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Feminism and Fathers

My regular readers will know that I believe feminist mothering, in a heterosexual relationship, is not possible without a father who is an equal partner in parenting. The way that looks may differ from one family to the next, but ultimately our society's assumption that mothers are "the" important parent and that fathers do not matter, results in too much blame and responsibility being put on the shoulders of mothers and it hinders them in the pursuit of non-parenting related goals.

The flip side of that is that fathers are often portrayed as irrelevant and incompetent. In some families, perhaps they are. But I think that if women want to achieve the goals of feminism, they need to assume and insist that men do their fair share in the home too. At the same time, society needs to give men the space and opportunity to take an active role in their children's lives and in household chores. This means that the mother needs to be willing to let go a bit and it also means that society needs to learn to value fathering and men as fathers.

That is the topic of my guest post today over at Proactive Dads, called If Dads are Irrelevant, Moms are to Blame. I hope you will head over there to read my thoughts and share your comments with this group of dads who are focused on good fathering and positive media portrayal of dads.

Along similar lines, when I typed "feminism fathering" into Google to bring up my post on the topic to link to it above, I found a fascinating recent article by Andrea Doucet, Ph.D, an Ottawa professor who owes me a coffee date soon, called Between Two F-Words: Fathering and Feminism. She looks at the topic in a lot more depth than my short blog post did and it is definitely worth a read. Her conclusion is one that is certainly in line with my goals here and the goals of Proactive Dads.
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Reader Comments (19)

Thanks again for the great blog post and sharing your insights with our supporters. It has been very well received in its first day and generated a nice collection of comments and questions. We'll continue to encourage readers to join the discussion and share their thoughts.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Greenberg

Yes, hell yes.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTepary

Great post. I've started the process to become a LLL leader, and a couple nights ago I was asked the question like, "How is the father's role in baby's life different from the breastfeeding mother's?" I nearly couldn't answer it because in my family, the only tangible difference is actually breastfeeding. I can't think of one thing other than breastfeeding that he has not done for our daughter, or vice versa. Even there, he fed her pumped milk while I worked. In our house there is no task related to child rearing that is just mommy's.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

love this! wouldn't it be great if we had more paternity leave, sweden

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterluna

BF is one of the only areas where there are really are different roles for partners (the lactating and the non-lactating). Later of course one can bottle feed, but in the very beginning, the intensity of exclusive BF does "assign" different roles to mom and dad/non-lactating mom. We joked that I did intake, he did out-take. Some dads feel threatened or concerned or anxious about being shut out of the BF mommy-baby dyad, which I can understand, esp pre-bottle feeding (if expressed milk bottles are introduced). Sort of like, what do *I* do/ How am I important here? How can I fit in? I'm not sure if that's what your questioner was getting at, but it's not a terrible idea to "assign" each parent a task during exclusive BF/ in the beginning. Even though my husband and I share everything equally in terms of care giving, there are still times and situations where we have different roles/tasks.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Over the years/decades the idea that fathers are unnecessary (or even harmful) has been promoted more and more.

I fear that they will promote the idea that mothers are unnecessary, too. That they should go out and work, and let the state raise the children.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert V

Oh, I get that some parent may find it helpful to assign tasks in the beginning. The question came from the LLL leaders handbook. I need to think about each question and then the leader discussed it with me. It was more about getting me to think how the question might affect other families.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Who is "they" in your comment? Do you mean the media, i.e. the bumbling dad on tv?

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I know of some families that have specifically chosen certain tasks to be for the father only, since breastfeeding is for the mother only. Perhaps that is what they meant? E.g. some dads always do the bath or always do the bedtime (pre-nursing) story. Some dads do nighttime diaper changes (if necessary), since the mom is doing the nighttime feedings.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Robert V

I have relatives in Eastern Germany and I know that they felt that way. Mothers were expected to return to work because the state provided day care for them and all adults were expected to be "productive" members of the (unproductive) economy.

Personally, I believe that we need to create an environment where people have a true choice about whether to return to paid work or stay home to raise their children. I think there needs to be more flexibility for shared and part-time options. I don't think the "you're on your own" or the "we'll tell you what to do" approach works.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

In my experience, I think dad gets shoved aside as a parent even before the baby is born. From prenatal on, he's chopped liver. Not that it should legally be any man's business what's going on in my uterus, but if a guy is going to be a dad, he should get as much preparation as mom does. Women-only showers is a good example. Why? How stupid and unfair. That just sets the woman up to be the primary care provider whether or not she'll be working as much or more than dad.

My husband had a hard time being a hands-on father with our first child. I was the stay at home parent and breastfed and our child was quite attached to me. It was hard because he WANTED to play a larger role, but it wasn't rewarding when taking the baby meant the baby would scream. Six years later, they are well-bonded and he probably does more than half of her parenting. But now that our son is born I realize that pregnancy and birth plays as huge a role in bonding for fathers as it does for mothers. He caught our son in an unplanned homebirth and was drenched in amniotic fluid in the middle of the night. Labor was more work for him than me. At the hospital the first time around, he remembers being insignificant, useless and helpless during the birth of his daughter... wanting to help and having nothing to do. It was all about me and the baby. He held a cup of ice chips. When he'd hold her, I'd remind him to support her head and I was a very anxious mother.

