Alyssa Royse thinks it would be a smart idea to stop making so many jokes about how stupid dads are.
Sometimes I wonder if I have lost my sense of humor completely. Like when someone posts a seemingly benign picture on Facebook, and my first reaction is a simmering rage that slowly turns into a steady stream of reasons why it is not only not funny, but a dangerous trope. To hear me tell it, it’s the end of civilization as we know it.
At least I hope it is. Because this thing we do, in which we say “men are just bumbling fools, thank goodness mom is here to save the day,” is just plain wrong.
And not funny.
A friend posted the picture posted above today on Facebook and I felt the rage bubbling. In it, a mom and a child smile underneath the bold text, which reads, “About 80% of a child’s intelligence is acquired from the mother.” (The % symbol was hand-written over a mess of White-Out, which I found both ironic and hilarious.) The sign was on the wall at the office of an orthodontist. I pictured a waiting room full of moms, and assume that it was put there as some sort of inside joke or knowing wink.
And that’s when I got even angrier. Why is it okay to make jokes like this about men and fathers? I mean, it is a joke, right? Or is it just one of those random facts that people hear, feel validated by and don’t bother to check because it makes them feel so good? (I also consider those a joke, just not intentional, and even less funny.)
The thing is, it is wrong. It’s wrong because there is no relevant science to back up that number. There have been numerous studies trying to determine the “nature vs nurture” effects of intelligence, and the science is evolving. But this little factoid came from an app that spews out random, family-friendly facts that aren’t really facts at all.
Here’s what we know: There was a study published in The Lancet in 1996 that got a little bit of play in places like The Independent, which mentioned that several genes associated with intelligence appear to exist on the X chromosome. Most of the 80% claims seem to stem from this, or at least link to this study (though this study makes no mention of the “80%” figure). This same study, to be clear, also indicates that the most likely source of conditions that lessen intelligence would also come from mothers, if that gene expresses atypically. (Things like Fragile X syndrome come leaping to mind.)
In 2013, another batch of studies were reported, suggesting that somewhere between 20 – 40% of intelligence is inherited, though it makes no mention as to whether is matrilineal or patrilineal.
And, of course, there’s even newer data, looking at everything about our environment and how it influences intelligence. Even things like being around cigarette smoke in childhood has been shown to decrease intelligence. (Even if it’s mom doing the smoking.)
But beyond the bad science, I’m just stuck asking why anyone would hang that thing in the first place?
I think I had a knee-jerk reaction to the “men are stupid” implication. Followed closely by the notion that fathers are irrelevant, which is why it was probably in the orthodontist office, appealing to moms who do pick-up drop off.
Jokes like the numerous memes about dads’ ineptitude, apathy, or ineffectiveness we see all over social media have to stop. My daughter has an amazing father, and, given her math skills, I have no doubt that he gave her a lot of her smarts. The fact that he works full-time and can’t do the orthodontist runs isn’t a statement of his DNA or his caring or his role as a father.
My current husband is not only a genius, but the most hands-on, patient father I can imagine, whose favorite way to spend time is exploring and explaining things to his children. My own father is a college professor who, I am sure, gave me a good chunk of not only his brilliant DNA, but an environment that celebrated learning.
I just don’t think signs like this are funny, and they certainly aren’t “facts” any kid or grown-up needs to know. It’s a bad joke made to make one group of people feel better at the expense of another group and has nothing to do with reality.
I think that’s a great example of how we let harmful humor “pass” because it makes us feel better in our particular circumstance. It seems innocent, but it’s really quite pernicious.
I have no doubt that a mother looking at that poster in the orthodontist’s office would feel a sort of pat on the back. I hope they would then realize that it is a stab in the back to men.
Also think about this: What does it say to the kids in the office? Are we going to raise another generation of kids who adopt the “dads are dumb or pointless” trope? Another generation of people who think that men who are watching the kids are “babysitting” and doing “woman’s work.”
I hope not. Because its bullshit.
And really, it’s totally not funny.
Lead photo courtesy of Lanae StJohn