An anti-dad bias?

Finally, someone pointed it out: Dads are portrayed as helpless creatures when it comes to the issue of parenting.

In an NPR commentary, novelist and critic Louis Bayard takes the New York Times to task for yesterday’s article on the panic that ensues when a working mother travels for work.

It carried nuggets like this:

Peace of mind for working mothers who have to travel comes in all sorts of forms. While working fathers who go away on business may use some of the same tactics, mothers are often the ones laying out their children’s skating outfits and freezing extra dinners before they leave town.

Ms. Smith, whose Web site is called MomTini Lounge, said children thrive on routine and structure, “so moms who travel try to minimize the disruption at home.” She said she jettisons any unnecessary commitments like play dates to streamline the family schedule as much as possible while she is away.

That’s too much for Bayard:

It’s not the world I live in — the one where every day, competent hands-on fathers (married, partnered, single) navigate their children from point to point without mishap. But then it’s not the world anyone lives in. With more and more women serving as primary wage-earners and more and more men serving as primary caregivers, it’s only logical that the organizing intelligence behind any given household might actually have a Y chromosome.

So how has this news failed to reach the major cultural organs? It’s one thing when Huggies puts out a series of ads showing dads unmanned by the mere prospect of a diaper. It’s pretty much the identical thing — subtler but no less pernicious — when a champion of bourgeois values like the Times beats the same dead horse.

And if anything, the Times article shows how harmful the anti-dad bias can be to women. I was amused at first to see the logistical extremes Weed’s supermoms go to whenever they leave town: ordering drugstore supplies online, canceling play dates in advance, laying out skating outfits and freezing a week’s worth of meals and leaving a list of “all the carpools, sports practices and games, babysitter hours” and anything else their husbands might need.

The comments section of the Times’ article, by the way, reveals a land foreign to the reporter — a land where men and kids can figure out how to survive:

I have to admit that I may roll my eyes and mutter under my breath at some of the things my husband does or doesn’t do, but, geesh, the man can find the grocery store or, if all else fails (and I’m the one more likely to resort to this), a restaurant. Freezer full of frozen (home cooked!) dinners? Come on!

Another commenter notes that her husband is fully capable making dinner and taking care of the kids, and then notes the family’s nanny seems to agree.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Oh, the continued trials and tribulations of the poor repressed male.

    You know what? Women are generally better naturally attuned to child care than are men. I think it might have something to do with biology.

    Do men love their children? Are they willing to do their best to care for them? Can many if not most men do an adequate to superior job? Is dad’s care-taking style sometimes ( OK, almost never ) not the way that mom would prefer?

    Yes, yes, yes, and so what.

    Caring for children in no way emasculates a man, but whining about mommy not approving sure the hell does.

  • David

    Two days a week I take my 2 kids to daycare. I pick them up everyday. I cook dinners, make breakfasts, and more than not I do the grocery shopping with my kids (without my wife). I take the kids at least once a weekend to give my wife free time to unwind. I do all of the yard work, year around. I change diapers. I give baths. I play games and generally spend every free moment I can with my kids.

    I am not unique. This is modern fathering.

    This isn’t to diminish the many things my wife does, she does a lot (probably more than I), but rather to point out that many — if not most, dads I know are nothing like the constant anti-man and anti-fathering stereotypes that are constantly pushed by media and often accepted and joked about amongst women.

  • Of course there is an anti-dad bias. Misandry has been growing, and no one seems to think it important to combat prejudice/bias against men. I’ve even had a feminist friend tell me that women are better than men. I was appalled.

    Men and women both have their strengths and weaknesses, but to think men are incapable of caring for their own children will undermine the efforts of both men and women to promote care giving by both parents and increased involvement of fathers. It couldn’t be more insulting.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Drae – “It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.” – Epictetus

  • bsimon

    When my wife had to travel on business a few weeks ago, I had that moment of terror, not knowing how I’d retain sanity while doing daycare drop-off, going to work & picking up, then the evening rituals. I don’t know how single parents do it. Which is to say that when we’re a 2 parent household, the duties are shared, not solely borne by one parent or the other.

