s tumblr, since she has a tendency to post pictures of beagles and other cute things along with her usual trenchant comments. Last weekend was one of those times, and there I found a link to a National Geographic slide show celebrating “dads” in the animal (and insect) kingdom. It’s called FATHER’S DAY PICTURES: “Best” Animal Dads. Awwww.
The seven animals featured there are lauded for grooming, protecting, nurturing their offspring, which is all well and good, but the “educational” text that accompanies the photos, which are what you would expect from NG (OMG marmosets!), is based on the idea that generally, fathers are assholes who neglect their children.
I realize that in many animal species, males roam alone, and the raising of young is left solely to the females, often in collaborative groups, and supporting involved fatherhood (even if we anthropomorphize animals in the process) is good. However, a link from this slideshow leads to another one, which was assembled for Mother’s Day last month, cements my suspicion that these slide shows aren’t just about critters. The title? MOTHER’S DAY MAYHEM: “Worst” Animal Moms?
The headings that accompany the pictures include lurid descriptions like “playing favorites fatally?” “absentee parent,” and my favorite, “self-absorbed pessimist?” All those question marks stink of tabloid-esque concern-trolling: please, pass judgment!
Here the text talks about a variety of animals which abandon some of their infants to die, or practice strategic cannibalism, that is, killing and eating those young which would otherwise likely die from lack of resources. In all cases, the blurbs include a little “Give Mom A Break!” explanations so readers are assured that these aren’t really Bad Mommies, so we don’t have to have any nightmares or anything. Nonetheless, it’s backing up some pretty fucked up messages and assumptions about gender and parenting. How we talk about these things matter, even when we think we’re not talking about us.
The end of the Father’s Day slideshow includes a quote from an evolutionary biologist dude from the University of Reading: “We can see ourselves in other animals.” If you mean we hold mothers to ridiculously high standards and wet our pants with glee if fathers contribute more than jizz to the parental enterprise, then I’m in agreement. Otherwise, what I think he means is “we project our values on other animals to further ingrain our own biases.”