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Adventures of a stay-at-home, skeptical, homeschooling dad (etc.)


It's a mom's world

I've noticed this ever since our daughter was born. Many times when I try to do a little research on any parenting topic or visit any parenting forum, it's assumed the reader is the mom. This became even more apparent with my recent decisions. In doing (secular) homeschool research, there's a pattern I see many times: It's simply assumed that the stay-at-home parent is the mom. It's assumed that the mom does the homeschooling. It's assumed that the dad doesn't clean, cook, or do laundry, etc. It's assumed that the mom cares and the dad dismisses. It's assumed that the dad doesn't help out with the kids, or if he does, it's in some trivial way or it's some sort of minor aberration to a universal rule.

Now, I know this is because that's the way it's typically been in the past, and to a large extent and in many households, still is, but why would a magazine or website want to alienate a growing segment of their potential audience? If you look at this piece, you'll see that though more women than men do the housework (which is true, on average), a not-insignificant portion of men are doing housework, preparing meals, changing diapers, and staying at home.

The truth is I've always done the "mom stuff": The child care, the cleaning, the cooking, the child play, even when I was working full time. This is not about how great I am or a dig at my wife, just a simple statement of fact. I wanted to be in that role in our household, and my wife did not. It's been that way since our daughter was born.

It's completely true that more women than men still do these traditional "parenting" things, but it's also true that most people in the US are white, Christian, and straight, but we still expect magazines and other media to be written in a way that does not exclude minorities, and rightfully so. If you saw an article titled "Straight people love to water ski", but it was just about water skiing and had nothing to do with sexual orientations, you'd be confused: Why mention people's orientation at all? A defense noting that 95% of water skiers were straight wouldn't help much. So it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask that "parenting" writers acknowledge the existence of parenting dads by writing their articles slightly differently.

Check out the "Family Health Guide" on parenting.com: Family health guide, minus Dad

"Time to make our Family Health Guide page… OK, We've got a 'Kid Conditions' section, and there we've got our 'Mom Conditions' section. Anything missing? Nope! That about covers it!" I understand there are a few mom-specific health issues, but surely you could just have an "Adult Conditions" and lump the menstrual pain in with the prostate check-up? Next time you're in the doctor's office, read any of the parenting magazines laying about and look for references to "mom", "mother", "motherhood", or "mothering", and note the context. Then look for "dad", "father", "fatherhood", or "fathering", and note the context. There are some exceptions, of course, but for the most part it's a mom's world.

I think it's mostly a vicious cycle: There are many more moms than dads visiting a particular website, so the website starts writing more "mom-specific" articles. This causes many dads to stop visiting, because it's not "for" them. Therefore more articles are written to be mom-specific, because, hey, most of our readership is female! And more dads leave, until nearly everything is written as if only moms ever do any parenting or housework. So, of course, the readership ends up nearly 100% female. Others start at with mom-targeted articles, and continually justify themselves by noting their 100% female readership. Perhaps if you'd write more gender-agnostic articles, you could sell a few magazines to dads?

Many times I'll come across some web page talking about "moms" which, upon closer examination, actually has zero vagina-specific information: it is really just about parenting and the only thing that makes it gender-specific is the word "mom". I mean really, unless it's about breastfeeding or postpartum depression etc, does it need to be "for mom"? I just did a quick Google search and found this: 13 timesaving tips for busy moms. I looked through the tips and not one seems to be related to gender: it's just assumed the mom will be in that role. Check out the family health section on WebMD and ask yourself if any of those are actually mom-specific.

I'll sometimes leave a comment on the pages where I'm able, saying the polite equivalent of "this does not need to be mom-specific, this is useful to dads too", and I'll always get back something like "I wasn't trying to exclude anyone, I just feel moms share some universal experiences."

There is no universal "mom experience". If you talk to many stay-at-home moms, you'll pick up a distinct "I'm better than those at-work moms" vibe, and many at-work moms look down upon the stay-at-home types. I say "many" in both cases because there are many stay-at-homes who want to be at-works, and vice versa. Other differences abound: some are religious, some are spiritual, some are both, some are neither. There are moms with 1 kid and moms with 8. There are moms who have few parenting problems and moms who have many. Some feel an incredible bond with their kids, some less. Some have nannies, some have helpful relatives, some have helpful spouses, some have no help. Some are doctors, some were liberal arts majors, and some barely graduated highschool. Some had "natural" childbirth, some used pain killers, some had cesarean, some adopted, and some gave their children away.

The only thing all moms have in common is that each is partially legally responsible for at least one human child. It's not even guaranteed that each has a vagina or lacks a Y chromosome. There simply is no universal mom experience. So why must we perpetuate this idea? It is not helping anyone. It is not helping the moms who feel inadequate because they can't live up to the non-existent "universal" ideal of this "motherhood" everyone talks about, and it's not helping the dads, who must fight against this same view.

I think this is perpetuated because:

  • Momentum: "It's always been that way."
  • Cliquishness: "We're special and in an exclusive club!"
  • Religion: "Blah blah blah Bible, blah blah blah Paul."
  • Parenting magazines and websites.
  • The vicious cycle of moms crowding out dads mentioned above.

The point of this article? The point is not that men and women are parenting at equal rates. The point is not that "Hey, sexism is dead!" The point is not "Us men got it worse!" The point is merely that everyone's situation is different, and just try to remember that there are dads out there who are parenting. That's it.

And yes, I do understand that many women and minorities go through this everyday: a ton of movies, TV shows, and websites assume a straight or white or male point of view (and usually all three). It sucks there too. I'm raising a daughter, and I am painfully aware of all the assumptions people make about boys and girls.

2012-07-01 #parenting   #gender