Let’s start with vocabulary. One of the things we ask when we first meet someone is, “What do you do?” If the answer goes something like “I take care of my kids,” then the automatic assumption is “Oh, you don’t do anything.”
Americans view caregiving— whether for children, the elderly, etc. — as less valuable than breadwinning. Yes, making money is important. But you can’t eat cash.
So, what’s the point?
The bias against caregivers is harmful to the feminist cause for several reasons, but the largest may be that it drives men away from caregiving. While some women face social stigmatization for choosing caregiving over breadwinning, the stigma for men is much more severe. This results in a male aversion to the “unmasculine” task of caregiving and childrearing, creating increased pressure for women to step in and fill the void.
A revived movement, led by the likes of Anne-Marie Slaughter, argues that the restriction of male gender roles is fundamentally harmful to the feminist cause.
If a man chooses to be a stay-at-home dad — as my father did — people question how he will support his family financially.
A woman making the same decision would not likely face the same question. For example, women have greater freedom to pursue less financially lucrative careers, like artistry, while men are pushed into more “sensible” jobs. Men who are not the primary household breadwinners are looked down upon.
Scholars like Slaughter, the president of the New America Foundation, argue that Americans need to rethink what it means to be a ‘stay-at-home’ parent. Instead of viewing the employment/stay-at-home dilemma as ‘a working’ or ‘not working’ divide, we should view the choices as breadwinning and caregiving. Caregiving and breadwinning are both important; no family can function without both roles fulfilled.
Being feminist is not about choosing to be CEO over being mommy, but about being able to choose to be whatever one wants to be. If men are not free to choose to become stay-at-home dads, then household duties are far more likely to remain in the woman’s domain.
Feminists can no longer focus solely on freeing women from older societal constraints. If mom wants to be able to put on a power suit, dad needs to be able to put on an apron.