Here’s a link to a fantastic article, Why are moms so hesitant to view their male counterparts as full competent parents?, in the Offbeat Families blog. It’s one of my favorite blogs – they always have interesting content. As a stay-at-home dad with an interest in parenting and gender roles, I thought I’d share this particular post because it’s definitely worth a read.
The article is written by a mother who was disturbed by the attitudes expressed in her Mothers of Multiples group about fathers’ general “inability” to co-parent. I’ve heard similar attitudes from many of the moms I’ve known over the years. The comments I’ve heard have generally been delivered with a tone of bemused condescension. “Oh, you don’t even want to see the ‘dinners’ my husband cooks for the kids!” “You wouldn’t believe what my husband’s idea of a good outfit for picture day is!” I haven’t heard quite the bitterness that the author of the article describes, but then, as a stay-at-home-father / interloper I’ve always gotten the feeling that these sorts of conversations are held a bit warily when I’m around – as if there is a hesitance to offend by speaking of fathers generally or angrily, so what I have heard is tinged with humor and is specific to the husband of the speaker.
Perhaps that is why I hadn’t considered that the mothers who make those sorts of comments about their partners’ inability to parent might be rooted in their own general discomfort with men as parents rather than their partner’s unique incompetence. As I think back to the finding that was announced last Spring that, in 40% of families, the mother is the primary breadwinner and the angsty debate it prompted, I see a connection. The loudest voices in the media came from men who seemed just barely able to conceal their personal discomfort with the notion that women might be able to out-earn men. The world those men thought they lived in provided them the privilege of being financially and professionally superior to just over 50% of the world. Once you get used to that sort of privilege it must be quite disconcerting to feel it being eroded away. Since the privilege is based on gender, the discomfort feels like emasculation. Women today are often expected to be professionally accomplished – just like many men today feel that they ought to be more involved in family life than the fathers of a generation ago. When women are “too” successful professionally, men begin to get nervous that their provider role is being taken over by women and so they bloviate and harrumph in all the usual misogynistic ways. Perhaps the increasing numbers of involved, co-parenting, or even primary caregiving fathers has a defeminizing effect on some women that prompts them to belittle men’s ability to parent equally?
I’m a feminist because I think that every person and every family should be treated equally and should be encouraged to do the things that allow them to reach their own goals and potential. Some women are just born to be great moms and some are born to be great professionals. Some men are born to be great professionals and others are born to be great dads. Some families do better with a division of labor and others need for everyone to pitch in on all the household tasks (parenting included) equally. As a feminist and a primary caregiver, these are values that are important to me. For me, feminism isn’t about masculinizing women or feminizing men. It’s about respecting people as individuals and providing opportunities in all facets of life without regard to gender.