The Polish dissident Aleksander Wat famously wrote that: “the truth is written on toilet walls”. In the process, the poet recognised how the scatological often proves an unexpected window into social change. That’s definitely the case this week with news that Huggies in the US is putting images of dads on its nappy boxes for the very first time.
OK, as revolutionary moves go this is hardly the storming of the Bastille. But it highlights the fact that the public perception of dads is belatedly catching up with the reality.
Certainly Huggies have tweaked their thinking in recent years. In 2012, the brand launched a campaign based around the idea of “the dad test” that suggested their nappies were of such mind-bending quality that they could even withstand the cack-handed efforts of a bumbling father. Unimpressed dads got on the defensive and swiftly launched a Change.org petition entitled: “We’re Dads, Huggies. Not Dummies”. Huggies was promptly forced to pull the ads. Seven years on, the company has come around to the previously unfathomable idea that dads can indeed change nappies without tumbling into a soul-shaking crisis of masculinity.
This marketing backflip supports data that growing numbers of men are, in fact, getting their hands dirty. In Britain, the University of Warwick found that in 1982, 43 per cent of UK dads had never changed a nappy. By 2000, that number was down to just 3 per cent (bear in mind, that was now almost 20 years ago). Similarly in the US, when the National Centre for Health Statistics released a study of nearly 4000 dads in 2013, they found that nine out of 10 dads change nappies.
Celebrity endorsements, of course, tend to garner more air-play than boring things like cold, hard facts. But nappy changing is getting big-noted in those circles too. Even royalty is no longer averse to slathering on the Sudocream. The fact that Prince William recently changed one of Archie’s nappies was front-page news in the UK. The Rock has documented his change-table prowess on Instagram, David Beckham described the duty as one of his “passions”, while Jay-Z confirmed when Beyonce got pregnant that he’d “be changing nappies 100 per cent”. Admittedly, there was no mention as to whether these dads then succeeded to do up all of their babies’ press studs in the right order but, hey, it’s definitely a start.
From a broader perspective, this ties into the bigger macro shift that fathers are now more actively involved in their kids’ lives than ever before. In 2016, the Pew Research Centre in the US reported that modern dads spend three times as many hours each week looking after their kids than dads did back in 1965.
No-one is claiming here that true gender equality has been achieved. But there are undeniable glimmers of progress and that extends to men’s willingness to wield the baby-wipes. Nappy-changing is a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. Even dads.