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Changing role of fathers

How has the role of fatherhood changed over the decades? For answers, look to the funnies.

Ralph LaRossa, a researcher at Georgia State University, looked at nurturing and supportive behaviors of cartoon fathers in Gasoline Alley, Blondie, Bloom County, Cathy, Dennis the Menace, The Family Circus, Garfield, Hi and Lois, Little Orphan Annie, Peanuts, Pogo, and Ziggy.

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Comic-strip dads displayed a high level of nurturing behavior in the late 1940s through the early 1950s, 42.9 to 55.6 percent of the time, respectively. By the late 1970s, that had plummeted to 16 percent. But signs of nurturing behavior have risen steadily since then, to 53.1 percent in 1999. "This suggests to us that the culture of fatherhood is not moving up in some linear way but is a fluctuating pattern," he says.

Dr. LaRossa points out that men penned the majority of the comics in the study. "Comics generally perpetuate gender stereotypes and reinforce traditional values," he says. In the 1980s, however, the higher percentage of women and minorities and a younger generation of cartoonists changed the composition of the pages. But these cultural portrayals are sometimes more positive than everyday life, he notes.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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