December 15, 2014
Andrea and I had a rare Saturday night out. (Thank humanity for family willing to babysit.) We were sitting at our local bar next to a guy who was lavishing praise on me for being a stay-at-home dad. (He stayed home with his dog, so he knew.) He then went on to imply that my wife was giving up something up essential. I missed it but it went straight to Andrea’s heart. What working mother doesn’t carry some guilt? (And maybe working fathers should share said guilt.)
How many double standards does sexism create for women? The slut/stud one is obvious. Then there’s the beauty standard. Women need to be better at their job than men and look good while they do it. Me, I look like a slob and slack off a bit too much. But there’s another one that is worth discussing. The duel parenting standard.
I can’t lose. As a man, if I shuffle off to the 9 to 5, I am a good provider. I am playing the role that every traditionalists thinks is the backbone of modern society. If I stay at home to raise children (as more and more men are doing), I get constant pats on the back as a “trailblazer” and challenger to domestic gender roles. But for my wife, it’s the exact opposite. If she stays at home with the baby, then she is viewed as “giving up her life” for diaper changes and kitchen chores and if she returns to work, she’s seen as somehow depriving her child (and herself) of a precious mothering experience. You can see how it could make a mom a bit nuts. She can’t win.
In the 2000s, there started to be this backlash against “supermoms,” who greedily wanted it all. The result of evil feminism was to deprive women of the thing that was essential to their femaleness (changing diapers and kitchen duty). You thought that job would make you happy? Now you’re just a man in drag. It was pitched as the opposite of Friedan’s “feminine mystique.”
But those conservative “post-feminist” critiques (as usual) ignored the power of patriarchy. The 2nd Wave vision (We will discuss feminist waves soon) in the 1960s was that women would be able to pursue careers, as men had, and men would take up the slack at home. Firemen became firefighters, mailmen became letter carriers and stewardesses became flight attendants. But men didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Don Draper didn’t start vacuuming and planning meals. It was the men who still wanted it all; a self-actualizing career and dinner on the table at 6.
So that gave birth to the supermom burnout. Mom’s didn’t have it all. They had to do it all. In 1989, Arlie Hochschild referred to this as the “second shift.” She’s got a job and responsibility for the care of the family. Mom gets home from work and then goes to work. Where is dad? Hey, he’s had a hard day at the office. Get off his back!
Society is a work in progress, especially in the good ol’ USA. Gender roles are evolving. Anthropologists can tell you that there are tribal cultures that can go for centuries with little social change. Europe in the Dark Ages was just stuck for over 500 years. We are light-years from 1954, but we are still looking for balance.
So let’s stop the judgment. Judgement of women who choose to stay home or choose to work (we can discuss women who are forced into these roles, as well). Don’t assume that a stay-at-home dad is a hero. We live in an economy where more women are working than men (I blame Wal-Mart). The rise of the modern house-husband is a delayed but natural response to ideas the feminist movement had 50 years ago. But it’s also just natural. Praise for one parent shouldn’t come at the expense of the other.