My partner and I grew up in the '80s, when society started telling us girls we could grow up to be whatever we wanted, but neglected to inform boys they had the option of being involved dads. Despite growing up with a stay-at-home mom, and a dad who worked out of the home, my husband totally embraces having a wife who is pursuing a career just like he is, which means both of us need to shoulder domestic responsibilities. So despite the ways society encourages men to passively parent, dads like my husband, and in dual-income households, are taking on more work at home (though still not as much as women are, apparently).
Despite the waning of traditional, gendered parenting roles, American culture hasn’t seem to fully come around the idea that, while women can hold any job they desire, they are entitled to the same support at home that career men, iconically showcased in shows like Mad Men and This is Us, have received for centuries. I participate in a neighborhood babysitting co-op, a group of local women who trade childcare so we are not always paying for sitters. And yes, it’s all women. Even in 2017, the moms are the ones arranging for their children’s care and filling out all the necessary paperwork (medical proxy forms, allergy lists, after-school schedules) so the household continues to run smoothly. This seems to continue to be the norm.
If you ask me, it's getting old. f we’re going to tell our daughters the sky’s the limit, then we have to tell our boys that they should expect to take on an equal share of domestic duties, including being hands-on with the nurturing of their children. Still, and against all logic and reason, we still see ways society encourages men to continue with the passive parenting, including but certainly not limited to the following:
By Perpetuating The Fumbling "Mr. Mom" Stereotype
How many sitcoms rely on the ridiculous trope of the dad failing miserably (and to little comic effect, in my opinion) when he attempts to fill the mom’s shoes when it comes to packing lunches or doing laundry or outfitting his children? If kids are perpetually fed the idea that there are women-only spaces, and men-only spaces in their world, how will we ever evolve past the concept of men taking a passive role in child raising?
By The Media’s Limited Portrayal Of Men In Parenting Roles
There are way more stay-at-home mom characters than there on stay-at-home dad ones right now. There are way fewer single dads and gay dads we see portrayed in the media than there are work-out-of-the-home, straight white dads. And are there any teen boys in movies or TV looking to earn some money by babysitting? We can do better with representation of male characters in caregiving roles than sticking them in front of the grill on a very special Father’s Day episode.
At least Swiffer is starting to get it.
By Featuring Mostly Women In Baby Product Commercials
Only in recent years have we been seeing representation of male caregivers in baby commercials. For far too long, however, we have only seen the role of “mom” in diaper or medicine or lotion ads, and representation of female caregivers still dominate this space. Where are the men with children? Do they not care about the health and wellbeing of their offspring? Not according to most of the advertising world, apparently.
By Not Offering Them Paid Parental Leave
If men are not offered the opportunity to play a significant role in their kids’ lives early on, the groundwork might not be laid down for them to be involved later as their children grow up. As a working mom, I was able to take 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) for maternity leave, and my company paid for a little less than half that time. But as a working dad, my husband was only offered two weeks pay during his entitled 12 weeks of FMLA, so of course he returned to work when those two weeks were up. Without his income, and with my reduced income during that time, it was not possible for him to stay home longer.
Though the company we both work for has since changed its leave policy, offering all new caregivers (birth, adoptive, or otherwise) 16 weeks of leave, with six of them paid at our full salaries, America has a lot of catching up to do if we want to be on par with practically every other country in the world who recognizes the significance of protecting the time parents of both genders get to spend with their children.
With Our 24/7 Work Culture
My husband and I feel immense pressure to be “on” all the time for work. We are not doctors or public servants, people. We work in television. Having taken maternity leave — twice — I recognize that my upward career trajectory was affected by those 24 cumulative weeks I spent out of the rat race. My husband, taking a total of four weeks when our two children were born, was able to stay in the game, and edged past me to attain a title I was coveting (before I realized a title was never going to make me as happy as just doing work I was proud of, and being compensated justly for it).
He deserved it because he literally works his ass off. He logs on for at least an hour every night after the kids are in bed. He steals time on the weekends to work. He is never not tethered to office somehow, but if you look at most of the other men in his office, that’s how it is for them, too. As much as women are being instructed to “lean in,” men need to heed the call to “lean out” if we’re ever going to get to parity in the workplace and with childrearing.
By Showering Praise On Dads Who Do Their Daughters’ Hair
Where is that awe for moms who make hair-hack videos with their little ones? Look, I love watching a dad and his daughter partner up to show me cool hairstyles I can attempt (and eventually fail at) with my own kid. They have a genuinely sweet and functional relationship in these videos and it’s terrific we can share those positive vibes across the internet. But moms have been doing the same thing since they’ve cared about keeping their kids’ hair out of their faces ,and it is more than a little unfair that dads get all the love for their fishtail braiding ability.
By Marketing Domestic-Themed Toys To Girls Only
Though places like Target are doing away with the division between “boys” and “girls” merchandise, it’s been a painfully slow process and not widespread enough, in my opinion. In the “pink” aisles you’ll find tea sets and tiny grocery carts, targeted to female-identifying children. Where are the dolls in the “boy” aisles that allow you to give a baby a bottle and burp it and all that. Don’t boys love burps? My 6-year-old son definitely does. F
rom a young age, children are conditioned to see domestic responsibilities falling to a particular gender and that has to stop. Immediately. In my house, my husband and I share domestic duties, because we both work full-time. Our genders do not dictate what tasks we do, except when it comes to moving heavy stuff. I try, but I’m just not as effective as my husband, who’s a foot taller.
By Not Incentivizing Childcare Jobs For Men
Even This is Us totally made fun of the idea of a male caregiver with their Manny plotline. If young boys aren’t seeing men in caregiver roles, it will be hard to convince them that being a parent, or working in childcare, would be mutually beneficial for them and future generations of girls and boys.
By Literally Putting Men In The Driver’s Seat
Ever see a car ad, featuring a family, where the female parent was driving? Me neither. It is because men just love to drive (admittedly, my husband does and I don’t, but I attribute that to him growing up in the suburbs with a dad who worked for General Motors and me being a third generation New Yorker who swears by public transportation)? Or is it because, with the dad at the wheel, the mom is left to deal with all the needs of the kids’ strapped in the backseat?
I am more exhausted as a passenger when driving with my kids than I am as a driver, since I’m fielding requests for food, pitstops, colder air, warmer air, less air, this song, that song. Meanwhile, to my left, my husband is merrily driving along, not having to deal with any of it (except when he threatens to turn the car around due to whining).