Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Low Bar of Fatherhood

   This post will probably be all over the place and slightly incoherent simply because there are so many related topics all wound up together that I'm not sure how to cover everything in an orderly fashion.
   Let's begin with the basics. Patriarchy sucks. And one of the most poignant examples of the insidious nature of patriarchy is the often heard statement "I'm not a feminist because I like men/don't hate men/don't think women are better than men, etc." This perpetrates a straw-person version of feminism that undermines and delegitimizes the actual idea. Are there some self-proclaimed feminists that think men are scum? Yeah, of course. There are also non-feminists who think men are scum. That's like saying because there are some self-identified Christians that are also racist bigots, all Christians are racist bigots or being a racist bigot is an integral part of Christianity. At the end of the day, feminism is about equality for both genders- women AND men. Feminism is as important for masculinity as it is for femininity. So, with that being established, being a parent has definitely made certain aspects of our patriarchal system more apparent. There is the obvious restriction of women's birth and reproductive rights as well as the restrictive and hypergendered views of motherhood. But what is also interesting is the way in which fathers get screwed.
   There are two basic depictions of fatherhood in our culture. We'll call them "Superdad" and "The Blithering Idiot". Superdad is the man who, despite having a penis, still makes a decent parent. And apparently this is noteworthy. This is the idea behind "mom porn" which is generally depictions of attractive male celebrities taking part in childrearing activities like babywearing. Or why our Mom Parent and Baby group leader nearly fell over herself trying to tell Joey how glad she was to have him (the only male) there. Seriously, the group description says "open to fathers" but they call it Mom and Baby? This depiction of father's idolizes men for being parents. Now, I'm not hating on fathers. Being a parent is incredibly hard and deserves recognition- much more than it currently gets. But that is the problem- this isn't about parenting, it's about fathering. A woman doing any of these things goes completely under the radar, because of course a woman takes care of her child (even though there are plenty who don't). But a father taking care of his child apparently deserves a medal. Once again, I'm not hating on dads. They deserve all the praise they get. The point is, so do mothers. There is something odd when a dad taking care of his kid is referred to as "babysitting". Or when single fathers are idolized as martyrs while single mothers are labeled as irresponsible welfare queens. As well intentioned as the "Superdad" idea may seem, when we really get down to it, it's incredibly insulting. Imagine if at your work place, every time you attended a mandatory staff meeting, your boss singled you out and congratulated you on making it to the meeting and how proud he was that you made it there and were present. You'd feel like an idiot, am I right? Like somehow it was extraordinary that you were able to find your way out of your own cubicle. That's kind of what we are saying when we act like dads walk on water for doing what mom's do every. single. day. without mention.
   Which brings us to the blithering idiot. This is more obvious. This is the punch line of countless sitcoms. The mom goes on vacation, or to a friends house, and everything falls apart without her there and the whole is episode is a mad scramble to fix everything before she returns. Or this Huggies commercial that claims dads are the ultimate test of ineptitude. Or this car commercial that claims the first role fathers play in pregnancy, birth, and infanthood is buckling the kid in the friggin' careseat. Not only are dads completely incapable of caring for their children, but it's not seen as bad. It's hilarious, because what did you think would happen? Obviously only people with vaginas are capable of raising kids!
   Then of course, there is the melding of these two. We'll call it the Super-idiot. Think Three Men and a Baby, Mrs. Doubtfire, Big Daddy. The male character starts out as any penis-baring individual would- completely clueless when it comes to children and domestic work. But over the course of the overused plot line, he endures some kind of transformation where it turns out he actual is a good dad...better than good...he's a great dad! Because A) he still has a penis, and B) the child(ren) are still breathing. Those are apparently the only qualifications. Now, we can go deeper with these plotlines and make some connections to the journey that every parent faces as they set aside their selfish, youthful ways for the good of the child and their family and come through a process of growth and self-reflection. But once again, these are rarely stories of parenthood. It is almost always fathers who are depicted. Because women as capable mothers is apparently a given.
  So all in all, we are left with some troubling repercussions for all parents and for families in general. These ideas lead to:

  • De facto custody for mothers over fathers
  • Pretty much non-existent paternity leave in the wake of already crappy maternity policies
  • Social and professional stigma for those who do take paternity leave
  • A complete disregard for non-traditional families, such as same sex couples. 
  • A lack of support for struggling mothers (because they are supposed to just pick it up "naturally")
  • A lack of support for struggling fathers (because everyone assumes they aren't really involved)
  • Societal acceptance of poor fathering
  • Societal apathy towards good mothering
  • Child-related services aimed at mothers (Mom & Baby classes, Mother's Day Out, etc.) at the risk of excluding involved and present parents who happen to have a penis.
    And it sucks, because this creates an environment that perpetuates these ideas whether the individuals want to or not. Like dads who would LOVE to stay home with the newborn, but can't because their workplace doesn't offer leave. And in turn, these ideas are being passed down to the next generation, because the children are observing the fact that dad goes to work and mom takes them to the park. Luckily, some aspects of this are getting better. But as long as the "Superdad" and "Blithering Idiot" figures are go-to characters in our culture and media, it's going to be really hard to represent the "Father" figure.


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