I've been a little behind in my Spongebob SquarePants viewing.... OK, years behind. I have not managed to keep up with every last episode, though I watch it when I can: at the chiropractor's, the dentist, my sister's house. Recently, while hanging with my nieces and nephews, I saw an interesting episode called Rock-a-bye Bivalve, in which Spongebob and Patrick adopt a parentless baby scallop.
When Patrick and Spongebob first become parents, everything is great. They enjoy spending time with the little scallop, and take it out to play. They're so caught up in the joy of parenthood that they don't even realize how jarring they are to others. Out on a bike with their scallop one day, they pass a mommy and daddy fish pushing a baby fish in a stroller. The fish look at Patrick and Spongebob, and over their heads, in a bubble, in pictograms, you see the confused question, "Square yellow sponge + starfish = scallop?"
Problems develop when the pair goes to decide who will be mother and who will be father to the little scallop. Patrick thinks at first that he should be the mother, because he has more experience with diapers--he still wear them himself--but Spongebob points out that Patrick can't be the mom because he never wears a shirt. So Patrick acquires a suit, tie and a briefcase, and goes off to work.
And that's where trouble sets in. As the mom, Spongebob spends all day every day trying to vacuum, iron, cook, comfort the baby and do about eight other things, all at once. Patrick keeps promising to help, but never does.
Eventually Patrick fails to show up one evening until very, very late. Spongebob meets him at the door in a pink nightgown with curlers on his head. He's very angry at having been forced to stay home alone and work all day, without any sort of interaction with other creatures who have mastered speech and rational thought. Patrick thinks he shouldn't be forced to assume equal responsibility for the scallop, because after all he works all day, and besides, he changed a diaper--once.
You can find outraged critiques on the web, claiming that the episode advocates homosexuality. Maybe.... But what I find more interesting is that even though Spongebob and Patrick are both male, they adopt traditional heteronormative gender roles within the partnership. And it's the fact that those roles are inherently unfair and oppressive that puts a strain on their relationship and makes them, together as partners, bad parents--not the fact that they are both male (as well as different species).
If an episode of Spongebob can underscore in 15 minutes that the real problem in all of these discussions of marriage and family is patriarchy, why is that so hard for others to see?