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Why ‘Amazon Mom’ Gets It Wrong

Amazon Mom, the company’s parent-focused program, forgets that American families come in all different shapes and sizes.

03.08.15 10:45 AM ET

“Dad Bloggers vs. Amazon Mom” may sound like an ill-conceived sci-fi movie, but it’s a real thing that is happening right now on social media and blogs, and spilling over into mainstream news outlets.

Using the hashtag #AmazonFamilyUS, online dads and their allies are pressuring Amazon, the company that makes your life bearable by delivering everything you could possibly need or desire to your front door, to ditch the moniker for its baby-products rewards program. Since Tuesday, thousands of tweets have politely pleaded with the online retail behemoth to stop perpetuating the notion that parenting, and the provisioning thereof, is strictly women’s work.

But why now? Hasn’t Amazon Mom, the program “created especially for parents and other caretakers of small children,” which offers 20 percent off of diapers and other money-saving promotions, always gone by that name? In the U.S., the answer is yes. There has been some low-level grousing about it by dads for years, but never anything this organized or on this scale.

Oren Miller/Twitter

The reason for the current campaign has to do with the recent passing of a man much beloved in the dad blogging community. Oren Miller, stay-at-home-dad and author of A Blogger and a Father, was a sharp critic of those elements of our culture that marginalize the role of men in parenting, including Amazon Mom and other brands that marketed anything family-oriented exclusively to moms. Undeterred by vitriolic counter-criticism (aka trolling) that concern over such matters was whiny, unmanly, and unwarranted given all the “real problems” in the world, Miller continued to point out instances where fathers were left out of the parenting conversation, or worse, portrayed as hapless boobs.

Oren Miller died on Saturday, less than a year after being diagnosed with cancer. He left behind a wife, two young children, legions of friends, and hundreds of fathers who looked to him as a leader in their online community. The #AmazonFamilyUS push has largely been a project of the “Dad Blogger” Facebook group that Miller started about two years ago. He oversaw its membership as it grew to more than 1,000 men from all over the world, including myself. The group has become not only a forum where dad bloggers share tips of the trade, but also a safe—if often contentious—space for discussing parenting, relationships, family, gender, and issues too sensitive for public consumption on members’ blogs. Thus, taking up Miller’s mantle in this cause seems a fitting tribute.   

The first time I really thought about the Amazon Mom problem was when I read a post on Oren Miller’s blog in 2013, urging his readers to sign a petition that had been languishing on change.org with a handful of signatures since it was started by Jeffrey Harrington, who framed it as a letter asking Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to change the name of the program. Miller had already written, lightheartedly, about his love/hate relationship with Amazon, who provided him with the convenience and value so many of us depend on, but addressed him as Mom in their email blasts, and frequently reminded him in other ways of the father’s status as second-class parent in this country.

In the U.K., Canada, Japan, and virtually everywhere else the program is offered, it’s called Amazon Family. As Miller put it, “It’s not about a name and it’s not about me personally being offended and it’s not about stupid emails about yoga classes. It’s about a company that looks at the US, then looks at England, and then decides that over there, parent equals mom or dad, while here, well, we’re not ready for that yet.”

I gladly signed the petition but I didn’t go on the warpath. I was already in semi-retirement from my own dad blogging career, and had lost much of my capacity for outrage. When I was a new stay-at-home dad and a new blogger, every time I turned around, I saw dad-disses and stagnant gender role assumptions reflected in parenting media and marketing, and I couldn’t wait to point them out. By the time my kids were in school and I was working more outside the home, though, these offenses seemed to matter less and less; and anyway, it looked like the new guys had it under control. Whereas I tended to rant in a quasi-academic way to the applause of a handful of readers, dads more savvy than me about the biz were actually getting brands like Huggies to change their ads that portrayed dads as incompetent man-children.

To be honest, I didn’t relish the kind of backlash men tend to receive when lamenting the perpetuation of retrograde gender roles. My skin was thick enough, and while ungrammatical venom spewed by testosterone-poisoned meatheads rolled off my back, the sneering rebuttals of well-spoken opponents made me question whether trying to raise the profile of men as caregivers was a worthy cause. In any case, the backlash was and is exhausting. (Here’s a screenshot of a Facebook conversation Daddy Doctrines blogger Chris Routly had with someone who doesn’t feel that calling out your diapermonger’s gendered rhetoric is a pursuit worthy of a “real man.”)

But calling out gendered rhetoric is important. It may not be the absolute most important thing in the world, as counter-critics constantly remind us when attempting to silence our “whining” by enumerating all the emergent horrors on our planet, upon which, they say, we should be focusing our energy. Nor are the mostly middle-to-upper-middle-class, mostly white males who advocate for changes in the perception of fatherhood the most oppressed group—not even close—in our society. Nevertheless, we need to continue to fight against the assumption that moms do all the parenting.

It’s not about dudes who change diapers being “butthurt” because they aren’t getting enough recognition. It’s about bringing the media and marketplace up to speed on the progress we have made toward a culture where families come in all kinds of configurations, and women aren’t bullied by the language and imagery around them to assume every aspect of caregiving in their families; and conversely, men don’t encounter rhetorical roadblocks to their participation in the work of family.

Amazon is one of the most ubiquitous brands in the world. Most of us can close our eyes and see their homepage. To make the change from “Amazon Mom” to “Amazon Family” in the U.S., as it is everywhere else, would be easy, painless, and a gesture of goodwill toward everyone who believes parenting should be shared equally, in all its grunt-work and glory. As Oren said, you should sign the petition.

Amazon did not return a request for comment.