Instrumentality in Tully (2018) and SMILF (2017)
On the past week’s Mother’s Day I wrote on what it means to honor your mother. I leaned on my mother, but that got me thinking about the role of fatherhood in comparison to motherhood. Through Tully and SMILF I looked at how mothers handle motherhood but did not include much in the way of actual advice to other men on how to support mothers.
To help get to the bottom of this problem, we look at two phenomenal examples of fatherhood, that learn they must take steps to improve. First, Drew, husband of the titular Tully who is really not a bad father and is in fact better than most fathers in media. I find that his financial and emotional support of the family is much less lopsided than many other media fathers. We see him helping with bedtime routines and one can assume he helps at least some during morning routines. He is seen taking a fairly active role in his daughter Sarah’s education at least once in the film, which we can hope is part of a positive trend. Now, Rafi, the father of Bridgette in SMILF who while not being with Bridgette manages to be an active part of their child’s life. Despite having his own problems, Rafi regularly participates in fatherhood for his child Larry. Taking him to the doctor, providing financial and emotional support, and baptizing him, Rafi is a normal part of Larry’s life. It is important to note that the actions of these fathers alone do not make up their role as parents. The focus for many fathers, such as for Drew and Rafi, is that financial support. Focusing on providing as much money as necessary for the children to live a comfortable life is common among men, something even I, a 21-year-old consider in career prospects. This is not to say women have no focus on the financial, just that men have been socialized to focus on financial instrumentality. Psychologists Gordon Finley and Seth Schwartz (2006) find that sociologist Talcott Parsons considered “providing income, discipline, and protection” as instrumental[i]. Parsons also viewed Instrumentality as fundamental to masculinity, as noted by social psychologist Agustin Echabe[ii] (2010). The way the men of Tully and SMILF view family is in relation to how much of a purpose they serve, instrumentality. Echabe (2010) notes the way we perform roles, is how we view ourselves. This relates to positions of social, political, and economic power that men hold, which are disproportionately gendered. In Tully, Drew is the one working, and that is part of what puts stress on Marlo. For Echabe (2010), the instrumental role of such positions overlaps with masculine identities. The social division of women filling the “emotional role” and men in the “’instrumental’ role”, sociologist Bonnie Fox[iii] (2015) argues is a result of Parsons’ model of family. Drew rarely deals with the emotional throughout the film but is in the process of learning how towards the end. Not surprisingly, young adults view fathering as most related to income and least related to spirituality and emotionality, according to Finley and Schwartz (2006). This correlates with the times Rafi repeatedly brings up supporting Bridgette and Larry financially. This is not to depress the importance of financial security but to suggest the fixation us men have on financial instrumentality is socially constructed. We can focus as much on being instrumental as we can on being emotionally in-tune with others. Because often, such as in Tully and SMILF, problems can’t be solved with money.
[i] Finley, G. E. and Schwartz, S. J. (2006). Parsons and Bales revisited: Young adult children’s characterization of the fathering role. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. 7.1. 42–55. DOI: 10.1037/1524–922.214.171.124.
[ii] Echabe, A. E. (2010). Role identities versus social identities: Masculinity, femininity, instrumentality and communality. Asian Journal of Social Psychology. 13. 30–43. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467–839X.2010.01298.x.
[iii] Fox, B. (2015, May 1). Feminism on family sociology: Interpreting trends in family life. Canadian Review of Sociology. 52.2. DOI: 10.1111/cars.12072.
Co-host of Not Enough Podcast