Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In which we need to talk more about working fathers.

The Center for American Progress recently released a report on work-family conflict. It's a troubling read, detailing how American workplaces really haven't done anything to adapt to the changing workforce -- believe it or not, households with two working parents need different kinds of accommodations than households where Mom stays at home all day.

It also talks a little about the classism that pervades media coverage of work-family conflict: media stories about wealthy women who stay home and take care of the kids admire their dedication to family, while media stories about poor women who stay home and take care of the kids talk about how they should get their lazy asses off the couch and get jobs. It does an admirable job of portraying the different kinds of struggles faced by parents in different income brackets, and is fairly sensitive to the reasoning behind poor mothers' decision to stay home (their wages often aren't high enough even to pay for the cost of childcare while they work). I thoroughly recommend reading the whole thing.

One of the things that bugged me about it, though, was that somehow they manage to get through the piece without talking about sexism. There are 31 uses of the word "mothers" and two of the word "fathers" -- it's clear they recognize that women are being saddled with most of this -- but there's no talk about why that might be. And because of that, the policies they propose are entirely about making American workplaces more "family-friendly" -- they're about enabling families to manage the interaction between work and home how they want to. And while I recognize that that's important -- and that working mothers do need the kind of flexibility they're talking about -- we also do need to be thinking about redistributing child-rearing obligations in fairer ways.

We can't keep up this practice of talking about women in the workplace without talking about women at home. That's what got us in this mess: we've generously allowed women to do "men's work," but we havent in the process excused them from any "women's work." So, as women start doing men's work, wages go down to the point where women have to do men's work, but they still have to do women's work too. So now we start realizing that's a problem, and so we have to figure out ways to allow them to do men's work, but still allow them the flexibility to get home and do the women's work when they need to. See how ridiculous this is?

I think, in some ways, it all comes down to the conception of feminism as a "women's issue." Because we think feminism is about women, we think the solutions to the problems pointed out by feminism involve changing the position and options of women in society -- but women are only half the story. We also need to be focused on placing new demands on men -- to cook, clean our houses, take care of our children.

It might be harder to sell this kind of feminism: it all sounds much nicer when you can ignore the fact that someone still needs to do the laundry. But I think it's something we have to be talking about.

And by "we," I mostly mean men need to be talking about this. Let's not make the ladies tell us we have to do our chores -- let's act like fucking grownups and do it. And let's try to do it without whining.

UPDATE: It happened again, this time with army moms.

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