Language and fatherhood

It seems to be baby season lately. Friends and colleagues are just popping them out all over the place, and newborns are featured in most of the online photo albums I look at lately. Discussions about childrearing happen on and off on my favorite feminist blogs, and come up here and there on science blogs when careers are being discussed, too. In short: babies on the brain.

So today I saw this article in the NY Times blog Motherlode. My first reaction is shock that something even vaguely feminist would show up in writings even tangentially associated with the Times, everyone’s favorite fauxgressive news outlet, where any news featuring women is relegated to the Style section and every article is blatantly written for a default white, straight, able-bodied, male audience. Maybe since it’s a blog it doesn’t really count, especially since I suspect the readers of a NY Times blog about parenting are mostly women. But maybe it does mean that more gender equality in parenting is an idea that is gaining traction.

Anyway. I have mixed reactions to Drielsma’s article. Although he says he doesn’t “want to play the role of the ‘woe is me’ father,” he kind of does. He’s absolutely right that saying something like “babysitting” instead of “caretaking” when it comes to fathers actually caring for children is infuriating, and for the reasons he mentions, among others. But he repeatedly phrases his complaints in terms of equality for fathers — because it’s so hard and unfair for men to be excluded from mother-oriented activities. As though that’s simply discriminatory against fathers, and not actually the result of the relegating of women to an undervalued and restricted social role.

I find “Daddy Day Care” offensive for the same reason I cringe when someone in the workplace (and I count myself among the occasional offenders) talks about “manpower”, “man hours”, or facing a problem by “manning up”: the team of co-workers investing the “power”, the “hours” or the “up” consists both of men and women, and our language should reflect that. Just as the parenting team (in traditional family settings — I don’t want my own language to exclude single or same sex parents) should consist of mom and dad on an even footing, not mom as “parent” and dad as “day care provider”.

This is problematic, IMO, mainly because it’s equating exclusion of fathers from caretaking with the disappearing of women from behaviors and activities that are most highly valued (e.g. strength), and from the workplace. Those things are not equivalent. I completely agree that equality of parenting is a critically important goal, and that language plays a role in that, but broad social inequity is not, say, hurting men as much as it hurts women. It hurts both, and women more. He’s focusing on the experiences of men here, and that’s valid, but the language of equivalency is bothering me.

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