Wednesday, June 10, 2009

vox clamantis in domus

It was hard not to be disappointed by this recent piece in Salon. Here Aaron Traister was presenting the stay-at-home dad routine as a legitimate alternative and yet he fell prey to all the same tired stereotypes of fatherhood and masculinity. I don't want to discount the man's experience or belittle him (and he does acknowledge right away that he is "a flake and a schmuck") but the whole thing just bothered me from the title on down.

"Dude, man up and start acting like a mom" - what the fuck? And yes, "Mr. Mom" does show up later in the piece. What is it about reinforcing tired gender normative phrases that people find so comforting? There is nothing inherent in the term "mom" that implies homemaking or child rearing other than perhaps that that's what your mom did. Just like "dad" doesn't mean working in the office, banging the secretary, and golf on weekends. So why the fuck, as women not only seek to enter the workplace but to adapt it to their needs, do men insist on such biased and outdated terms for their own life choices? Semantics are important. A stay-at-home dad isn't doing a woman's work any more than a female exec is doing a man's.

The article goes on to chronicle a shame spiral as Traister doubts his masculinity, feels his staying at home is a "fate" that has been sealed by economic concerns, and in general becomes depressed with his whole situation. And though he eventually comes out of this spiral, he does it by asserting his masculinity over the shameful emasculation of childrearing and unemployment: "I’m big and I’m strong and I can shovel snow and install air-conditioners for people who can’t shovel snow or install air-conditioners for themselves."

1. I could get a job. Or, given the economy, I have a pretty damn good shot at it with an ivy league education and a master's degree. I don't want a job. I don't want to pretend to care about my boss's projects or trivial office concerns. I find it much easier to care about my son. Yeah, staying at home will likely not be the walks in the park that I want to imagine but at least I'll be working hard on something important to me, something that at the end of the day (and all night long) is always fulfilling.

2. Masculinity has nothing to do with strength or technical prowess. Masculinity isn't about football or grunting or changing the oil in the car and making sure Biff puts on two coats of wax. Or, not necessarily. There is no one masculinity. Finding your masculinity wherever it may be is good, and if Traister's is in his size and strength and HVAC prowess, fair. Mine isn't. I am going to teach my son to lie, cheat, steal, swear, and drink (i.e. to be a pirate).

After reading this article and so many others about how men have been inadvertently and against their will been forced back into the home and back amongst their children, I couldn't help but feel that this isn't they way to resolve the unfortunate bias of gendered roles. At least, Mr, Traister ends on a high note: "As we step, or are forced, into the new roles that are presented to us, perhaps we should not lament, or vainly grasp at the responsibilities we feel we should have, but instead sack up and embrace the ones that are right in front of us." I just hope that when our kids grow up they don't have to "sack up" to responsibilities that should come much more naturally. Men should want to spend time with their kids, should have no problem with their partners working, earning more money (or all the money), and it should be a legitimate option for a man to choose to stay home and be a fulltime father. If this piece is any indication, though, it might be a while before society makes it that far.


euterpe's bitch said...

Regarding Traister and his ilk, I still fail to see how caring for your offspring is emasculating. Was conceiving your offspring emasculating? Is that the last thing you can do for your kids without hanging up your dick and calling it a day? This does not make sense to me at all.

Keep fighting the good fight, by which I mean the fight for equal parenting, not the endless battle to keep the nursery from smelling like piss. I'll be practicing pumping breast milk for when I go back to work. Someone's got to keep this family in beer and steaks.

Alex said...

Thanks for linking this article, as I've been remiss in my once addiction-worthy Salon checking. Obviously, it speaks much more to you than it does to me, but something in it struck me as well - particularly the opening paragraphs. In fact, that could probably apply to half the guys in our program. So for me, it wasn't about gender, but more about ambition and life goals.

To be honest, I've never been able to understand how anyone, man or woman, especially if they have an education, can accept being a homemaker as their sole accomplishment in life. I spent a year typing up local obituaries at a New Jersey newspaper. They followed a very strict format - all career and educational information was included. Names of surviving family members were not. The most depressing thing to me was the endless stream of old ladies whose only obit-worthy information was their name and what church they went to.

Then again, it's not like working a random office job would be a memorable contribution to society either, which is what I suppose you mean when you say you don't want a job. By that token, I don't want one either. What I do want is to do something "important". Somehow. And I presume you still do as well, or you wouldn't have this blog with the snippets and short stories. You're just somewhat fortunate in that your chosen long-term goal of being a writer is one that can coexist with being a stay-at-home dad.

So I think Traister's problem is that he is actually insecure about his worth as an educated and accomplished person, but he is mistakenly conflating that with insecurity about his masculinity.

Billy Prophet said...

I can't understand why someone would want their status as homemaker to be their sole accomplishment in life either. By the same token I can't understand why someone's status as employed would be acceptable. "Doing something" with your life is more than being employed or accidentally procreating. I am not trying to discount anyone's desire to make an impact. I just want to remove the absurd stigma from men who chose to stay home with their kids. That doesn't mean they don't have other contributions to life, culture, and posterity. But most jobs don't leave lasting impacts either. And working a job just to conform to gender norms is not "doing something" with your life.