I have been a parent for just about five years. It's not a very long time, really, but even in that brief stretch I've noticed some new conversations coming up more and more. We're talking a lot more these days (on social media, parenting websites, and traditional media) about the challenges mothers face. One such challenge is "Mommy Shaming," the passive aggressive (or overtly aggressive) judgment that falls upon mothers in public and private settings when she does not conform to a preconceived notion of what it means to be a mom. But what about the creepy things people say to dads? Sadly, this still isn't getting the attention it deserves, even as we move towards a more gender equal society that sees fathers as active, equal parenting partners and not secondary caregivers. I mean, not to be all, "But what about the poor menz?!" on y'all, but for real: this sort of thing hurts everyone: men, women, and children.
It warms the cockles of my feminist heart to see feminism and feminist discourse getting a ton of play lately, and not just in academic circles but in mainstream media and pop culture. Generally, and rightly, these conversations tend to focus on fighting against gender roles and concepts of femininity that have been used to oppress women for centuries. What is often unspoken or even overlooked, however, is how the patriarchy hurts men. The gender expectations that have left women disadvantaged, from a socio-economic perspective in particular, have also pressured men to behave in a particular way that leaves them somewhat disassociated from their children. When men consciously or even unconsciously buck these expectations, there is no dearth of people there to remind them that they're going against the grain and being "feminine" and just, you know, not being the manly man our patriarchal society expects them to be.
Or, you know, sometimes people are just jerks and push their own creepy expectations of fatherhood onto unsuspecting dads just trying to live their lives. Either way, here are a few creepy things all involved dads end up hearing. Sorry fellas, but it looks like you're not dismissed from the parent-shame, either.
Seriously, how can a father babysit his own children? I legitimately cannot for the life of me understand how that ever became a thing. Like, if a man takes his dog out for a walk on his own, is he dog-sitting? Certainly not if the dog is his. He is simply taking sole responsibility for this little creature under his care, even if he usually has the assistance of a committed partner. Why is it any different with kids? It's creepy that some people think so little of fathers (and expect so much of mothers) that when one is doing what they are legally required to do for their children we feel the need to give it a special name (not to mention that there's some implication there that they're doing their partner a transactional favor).
"You Stay Home With Your Kids? Isn't That Emasculating?"
How very sad that you consider one's manhood to be threatened by demonstrating nurturing behavior. Why does masculinity and childcare have to be mutually exclusive? Isn't that really creepy? And even if we're working off reductionist, outdated paradigms of masculine behavior, isn't protecting your offspring pretty much the "manliest" thing one can do?
"Looks Like Daddy Dressed Someone Today"
Oh right! Hahaha! Because the only thing men are worse at doing then caring for children is anything to do with clothing! Hahaha! So if their kid looks a mess it's because daddy f*cked up! Because of course he did, that big idiot! Hahaha!
(In my house, if my kid's outfit is insane looking I promise it's because they dressed themselves and one of us allowed it.)
"I Bet You Wish It Was A Boy"
Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy would you ever say this to someone? Sure, some people have gender preferences and that's pretty normal, but it's really not something you should broach with a person, much less assume that someone has one. The presumption that a man would want a son is hinged either on creepy concepts of "carrying on the family name," the creepier idea that fathers can't do pretty much any activity with daughters that he can with sons, or the even creepier idea that girls are somehow inferior to boys. Whatever the case, totally inappropriate and creepy, creepy, creepy.
"It's A Girl? Oh Boy, Time To Get A Shot Gun!"
Because fathers own their daughter's bodies and sexuality and if another male comes along the father must demonstrate his dominance, right? How about, instead of greeting his daughter's dates with a shotgun, we just build a machine that turns both of the male humans in question into deer with very large antlers? Then they can just butt heads and battle for supremacy because this is basically the intellectual level we're operating at, at this point.
"You Change Diapers?!"
What's the alternative? Should the baby uncomfortably sit around in poop all day, stinking up the apartment? Oh! You mean that this sort of work is demeaning to men, but not to women, so dads should save all the diapers up for mom. Yeah, no. Creepy.
"Shouldn't [Your Female Partner] Do That?"
Aside from breastfeeding (and let's be clear, some dads breastfeed), I honestly can't think of a single task that a woman is biologically better equipped to handle than a father. So, in essence, pretty much all our presumptions about "women's work" and "men's work" in parenting is socially dictated, which is just so bizarre and anything but helpful. Straight up telling a father, "Hey, you are not capable of doing this so you should wait for an expert to step up," not only hurts him, but it negatively impacts the child as well.
"All Girls? You Poor Guy."
Mothers of all boys get this too, and it's built around the creepy idea that there's a clear delineation between two sexes and said line establishes an "us verses them" situation. Therefore, a father of girls partnered with a woman is "outnumbered." Why, why, why are we setting up adversity where potentially none exists?
"Would Mommy Be Okay With That?"
It's really unsettling that a father is seen as somehow needing the permission or guidance of a woman in order to appropriately parent his child. As with "Shouldn't Your Partner Do That?" this sort of thing is annoying, condescending, and can potentially shake the confidence of a dude who, like any other parent, is just trying to do their best.
"Dad." The word you are searching for is "Dad." Men don't have to be honorary women in order to be loving, capable, effective parents.