For the second birth, there were no doctors or nurses.. not even a midwife. He went to get the car, came back in the house and heard that the baby was coming. He caught the baby, helped warm the baby, tied the cord, cleaned up the mess... So when it came to giving a bottle of breastmilk, or changing a diaper, you can bet he was not intimidated in the least. And after dropping my son into my hero of a husband's hands, you can bet I don't worry about whether he's supporting the baby's head properly. He is "chopped liver" no more. The difference in mothering according to birth experience and boding opportunities has been observed and commented on, but there isn't too much out there about a father's birth experience and how that affects his attachment to his baby.

Now, if the usual way we birth babies interferes with a father's attachment, I believe this will cause a mother to over compensate.. at least it did for me. I never thought, well, just because HE can't care for the baby doesn't mean *I* shouldn't be able to get away once in a while. No. Mammal mothers ensure that their children are cared for. They don't even have to think about it. It's an obsession from the start. We had a little girl who wouldn't take a bottle and only wanted mommy. So I stayed with her. Fortunately I felt free to take her everywhere, so I stayed active in the community, but I let my career go. I loved being a stay at home mom, but it wasn't until later that I realized that my husband would have been a great stay at home dad, too. Dads get shoved aside so moms take over.

When there are two adults in a family, one shouldn't HAVE to work 40 hours. There aren't enough 40 hour jobs available for all the eligible adults out there. I think most parents would like a part time job. I love working.. a little... And my husband loves coming home early on the days I work so he can be with his little boy. And I must admit I love that daddy can put this baby to sleep better than I can, and I love that our son cries when daddy leaves for work. It's a good sign. And this time around, I am not afraid to go to work for a few hours and I don't feel bad leaving the kids with dad. I know that EVERYONE is happy when I leave the kids with dad, even if the baby cries a little when I leave. Because that's just a good sign too.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Great post Julie! My situation was reversed in that the lives of my wife and daughter were put at great risk by the on-call doctor when she went into labor. I fought like hell to protect them and get things done the way we wanted. I never had the opportunity to feel shoved aside because I pushed back.

Despite the mountains of bias against dads as active parents, it is our duty to demand what is right. The "maternity" ward is not exclusively for those with maternal instincts. As you describe your husband, it is quite easy to see how strong and important the paternal instinct is and why it should not be cast aside as a secondary tool for weekend babysitting and fort building.

Thank you for sharing your story. Your husband should be proud of his involvement and his bond with his family.

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Greenberg

Thanks for post, Annie, and the great discussion you're generating. My husband and I were equal before parenthood and our plan was to be "equally equal" after. We were shocked that so much of society seemed so, well, backwards wrt parenting - compared to our experiences pre-parenting.

So, as software peeps, we tried to address the part of it we felt we could - the imbalance on parenting websites that skew all-moms all-the-time. We built http://parentsguild.com with the goal of equal participation male and female, dads and mom.

Help us out dads! And moms who believe in co-parenting!

(Forgive the pitch, but the subject and the audience you draw Annie seem just a perfect fit for the community we're trying to build.)

Best regards,
Andrea & Steve

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Klein Lacy

I couldn't agree more!! When I worked in the projects, I saw a lot of single moms as the father's had left the home and it really made the kids suffer! Fathers need to be involved in their childrens lives not matter what, as it makes a huge difference. I think it is a huge correlation to the delinquent youth and gangs we see out there.

We need to value fathers in our society. Definitely give them more duties at home and more responsibilities when it comes to the kids. On a cute note, I love how there are Diaper Dude diaper bags now so they can feel more a part of caring for them.

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthecounselormom

That is how things are at my house. I handle the entire night routine. Snack, bath, teeth, PJs, story, tucking in. From the moment I come home from work, I'm spending time with my son.

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Greenberg

Your experience is similar to so many who find us at ProActiveDads. Society in most of the Western world tells dads that they are second-class parents and generally unnecessary for raising a child.
We know it isn't true and we know there are millions of dads who are doing an incredible job as active and caring role models in the lives of their children. The media needs to honestly portray that knowledge and society needs to recognize it.

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Greenberg

You are correct. There is a statistically proved HUGE correlation between delinquent children and fatherless homes. This is further proof that dads are indeed necessary, yet the media tends to miss the link.

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Greenberg

I've always felt that the reason why I can be an active, loving, present mother is that I have a wonderful partner who always assumed, from birth, that he was a co-parent. And in all things besides breastfeeding he's there wanting to be involved in his kid's life.

I get very annoyed when I go to mom groups and there's always THAT mom that's complaining about her husband not pulling his weight/ dressing the kid wrong/ not knowing how to sooth the baby/ etc and expects all of us to agree with some sentiment of "oh men, they don't know anything about parenting." And that sells us all short. I make sure to share that my husband is very good at mothering/fathering. It probably makes me sound b$itchy, but it feels like one of those things you can't just leave unsaid.

April 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNatalia

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