Getting the Men Involved
Okay, so maybe yet another post on the articles in the special Mother Load issue of American Prospect is in order. If you check out the issue online, you'll see that a few new articles (op ed pieces) have been added to the contents. One is written by Linda Hirshman, entitled 'What a Load', and another is by Courtney Martin, entitled 'Fighting Apart for Time Together'. Both pieces grapple with the need to involve men (duh) in the fight for gender equality. Both make some excellent points, but we feel that a few additional points are being missed.
Dr. Hirshman's stance is that women must force men to be involved in childcare and housework or nothing will ever happen. She advocates that women vote in laws requiring fathers to take family leave, for example. This would force them home, and presumably start off a baby's life with two equally involved parents who made equal sacrifices on the job.
Ms. Martin's article stresses the shortsighted approach to gender equality taken by the leading advocacy groups, all of which are fighting from the perspective of mothers. Their names say it all: MomsRising, Mothers Movement Online, etc. These groups are largely forgetting that gender equality equally involves men, and that involved fathers should want all the same things as mothers. By ignoring men, these coalitions are crippling their causes.
We agree with Ms. Martin, and are hopeful that these by-and-large excellent advocacy groups begin to reach out in a meaningful way to fathers. We'd like to see them go so far as to change their names to ParentsRising, Parents Movement Online and the like. I'm not unduly annoyed by their current focus, however, and certainly don't feel unwelcome to join their specific causes.
Regarding Dr. Hirshman.... She makes a life out of pointing fingers and calling people names, which we feel is unfortunate. While she attacks the entire Mother Load issue as a bunch of dangerous fake science, she then goes on to actually agree with much of what is included in the articles. We are aligned with much of her philosophy at its base (which is gender equality), as unpopular as that stance may be, even as we cringe at her approach. Her focus on forcing men to behave the way we want is wishful feminist thinking, however, and will not make anyone happy in the long run.
You can't force men to be good fathers, or even make fathers who take a 'forced' paternity leave actually use their leave to help their wives. Do you know the old joke about the real definition of paternity leave? A golf vacation. Furthermore, there has to be room for all types of families, and in some cases a family counting on the man's (or the woman's) career for stable income can't afford for this parent to take a forced leave (thereby falling behind a childless co-worker).
Here's what we think should be considered in the good fight for gender equality: Workplaces should focus on high-quality flexible work arrangements - be they reduced hours, alternate hours, or compressed workweeks. These cost companies way less than actual paid employee leaves, subsidized childcare, etc. If women and men could find meaningful work at a schedule that fit their families' needs, there would be almost no need for parental leaves. Parents would have balanced lives, maintain their career paths (albeit still at a slightly slower pace than before they had children), and have plenty of time with their children. Yes, women could dominate the workforce choosing these jobs, but if we really do start to involve fathers in the politics, we can start to bust down the stereotypes that make men balk at these arrangements.
I think that it takes the ideas of many to reach gender equality. No one has the answer all wrapped up, but together we might hit on it.