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fuck, as women not only seek to enter the workplace but to adapt it to their needs, do men insist on such biased and outdated terms for their own life choices?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.