Lessons from Tinseltown on being a father

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The Independent Online
LAST weekend I was the last parent in the country to take the kids to see The Lion King, a film of dreary music and a stern moral message. The defining moment came when the cutesy but naughty lion cub Simba slunk up to his father expecting a clout round the ear only to have Mufasa go all sensitive on him and start talking about stars and the Meaning of Life. And then I realised why The Lion King lacks the usual Disney drama: it's a parable about fatherhood, made for a market terrified that men no longerknow how to be dad.

Dads are a hot topic in Hollywood right now - especially dads who can heal fractured families by combining toughness and tenderness (the implication being that this is almost impossible for men to do). It started with Look Who's Talking, and a baby auditioning potential fathers. Then there was Anthony Hopkins in Shadowlands, Tom Hanks in Sleepless In Seattle and Robin Williams, who dressed as a woman in Mrs Doubtfire to reach out to his responsible side and acquire some maternal sense alongside his flaky blokeishness.

"Supporting a family is a central means for a man to prove to himself that he is a mensch," the right-wing American sociologist Charles Murray has written. "Men who do not support families tend to find other ways to prove that they are men, which tend totake various destructive forms." The Lion King might have been made to illustrate the point. With Mufasa gone, Simba hangs out in the jungle singing (so irresponsible) while his community is devastated by lawlessness. Then he meets a nice girl, gets a job (being king) and turns the savannah golden again. In case we haven't got the point, the final shot is of him, his wife and their new baby. Meanwhile, Hollywood's obsession reached its logical conclusion last week with the opening of Junior; Arnold Schwarzenegger, once a big macho terminator, will be giving birth soon at a cinema near you.

THIS IS all very different from the home life of our own advertising executive, at least if the current crop of car commercials is any guide. Cars, you would think to watch television at the moment, are bought solely to open women's legs. There's the Renault Xantia driver who delivers a series of gorgeous girls to the chateau for what looks like a dirty weekend, though may be a party for his wife; there's the smug boy who takes his boss's girlfriend home via the beach (it's evidently the Citroen she fan cies, because she'll flirt with whoever's driving it. Very likely). And there's the Peugeot man, who picks up a Heidi Fleiss fantasy in a car park. The "twist" is that she's his wife, though she doesn't look like any mother of two small children I've met . And of course there's Papa and Nicole, still getting up to hanky-panky if they so much as look at their Clio.

Maybe it's that cars are all the same now, so have to be sold like perfume. Even so, the image creation seems incredibly crass: all you do is buy this car and wait for the leggy models to appear in your local multi-storey. Oh yeah. This not only seems rather witless now that women also buy cars, but confused. The bit on the side usually turns out to have been the wife all the time. Perhaps the advertisers think they shouldn't be seen to be encouraging promiscuity. (And until recently there were rules about these things: if there was any suggestion of naughtiness in ads, wedding rings had to fill the screen.) But if you're going to have a fantasy about women's thighs, then have it; don't try to pass yourself off as all Nineties and wholesome when all you really want is to look up women's skirts.

A MAGAZINE for girls aged from 11 to 14 which promises to "take the pain out of puberty" was launched last week to widespread alarm. Geoffrey Dickens MP said parents would be "appalled to think that such a potentially dangerous magazine could be given totheir youngsters''. Mary Kenny observed that public discussion of menstruation always gives offence, and "rightly so": to talk about it is "to lower something ancient and ritualistic into mere lewd discourse". In truth, Blossom, a one-off publication, has a rather earnest sex educational project. At its launch, Angela Mawle of the Women's Environmental Network, which produced it with students from the University of Westminster, said it had "none of the sort of smut about Take That that you get in othermagazines". My 11-year-old daughter rather likes the smut, and though she thought Blossom was informative, she said she wouldn't pay for it if it came out regularly.

The Blossom furore is indicative of general unease about how to address young girls on the subject of sex. Even the sex educators seem to suffer from it: why should interest in teenybopper bands be seen as smutty unless female sexual expressiveness is considered somehow unwholesome? But boys' early interest in sex is regarded with indulgence. And if we don't treat girls the same, it's hard to see how they'll break through the assumptions about sexuality that have women "submitting" to sex and "yielding"to pleasure, and give coercive men all the excuses they need to coerce.

I RECEIVED a chain letter last week - not the usual pathetic sort threatening pestilence and death, but a right-on chain letter, exclusively for women and good causes. It invited me to send £5 to the name at the top of the list and miraculously receive £50,000 by the next post, or very nearly. I was also invited to say what I'd use the money for, and various women with addresses in fashionable London squares had done just that ("to write my novel . . . to give to the Third World"). And then you were advised to report your success to a company in Knoxville Tennessee. I tried to phone them to find out how if everyone was only contributing £5 we could all suddenly acquire £50,000. But they weren't listed. Looks like the novel will have to wait.