SpongeBob and Patrick: A guide for growing up
SpongeBob Square Pants is “a guide for growing up”, says Jason Donati, a professor at Northeastern University and an award-winning animator. SpongeBob Square Pants is a famous cartoon that aired on Nickelodeon and was created by Stephen Hillenburg. It is interesting that Donati finds lessons for life in an animation created for kids’ fun. How can the animated underwater life, with a talking sponge and his hilarious starfish friend Patrick, teach a lesson about gender roles in parenthood?
An article, Lessons from the pineapple under the sea, by Molly Calahan, elucidates an important lesson of gender roles that Donati could find out and make his children understand. An episode of the animation, named Rock-a-Bye-Bivalve, shows SpongeBob and Patrick adopt a baby clam. It is interesting to see how SpongeBob and Patrick, both male characters, take on the traditional gender roles in parenthood: SpongeBob remains at home taking care of the baby, while Patrick goes out to work.
This episode, according to Donati, showed the dynamics of gender roles that are not visible in the modern world. The debate around the question whether it is, essentially, a woman’s role to stay at home for the child depicts the lack of the understanding witnessed between SpongeBob and Patrick as parents. Parenting is not about who works outside and who stays indoor, but about taking care of the child. It is not only a woman’s role to create a comfortable environment for the child. The father is equally capable of it. This idea of a man staying at home ‘like a mother’ is an idea that Donati could help his children understand through the episode.
Besides the lesson on parenthood, the episode also has a homosexual stance. It is clear from the scenario of two men taking care of a child that it can have a homosexual interpretation, though not necessarily. What is important is the fact that homosexuality needs to be accepted as a switch in the gender roles in parenting such as a mother and a father. If a child can understand that a man can also take on a “traditional gender role of a woman”, he or she should also know the possibility that two men can raise a child on their own.
These ideas about gender role are, no doubt, too complex for a child to grasp, but the idea of gender neutrality and homosexuality need not be alienated from them. Childhood is a very tender block of the edifice of an adult and a responsible human. Children need to be carefully moulded to not get tainted by the ideologies of an adult human mind. It is indeed a positive sign that animations and children’s books are including these ‘hushed’ ideas within the usual plot and contributing to the nurturing of a liberal mindset right from childhood.