Swipe left on stereotypes

The phrase 'not about us without us' has never been more relevant

Following the launch of My Mum, Your Dad, Emily Rich argues that everyone working in the industry must continue to champion and embrace the positive cultural shifts against ageism that are happening around us.

My Mum, Your Dad burst onto screens last week, buoyed by the kind of hype usually reserved for the likes of Love Island, to which it’s been both repeatedly compared, and positioned as an antidote to. Airing over 10 episodes and with its contestants single, middle-aged parents, the show’s aim is to find them love amongst their temporary housemates. As a single parent in my 40’s myself, this should be right up my street - so why has it left me feeling more frustrated more than anything?

Ageism stereotypes

Before the programme even aired, The Telegraph, referencing the aforementioned Love Island, postulated "Will we get a bunch of 50-somethings with ice-white teeth and those up-the-bum bikinis? Or will they spend their time in the villa applying Fixodent and wondering if that niggling knee pain is the onset of arthritis?"

I mean, really? The contestants are halfway through their lives not on their last leg.

The initial ambition behind the programme sounded positive. Zara Ineson, from JD Williams’ (the show’s sponsor) creative agency said: "Society has it all wrong, thinking midlife women are past it and out of touch. In reality, they’re out there dating, trying new things and swiping right. (We have a mission) to flip the script on midlife because we owe it to ourselves to make that next chapter an exciting prospect."

Ineson was spot on with the need to 'flip the script' on middle-aged representation, because media/ popular culture doesn’t represent older people, particularly women very accurately. In fact, half of older women don’t feel their life stage has been authentically represented. This same attitude is found in marketing where 44% of women aged 50+ find advertising patronising and more than a quarter (27%) believe ads contribute to negative stereotypes of their age.

So far so good then? A new dating show flipping the script on middle-aged representations. And fronted by Davina McCall, who has long been a champion of what she terms 'mid-life' talking openly about menopause, but also showing the vibrant side of what it is to be 50 in 2023. Davina said, 'I feel like we’re on the crest of a wave of change. It was like a dream come true to walk into an entertainment TV show, on prime time ITV, and see my people, a bunch of mid-lifers.'

So, what is my beef with the show?

That wholly unneeded twist, which flipped what the show was meant to stand for on it’s head.

Davina revealed about halfway through the first episode that the show wasn’t as straightforward as the parents had been told. In fact, unbeknownst to the singletons, it wasn’t a relationship expert advising the couplings and setting the dates…it was their GenZ children.

As lovely as their children are on the show (and they really are) this flawed move flips the empowerment premise on its head. It gives the impression that 'the oldies don’t get it' therefore the kids need to show them,’ and takes away agency from people who know much more about life than any 20-year-old. It’s infantilising.

The show’s producers appear to have mistaken the middle-aged contestants for helpless geriatrics who can no longer be trusted to boil a kettle, let alone make decisions about who they’d like to date.

The Independent

This attitude was perfectly encapsulated during a scene where, whilst watching their parents using an iPad, one of the kids guffawed, 'look at them all, I bet half of them don’t even know how to use it.' The other kids all chortled along. Considering 97% of 40-54’s own a smartphone and the level of penetration and spend on tech amongst the 40+, it’s extremely unlikely their parents are unable to work an iPad.

It’s totally normal for kids to think their parents are digital Neanderthals – my daughter who’s 8 already thinks I am one (I’m very much not!) – but by pushing these views front and centre via positioning the kids as the ‘experts’, ITV are simply perpetuating stereotypes.

Far from what it promised, this is essentially a programme about middle-aged singletons dating, as seen through the eyes of youngsters. Which kind of defeats the whole object doesn’t it?

Working in the industry we have a responsibility. We must continue to champion and embrace the positive cultural shifts against ageism that are happening around us. Brands need to get behind authentic narratives. But they have to be just that, authentic. Not representations as seen through the eyes of others which boil down to stereotypes.

Your Mum, My Dad feels like a show with good intentions, but, sadly, not the right execution. The phrase 'not about us without us' has never been more relevant.


Emily Rich won the John Bartle Prize for Best 'I Believe' essay during the 2022 IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA or their employer.

Last updated 01 May 2024