<i></i>

Photo: Getty

"Men aren't capable of caring for children the way we are," a colleague confided to me when I was pregnant. "It's just not in their nature. I wouldn't trust a man to look after my baby."

If this were true, then the male human, despite all his evolutionary advantages, is less advanced than your average king penguin when it comes to parenting. Daddy penguin shares responsibility with the mother for looking after the egg, often incubating it for days on end by balancing it on his feet, while mum goes off to be the fishy breadwinner.

My colleague isn't the only one who thinks that men are less capable of childcare than sub-Antarctic birds.

Playskool, the maker of Mr Potato Head and Sesame Street toys, recently perpetuated the fathers-are-crap-at-parenting myth by tweeting: "Does Dad ever have a day where he's in charge?"

The fact that they didn't anticipate a social media backlash from such an outdated and demeaning stereotype suggests that the company may be more Oldskool than Playskool.

But they aren't the only company who thinks it's funny to depict fathers as bumbling Mr Bean types.

A recent Huggies commercial in the United States sparked outcry — and a swift apology — after it suggested that men, despite usually being portrayed as gadget fetishists, aren't up to dealing with nappy technology.

The give-mum-the-night-off commercials which imply that dad's cooking skills extend as far as a takeaway, and the don't-tell-mum that I broke the window/let you watch too much TV/fed you cereal for dinner/<insert other clueless father behaviour> ads are all too common.

Last December, the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau received a complaint about the Tip Top The One commercial which portrayed a father as being so useless he couldn't even choose a loaf of bread. The bread-selection crisis was resolved by another woman stepping in to save the poor dear by making the choice for him.

The complaint was dismissed by the bureau on the basis that the ad was humorous and consistent with many families' shopping experiences.

While we may laugh at dads on TV being too incompetent to change a nappy, cook dinner or buy a loaf of bread, in real life it's not so funny.

The distribution of domestic work and childcare in families remains grossly unequal. And while regressive stereotypes favoured by advertisers aren't the reason for this inequality, continually implying that men are incapable and can't be trusted certainly doesn't help.

Despite what some evolutionary psychologists might believe, domestic and childcare skills are not innate. They are learned.

When I became a parent, for example, I was just as clueless as my husband, Chris, about how to take care of our daughter. In some ways, more so. Prior to giving birth I had never been responsible for caring for a child; I'd never even been in the same room as a child without a responsible adult present.

And despite popular belief, an instruction manual written in secret women's language did not pop out with the placenta or miraculously materialise like breast milk. I, like most other parents, had to figure it out the hard way.

Chris and I bumbled along together as we worked out this whole parent thing and continue to do so as our daughter develops and requires different parenting techniques and practices.

As such we are both equally capable in caring for our daughter. If I had subscribed to the men-are-useless-don't-let-them-near-the-kids school of thought, then Chris would not have been able to learn to parent and grow in confidence the way that I have.

If we want men to step up and take responsibility for childcare and domestic work then we need to stop telling them that they can't, or reducing them to the butt of jokes when they try.

Advertising and media that depict men as clueless insult those who are involved and active fathers. It also creates a gendered escape route for the men who want to shirk childcare and domestic responsibilities, by perpetuating the notion that it's a woman's domain.

Kasey Edwards is the author of Thirty-Something and The Clock is Ticking: What Happens When You Can No Longer Ignore The Baby Issue.

kaseyedwards.com