On Human Rights Day my daughter who was at home asked if she could watch cartoons. Despite being very cautious about what I allow her to watch, that day I switched on assuming that the content would not be too bad as it was from SABC education. A programme called Thabang Thabong was playing, it looked harmless enough, but as I listened while cleaning, I found myself getting rather worked up by what I was hearing.
The episode was focused on families, with the roles of various family members shared. The presenter played the ‘mother’ who was ironing for the ‘father’. It went on further depicting the roles in the family with the stereotypical gender roles assigned to the mother, conveying the message that within the family structure a mother’s role is only to cook, clean and ensure that daddy’s clothes are ironed.
This part of the show also featured video clips in which children of all races were sharing the things their fathers do for the family. It further went on to discuss fathers, whose role it was noted by the presenter, is to make families feel ‘safe’ and ‘happy’.
I found this very insulting for the many single mothers, grandparents, foster parents and same sex-couples doing their best to raise safe and happy families. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that children do benefit from having their fathers as a part of their lives- but the presence of fathers in families should not be depicted in a manner that vilifies those without. Particularly in a country where as recently as March 2013, it was found by the South African Institute of Race Relations that “only 33% of children in South Africa live with both their parents. The rest live with single parents, on their own, with relatives, or in foster care.”
On programmes aimed at children, there is currently too much emphasis on what a family looks like, which does nothing but make children feel insecure when their family doesn’t look like the one which is held in high regard.
In my opinion when discussing family, children should not be (or even feel) demonised for what their family looks like – but rather empowered to be able to tell the difference between what is a loving environment and what isn’t. Children should know that no matter what their family looks like, families are supposed to be a loving space. They should also be empowered to know that where domestic violence or any other form of abuse exists, it is not ‘normal’ and that there are places they can turn to for help when this happens. The idea that the nuclear family is the ideal is very unhealthy in a country with such high levels of domestic violence as children are encouraged to accept abuse as ‘normal’, because it happens in what they are taught to believe is a ‘normal’ family structure.
It is unacceptable that a children’s educational programme promotes a culture that holds the patriarchal nuclear family in higher esteem. Not only does it affect children’s self-esteem, but also socialises children into believing that patriarchal domination within a family is acceptable. Something which can potentially can limit their potential as they subscribe to the very limited roles this offers for them – but also teaches them to vilify what does not fit into that ‘normal’.