According to statistics provided by the gynecology clinic Mangiagalli of
Milan, before Christmas 2010, a new mother out of five chose not to declare
the name of her father’s baby. This number had tripled in three years: from
474 cases in 2008 to 1,298 cases in 2010. To comment on this phenomenon of
“a real boom in single mothers”, the Italian paper, La Repubblica
(December, 22, 2010), published a brief interview of Eva Cantarella, writer
and professor of Roman and Greek Law at the University of Milan.

The topic of the interview is summed up in the short and striking words of
the title, which are repeated in the first line of the text: “It’s the
victory of feminine independence”. The mother without a father by her side
is presented as a “positive” fact, a sign of “victory”, and a symbol of
“feminine independence”. From this point of view, the single mothers are no
longer labeled as victims of men scared off by the responsibility of
parenting, but as conquerors in the battle against masculinity. At the same
time, the father is reduced to a mere “instrument to reach maternity”. In
this way, the male presence in the family then becomes unnecessary. The
father role is “superfluous”. His absence is no longer a problem nor a
damage. To argue and justify this position, Eva Cantarella affirms that
“sometimes, in some families, fathers are there, but only on paper. They
virtually do not exist”.

The argumentation of this article is strongly anchored in a cultural
commonplace (tòpos), the feminist mold that identifies with a
social virtue that opposes injustice, or said otherwise, vindication ( vindicatio). In this case, women take revenge on the
traditional male dominance. Women are considered victims, and therefore
must fight for their own rights, above all, the feminine independence from
the male universe. That fight “automatically” translates into a fight
against the paternal figure, and as a consequence, the absence of the
father is considered a social conquest. A counter-value therefore becomes
projected as a value.

This is just the starting point of the analysis on paternity carried out in
a study titled The Image of the Father in the Italian Press, a
master’s thesis at the University of the Holy Cross in Rome. The author
analyzed the way in which two top Italian papers, Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, deal with the
theme of paternity.

The father reduced to a news story, but not as bad as in fiction

The study, already in its descriptive part, brings to light some
interesting data. The topic of fatherhood is omnipresent in the
aforementioned daily newspapers. There were 153 articles analyzed and
selected (72 from Corriere della Sera and 81 from La Repubblica). Over the period in which the analysis was
conducted, only three issues of the papers lacked material on this subject.
On average, the father figure appeared in more than 2.5 texts per day.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note how this topic emerges in the
different news sections: from Foreign news to Local, fromEconomy to Literature, from Culture to Sport. This fact is of particular importance as it reveals that
paternity is a natural theme, inseparable from the human being, embracing
his life and his history.

In about half of the articles analyzed, the father of the family is the
protagonist of the news stories. True, more often than not, he is quite a
dramatic protagonist. However, it does mean that he appears in a negative
light. On the contrary, the paternal figure takes on very moving, almost
melodramatic elements, so much so that the most common and superficial
emotional aspects are exalted, and the real analysis of the individual is
neglected. Unlike news stories, the portrayal of paternity in news about
films and novels is always negative. If on one hand, the quantity of the
texts analyzed in the cultural sections (about 20% of the total) indicates
the importance and relevance of the topic of paternity in the wide-ranging
field of contemporary culture (in movies, books, musical and theatrical
performances); then on the other hand, the current crisis of paternity
emerges in an evident way from the negative tone continuously attributed to
the father through the diverse artistic products. Then art is not just a
“mirror of reality”. Writers and directors do indeed focus their attention
on particularly dramatic and problematic themes, in order to more easily
attract the reader or viewer. However in this way, they also make up a new

The two Italian daily newspapers show the father figure in relatively
similar ways. In both papers, the topic is confronted by a wide range of
diverse journalists (151 articles signed by 114 different authors).
Therefore, there is no one on the editorial staff that almost exclusively
covers family issues. Some of the similarities among these two newspapers
deal with other aspects: the number of articles, the kind of genres of
texts, the percentage of positive and negative frames, and the presence of
the “anthropological roots of society”- the social virtues that lay at the
foundation of all possible frames.

More interesting and significant is the analysis of the “unspoken”. News on
the father of the family is often connoted by a negative frame. While a
negative framing was found in 53% of the texts, 44% had a positive frame,
and only 3% had a neutral frame, attesting to the fact that the father is
someone to whom, by nature, we cannot be neutral..

The theme of paternity is the main frame of the text in 51% of the
cases analyzed, and the secondary frame in 49% of the cases. In
the first case, fatherhood is often presented with a negative connotation
(60%) while, in the articles in which paternity was the secondary frame,
57% of the texts held had a positive connotation. This data speaks of the
well known fact that news values fit with negativity and conflict and that
secondary frames are less subjected to ideologization. The role of the
father is often explicitly diminished or even despised when the story deals
with two hot issues: feminism and homosexuality.

It is not by chance, therefore, that the father figure is constantly
present in the pages of these leading Italian newspaper. We are dealing
with a figure who has strong anthropological roots. The theme of paternity,
as it emerges from the daily press, is linked to all nine anthropological
virtues of sociality, even if in quantively different ways.

The most frequent social root is piety, that is, the inclination towards
fundamental relationships (i.e. founding relationships) for every
human being: the relationship with God, with parents, and with one’s
country. This dimension of piety was found in 45% of the texts analyzed
(mostly regarding family). There is an evident affirmation of the natural
father-son bond, with positive connotations; because in about every two out
of three cases, piety is presented in its authentic form, that is, as a
virtue. On the contrary, in the case of affability- present in 24 texts-
vice prevails over virtue: then the inclination to give oneself (kindness or afabilitas) is portrayed in a warped way in every
three out of four cases. In the 20 cases in which liberality emerges (i.e.
the tendency to give what one has, to which afabilitas is
associated) the genuine form prevails: every two out of three cases
portrays it as a virtue. In this way, the analysis of the “unspoken”
regarding the father of the family in the Italian press reveals a dominant
tendency toward a consumerist matrix: it is easier to give what you have than to give who you are.

Something similar happens with the other social virtues, which are included
in the global analysis but are not presented here. In total, the quantity
of the social roots presented as vices (52%) prevails over those presented
as virtues (48%). This corresponds to the proportion of negative frames
prevailing over the positive ones.

The study has not only argued the “permanent omnipresence” of paternity,
even if it was more often linked to crime news stories. It has also
attested to the validity of the methodology proposed by the research group Family and Media in the case of news regarding the topic
of paternity. It would then be certainly necessary to verify the presence
of the father figure in a more extended sampling of journalistic texts. But
this first analysis already points to the strong anthropological and social
rooting of paternity, despite the ideological attempts to diminish its

Method of Analysis

In the first step of the research, the stories from the two Italian
newspapers in the December period were chosen according with wording
criteria: articles including “father”, “dad”, “parent”, “son” or “daughter”
within the text were selected. Then a later selection was done according to
the relevant topic under analysis: fatherhood. Those selected articles, 153
overall, were studied following the analytical method proposed by Family and Media. First the frame in which the
information was presented was examined, and then the tòpos, the
natural or cultural common place where the author of the text seeks to meet
his readers. Finally, under examination were the social virtues- the nine
anthropological roots of sociality presented in either their authentic or
manipulated form. The aim was to discover not only what was said,
but above all, what was unsaid- the unspoken- about the
father in the Italian press.

At least two issues were left open that will require further research: over
a longer period of time or with a broader sampling, would the image of the
family father be the same? Are the conclusions valid also for the
international press or do they only reflect the characteristics of Italian


Infinite Bandwith. Encountering Christ in the Media


Family relationships, how they are presented in the media, and virtual relationships

Check Also