My partner was a stay-at-home dad from 2009 to 2016. If anyone was under the impression that we live in a world where feminism is no longer needed, I invite you to go on a grocery store run with my partner and our children. It is pretty amazing (and outstandingly insulting) to hear the things people say to stay-at-home dads that are so sexist.
These comments seem to fall into two distinct, and equally oppressive, categories:
1) The You're-Not-A-Real-Man category;
2) The Oh-My-Gosh-You're-A-Hero category.
The You're-Not-A-Real-Man category is sexist because it implies that raising children is "women's work." If a man does with anything more than a Don Draper level of attachment he's somehow demeaning his own manhood. Similarly, the Oh-My-Gosh-You're-A-Hero category is the opposite side of the same sexist coin. This mentality relies on the premise that my partner is an anomaly. Men who take care of their children must be praised profusely because they don't have to do that. They're taking on work their partner (presumably female in this scenario) should be doing.
Both of these problematic categories rely on the narrative that: parenting relationships are monogamous, heterosexual, and cisnormative; men are naturally breadwinners; women are naturally nurturers; and that the traditional gender roles of US culture are default and preferred.
So next time you meet a stay-at-home dad try to steer clear of these things that people say to stay-at-home dads that are so sexist.
"Must Be Nice"
For this one to really hit home you must imagine the dripping with sarcasm method of delivery. As in, "Must be nice to just stay at home all day doing nothing." Or, "Must be nice to not have to worry about providing for your family like a real man".
"It's Saturday, So All The Dads Can Show Up"
So this wasn't said directly to my partner, but to me at a Wednesday morning library event. The statement itself made me nauseated. Because all dads work all week, right? And because it's totally impossible for any of us to be single parents or have non-dad partners? Got it.
Mommy & Me Groups
What about Papa and Me groups? Where does a stay-at-home dad go for much-needed stay-at-home-parent socialization and support? This constant, unspoken message that moms are expected to be at home while dads are expected to work is detrimental to the emotional wellbeing of stay-at-home fathers. Every single group for parents and children that happens during the day are labeled for moms. We live in a pretty progressive state, too. So if it's like that here, I'm willing to bet it's like that most places. Don't dads play with their kids? Don't dads need emotional support?
I'm sure some of the groups may have been welcoming to dads. But if your partner is anything like mine, the exclusionary language was unwelcoming enough to not be worth the risk to ask.
"So, When Are You Going To Get A Real Job?"
This is offensive to any stay-at-home parent. However, when specifically directed at dads there's another layer that suggests their somehow wasting their masculinity on child-rearing. Why does a father have to be working outside of the home to prove his worth in this society?
"Stay-At-Home Dads? We Had Those IN My Day, Too. They're Called Bums."
Somebody seriously said this to my partner. WTAF?
What comes up for me around this? So glad you asked. I'll tell you. The guy who said that could not have possibly been a good father. How on earth could you ever say this to another parent who had sacrificed so much and cared so deeply every single day for their offspring? Not to mention, if he's buying into the "a woman's place is in the home" tripe then this comment is quite revealing about how he actually feels about the value of women.
"You're Not A Strong Role Model"
When my child came out as transgender one of my family members said that if she'd only had a "strong masculine role model" she would not have a "confused" gender identity. WTAF?
For one, parenting doesn't turn a child transgender anymore than it turns a child cisgender (i.e. non-transgender). If this only happens in ultra-liberal families then transgender folx would never have conservative parents. Since we know that transgender people do have conservative parents, that is some bullsh*t right there. Secondly, being a loving present father and being a "strong masculine role model" are not mutually exclusive.
"What Does Your Wife Have To Say About It?"
Number one, they're assuming he has a wife. Number two, that question, even if you're joking, is presumptuous AF. Not only are you prying into someone's relationship with one simple, snarky question. But you're making an assumption that what his "wife" thinks is inherently negative. As though his "wife" has allowed herself to be bamboozled into this arrangement while actually detesting having a supportive partner at home cooking, cleaning and loving her children. OK.
"Did Your Wife Die?"
I'm convinced that sometimes people don't think before they speak. Is this really the only way that a father would actually take care of his kids? If their mother died? If you're asking this, how little do you think of men?
There are a lot of cultural stories about praising fathers for work mothers are expected to do. But let me tell you, my partner has not experienced the praise. I even checked with him while writing this article. He sees the stories and is aware of the cultural theory that says stay-at home dads get praised.
"You're So Great At Reversing Gender Roles"
I get that this is sort of supposed to be a compliment. So I'm just going to hold up a mirror here to the people who say this. Gender roles of any kind are damaging to everyone.
Can we all finally just agree that parents are parents to parent, regardless of their gender identity? If your relationship is a monogamous, opposite sex marriage in which mom stays home and dad goes to work and that works for you? Then fabulous! My relationship is not based on old gender stereotypes and works just fine, too! Please leave the gendered digs and archaic expectations out of your interactions with other humans.
As for us, we didn't "reverse" any "gender roles". We are partners in life. For seven years he stayed home and I worked because I loved my job and childcare is hella expensive. Now, after an unforeseen lay-off, we both work. Flexibility, rolling with the punches and sharing life's workload? That is how partnership works.