Have you seen this picture in this blog post? In short, it is a picture of a father wearing his 6 month old daughter in a carrier while fixing his older daughter's hair. I just came across it today for the first time. It immediately caught my heart because I love viewing babywearing pictures as much as others like viewing pictures of beautiful sunsets or gorgeous scenery.
The headline stated that it was “controversial” and stirred emotion in many people. That seemed kind of weird to me because, after all, it’s just someone brushing a kid’s hair. I do it every single day. It never really seemed like a subversive act to me. Annoying at times? Yes. Time consuming? Often. But controversial? Not so much.
But then I went on to read the article about how this father took the picture to prove to his wife that he could do his older daughter’s hair without upsetting his infant, and then he posted it on his blog. His wife wasn’t questioning his parenting abilities -- she was merely commenting on the logistics of the act. He didn’t really want any attention brought to it. He wanted pictures like this of fathering to be normal and commonplace.
But then it went viral.
Apparently some people are giving him a hard time, making comments calling his character and motives into question. Some people, it seems, just can’t accept the authenticity of the moment. Or the motives. Or the man.
A lot has been written lately about the view of fatherhood that is presented in our pop culture. On television and in movies and, most notably, in advertisements, men just aren’t seen as being competent in the fields of domesticity or nurturing. Companies sell cleaning products and baby products and whole lifestyles based on the premise that in these areas, men are blubbering idiots. And it works. The ads are funny, and the products sell.
And it brings that word, feminism, to mind. For decades women have been fighting to be seen as equal to men in the workforce. Glass ceilings still exist, but many have been shattered and many more are in the process of being shattered.
And then people (rightfully so in my opinion) started calling into question this view of feminism. Is the ultimate goal really to prove that we can do everything men do? Do we all want to be in that world? Does true feminism ignore the differences between men and women or should it accentuate them and broadcast them and celebrate them? Is the ultimate victory in breaking every barrier or is it in being fully accepted as people in whichever area it is we choose to focus our talents in?
And during all these years of women fighting for a fair say, men’s stereotypes haven’t changed all that much. The same people who would never dare claim that a woman couldn’t lead a board meeting, find nothing wrong with depicting fathers as not being able to change a diaper or soothe a baby or clean a sink.
These are big questions that affect our culture, our workforces, our schools, our communities, but most of all our families.
What messages do children get when they see fathers depicted as idiots on television? What messages do little boys get when they see their own fathers being loving and nurturing, but then they see the handsome, well dressed, powerful men on television acting like domestic fools?
Yes, there are certain things that men are physically incapable of doing. They can’t gestate. They can’t give birth. They can’t breastfeed. (Although I recently read an article calling this into question.) Bu the rest of it -- aren’t we doing them just as big of a disservice when we claim they can’t function at home as they do to us when they claim we can’t function in the workplace?
I get it. For millions of years, gender roles were remarkably stable. They were clear cut. They might have been stifling, but they were reliable. But we live in a new world now, and to affirm the sexist nature of female stereotypes while silently condoning the sexist nature of male stereotypes is unfair at best, and incredibly damaging to families at worst.
I don’t have a real solution to the problem at large as I am still personally working through my own feelings and opinions in regards to my own roles and strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know if our society is better served by more highly promoting similarities or differences. I don’t have all the answers to the questions of gender that have been around since the first dawning of time.
But what I do know is that I have three little girls who are upstairs sleeping after their father spent half an hour telling them made up bed time stories and tucking them in and letting them blow out the lights.
They know what daddies are. They know daddies are love and comfort and structure and trust. They know daddies heal boo boos just as well as mamas. They know fathers care as much and are present as much and are nurturing as much as mommies are.
They know that Mommy and Daddy do different things because Dad goes to work every day and Mom stays home with them. But they also know that this is because of how we chose to structure our family, not because Mom is incapable of work or because Dad is incapable of childcare.
They understand all that daddies can do because they get to see it first hand. I hope that when they hear the television tell them differently that they just turn the other way and run back into the loving arms of the man who teaches them what masculinity is all about.
We can’t single handedly change our culture, but we can change our hearts and our homes. We can celebrate the beauty of fatherhood just as strongly as we celebrate the beauty of motherhood. We can teach our children to respect women for who they are and what they can do, and we can teach our children to do the same for men.
I love Mothering.com. My hope is that one day I will be searching the web and I will come across Fathering.com, and I won’t think twice about it. Then maybe we’ll really be on our way to equality.
By the way, the photo above is one of my husband being a great daddy by getting all dressed up for a fancy tea party with his oldest two girls.
Amanda Knapp, M.A., is a writer and a stay at home mom to her three little girls. She writes about life and motherhood and anything else that catches her fancy on her blog, Indisposable Mama.