I like to play baby man French children’s music (like this, and this, and, oh, this), and it’s watching those that first introduced me to this Tide commercial. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a view. There are quite a few articles on it (here’s one, and here’s another), but it also works for the purpose of this blog: a daddy, parenting, and not a single wink in sight! He’s treated like a real parent – not glamorized or made fun of. Shit’s fucking radical and that’s sad.
This post focuses on heterosexual relationships, but any relationship where one partner takes on the masculine, daddy role is subject to this shit.
I knew the world of parenting was, ahem, mommy skewed, but I had no idea how intense that bias actually is. It’s the first time in my life that, although I’m standing next to a man (hi, Westley!), people mostly direct their questions to me. “Is he sleeping through the night?” “Are you still breastfeeding?” “How many times a week does he poop?” “Has he started crawling?” “Are you sending him to daycare?” “What instruments does he play?” “How many languages does he speak?” “Which colleges are you looking at?”
And so I kind of love it and hate it: the both. It’s nice to be noticed, to be (at least in theory) respected as an authority (even if only on infant poop, par exemple), but! Well, this focus on mom does bring with it more than a few negatives.
Do you like lists?
Too bad, you have no say. I just thought you might like the illusion that this is interactive. I mean, I loved those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, didn’t you?
A Short (and Far from Complete) List of Ways in which Our Culture’s Mommy-Focus is Bad and Shitty and also Totally Fucked
1) The most obvious and enduring negative is that the father’s role in his child’s life is diminished.
2) Because society diminishes a father’s role, he may internalize that; this can lead to less involvement in his child’s life.
3) A less involved father will not form as close a bond with his child. This puts stress on both dad and mom as dad isn’t as close to his kids, and so mom has to pick up the slack, doing everything/being everything for the kids. However, dad is arguably the bigger loser here: he misses out on the potential for growth, vulnerability, and love. Sticking with stereotypes, he trades all that for a six pack and a ball game or whatever.
4) Fathers are expected to be strong (i.e. without emotion), and so inadvertently (ugh, and purposefully sometimes) teach that men are emotionally stunted, unavailable.
5) This teaches little boys to shut down anything emotional (i.e. feminine) within themselves, and teaches little girls that boys are cold, mean, indifferent. May the circle be unbroken.
And the list could go on (and on and on and on and on and), but let’s pause here. Because many fathers betray these social expectations. Many men are strong and gentle. When I had my c-section, Westley changed every. Single. Diaper. I didn’t ask him to. He didn’t have to be told. He didn’t expect a gold star or accolades from the nurses (although he sure as hell received them – what were the other fathers up to?). He did it because baby man is his baby too (and, you know, I’d only very recently been sawed in half, but yeah). Good dads do this shit and much more all the time, and it should not be a big deal. We (parents!) are expected to keep our spawn alive. What do genitals or secondary sex characteristics (outside of breastfeeding, I suppose*) have to do with this?
Good dads are the equivalent of good moms. That shouldn’t be a radical thing- that should be fucking obvious to all of us. But you know what we do instead? When it comes to kids and family and responsibility we infantilize men. You can see this in every other domestic sphere commercial where men are treated like buffoons or big babies while “Dr. Mom” looks on ruefully. Stuff like this other Tide commercial where moms are the true experts and dads are just filling in for the superior parent for whatever reason.
Worse than that, it’s insidious. That kind of diminishment, of infantilization, is the fermenting heart of misogyny (oh, that fizzy, bloody mess. That rusted over, tired ass bullshit). Misogyny is ugly, worse, its razor edge cuts both ways (unsurprisingly – bad reaps bad, you know). The horn o’ plenty ways women are hurt by it are obvious, but men are on the receiving end of that wicked shit as well. When half the population is told they cannot cry, cannot be passive (always instead active), cannot be tender, quiet, soft- they are denied humanity. Because it’s human, animal even, to love your fucking baby. To hold your baby and completely lose yourself to tears because goddamn it, that’s your baby.
Our kids deserve good dads, and our kids’ dads deserve to be active participants. Maybe if we recognized them as such, fewer moms would suffer from postpartum anxiety and depression. Maybe family leave would be more generous (read: supportive). Maybe our kids would grow up more accepting of themselves, less self-loathing than us. Less split in two.
But as long as we view women and men as separate species, we will continue to pose asinine fucking questions like:”So, is daddy babysitting tonight?”
No. No, he’s not fucking babysitting his own baby. He’s being a parent. He’s fucking parenting.
*Okay, so breastfeeding is the one thing that only moms do (although it’s biologically possible for men to as well). Doesn’t mean dad has to be any less involved in child-rearing. Keeping a baby alive involves much more than feeding.