There was a recent article in Salon that is provocatively titled, “Rise of the Dad Wars.” Ugh, I thought when I saw the title. Do we really have to have a new media-manufactured “war” in which we’re all supposed to take sides?
No, we do not.
Just as we did not need any so-called “Mommy Wars.” Whenever I think of the phrase “Mommy Wars,” I see images of stylishly-coifed, pant suit-wearing women with briefcases and smartphones, squaring off against T-shirt and sweat pants-wearing mommies in yellow latex gloves with disheveled hair, and burp cloths over their shoulders.
This, of course, has never happened. Oh, sure, you can find some nutjob people on the margins either decrying working mothers, mothers who breast feed in public, mothers who feed their infants Similac, or whatever. But for the most part, this is a media-manufactured debate whose sole purpose appears to be to make women feel guilty regardless of the choices they and their partners make about raising children.
(It should be noted that there is as yet no guilt-machine ray gun aimed at fathers who choose to work outside the home after the birth of their children.)
About that Salon article. The title worked as it was designed to work; I could not help but read the article. Here’s a choice paragraph from it.
And Russ, a Minnesota stay-at-home father of two young daughters, thinks that “When you overlay the gender role a man is supposed to have in our society with the notion of being a stay-at-home parent, there’s a lot that’s very hard for people to understand.” He says that one of the first misconceptions is that a man at home is a man who has it easy. “It’s really hard,” he says. “It’s really, really hard to be a man in a traditional women’s role. Nurturing children is an extremely difficult job. I have guys say to me, ‘How did you get this gig?’ My response is that if more men stayed home with their children, they’d be getting their wives a lot less pregnant.”
Emphasis mine. Yes, and in this case, this dad is no longer able to get his wife pregnant precisely because he was the one who did not want to have anymore children. I know the time and effort that it would take to raise a third child. If my wife ends up pregnant, either she or my urologist will have some explaining to do.
The crux of Russ’ problem is this: the assumption that being a stay-at-home parent is easy. Nurturing children IS an extremely difficult job, one most men are sometimes ill-equipped to handle at first because being a nurturing person is not something that men are traditionally expected and trained to be. This does not mean that men can’t be nurturing. Every stay-at-home-dad proves that wrong.
But this also gets us off-track. By putting the idea out there that being a stay-at-home parent is easy, we continue to devalue the work of childcare. Which in-turn makes it easy to dismiss the work of stay-at-home parents and their concerns, especially women.
There’s a big catch to this article though. If you read through the rest of it you’ll notice that this isn’t a dads vs. dads “Dad Wars.” It’s a Stay-At-Home-Moms vs. Stay-At-Home-Dads War. There are several incidents relayed. In one instance, a play group of moms kicked a SAHD out of it, because he was a man. Ouch.
There are many spaces, such as playgrounds and toddler classes, that are Mommy Spaces. And mommies feel threatened when a father enters that space. (Grandmothers and grandfathers are okay on a temporary basis.)
You can understand mommies feeling threatened or uncomfortable. Women are already made to feel guilty about “abandoning their career” to stay at home. They get used to having a group consisting of other mothers to chat with and confide in who are in the same situation, and they get used to these spaces being for mommies. Then along comes a stay-at-home-dad to throw off the carefully-calibrated climate of comfort, blissfully unaware that his presence lowers the temperature in the space to an icy chill.
Men would never act this way, right? Please. They’ve been acting this way since women began to enter the workforce en masse. And they often continue to act this way.For example, the CEO of IBM is a woman. Historically the CEO of IBM has been invited to be a member of Augusta National, where the Masters golf tournament is played. IBM has been a long-time sponsor of the Masters. Augusta National does not admit women. Hence, the recent uncomfortable headlines surrounding the Masters Tournament. It just goes to show that there are still many spaces where women are seen as a threat, no matter how outmoded that type of thinking is.
This is not to justify these kinds of exclusionary actions. I think it’s wrong. Tomorrow I’ll write a bit about my own experiences as being the only guy in the room.