I’m taking a step away from directly posting about my parenting experience to address a more general issue: gender bias and stereotypes. (I know, I already posted something related to this. I’m posting something else about it now.)
In a response to my last blog, somebody pointed me to an article about how dads are worth less than moms around the house. According to this article, the work dads do to contribute to housekeeping have actually decreased in value over the last ten years. The article goes on to list what it is, exactly, that dads do: barbecue, mow the lawn, and kill spiders. Moms, it implies, do the real work.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying mothers don’t put in a lot of work. These kinds of gender stereotypes, though, just allow lazy people to get away with doing lazy things. In my house, my wife and I both hate doing laundry. So we split it right down the middle. I love to cook, so I do most of that–but my wife does any baking that occurs (with the exception of my infamous banana bread). I can’t stand putting away clean dishes, and my wife can’t stand loading dirty ones, so again we split. I would say the most stereotypical chore that I do is mow the yard, and I just hired a neighborhood kid to take care of that because guess what? I hate mowing the yard!
My point, if I have one, is that when we promote these stereotypes we also allow people to feel safe in how they define gender. And that also allows men to get away with absentee parenting, people to make fun of those who don’t conform to their ideas of “manliness” or “femininity,” and more.
This attitude’s so pervasive we often overlook it. I just realized that Verizon’s mother/daughter and father/son commercials are an example. In the mother/daughter one, the women are so emotional they have to be subtitled so we know what they’re saying. In the father/son version, the two men are just a step above cavemen, unable to communicate with much more than grunts and definitely incapable of showing emotion.
I’m not suggesting that there are certain things I like (or don’t like) to do, only that being told I’m more or less of a man for doing/not doing those things is counterproductive. The good news is, gender roles can and do change. For example, you know those historical Regency romance novels? Well, in the real Regency era, men often went around sobbing (like little girls, some would say), using their waterworks to woo a mistress or two.
I’m not advocating a radical shift of any kind, or a revolution. I just want people to think about the biases around us, and be open to the fact that real men, real fathers, are not “worth less,” any more than real women, real mothers, are bad parents if they don’t do all those “womanly” things the article hints at. In fact, you might be more of a man or a woman if you don’t conform. That’s something worth teaching our kids.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go tell my son I love him.