  • David

    “I don’t know how single parents do it”

    Amen to that. I think that all the time and often wonder how my mother did it for so many years with two boys that were more than a handful.

  • christie

    The thing that kills me is that the SAME women who treat their husbands like juveniles (inept creatures who can’t possibly manage to run a household “properly”) are the women who then complain about how much they have to do for their husbands.

    My husband and I do not parent in the same way. We do not keep house in the same way. We both have online calendars and access to the other’s appointments (kid appointments tend to be in my calendar); we both have full-time jobs and the exact same set of three children. And we are both committed to treating each other like ADULTS who are capable of making responsible decisions in the other’s absence. That part, at least, is pretty easy.

    David @11:40 Well said, sir.

  • Jim Shapiro

    bsimon and David – “I don’t know how single parents do it.”

    I second that amen. My spousal unit and I are both fortunate enough to be full time parents when we choose, and I STILL feel pretty good if I bat over .285 in terms of doing it right.

    And I’m a great father. 🙂

  • Dan

    I think it’s worth pointing out that there’s very little evidence that mothers are “naturally” more attuned to raising children or expressing empathy or being nurturing.

    I would also like to suggest that this “anti-dad” bias is not a case of misandry, but rather one of subtle misogyny. What I mean by that is that this notion that men are inept parents is in fact a locus of pressure–a strategy employed by patriarchal forces–that serves to keep women in a particular role.

    This notion that men are less adept parents is as ridiculous as the notion that men are naturally more promiscuous, and it all it does is serve and reinforce a very privileged position within the patriarchy.

  • allie

    Growing up, my mom traveled quite a bit (as did my dad). We kids relished each instance as an opportunity to get one parent to ourselves for a bit while the other was out of town. And both parents fed us, clothed us, and got us to our commitments equally well (although we did tend to have more White Castle when Dad was in charge, but that’s neither here nor there…).

    My husband? As equally awesome as my own dad.

    Maybe the anti-dad bias is a coastal thing. I’d like to think we Midwesterners (even we radically feminist ones) wouldn’t put up with BS related to undermining our family and friends who are also fantastic fathers.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Dan – “I think it’s worth pointing out that there’s very little evidence that mothers are “naturally” more attuned to raising children or expressing empathy or being nurturing.”

    REALLY?!? Gosh. What are your feelings on evolution? Germ theory? The sun being the center of the solar system?

    I very clearly said GENERALLY, which leaves room for plenty of exceptions, which tend to prove the general rule.

    DESCRIPTION of scientifically understood reality does not imply a PRESCRIPTION for how things should be. Geez.

    ( Please forgive my sarcasm if your name used to be Danielle. Or if you’re considering changing it in the future.)

  • @Dan – women perpetuate the patriarchy.

    I agree with Christie. If women want their husbands to be adults, they need to treat them that way.

  • Ed

    Jim, you comment on here all the time and often I either agree with you or find your comments insightful; however, today you seem to be having an off day.

    I completely agree with Dan about the patriarchy.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Ed – Thanks for the kind compliment, and the honest expression of your opinion.

    I also agree with Dan on the issue of patriarchy.

    I took issue with his intellectual dishonesty regarding natural, hormonal-based sexual differences.

    The question of parenting skills is not a nature/nurture- either/or.

    It’s a both/and.

  • Bob Collins

    >>> A warning to both team’s benches

  • Dan

    Jim – I guess my point was not to call into question a million or so years of evolution, or necessarily gender roles of early austrolopithicines. It’s just that I think there’s a danger in ascribing a “natural” characteristic to any group of human beings. If someone is a “natural” at football, it’s hard not to encourage them to try out for the team.

    To say, also, that there are exceptions to this rule runs the danger of creating a norm/other relationship. Natural mothers are the norm, anything else is an other. Implied in this is the notion that, should one choose not to express this motherly role that one is then not normal.

    I wonder if part of this conversation comes from the notion that we tend to think of sex as nature and gender as social (nurture, if you will). But everything natural, I think, can only ever be filtered/expressed/perceived through social constructions, to the point as to render “nature”–and therefore sex–a rather moot point.

    I’m a college English instructor (go fig) and talk about this kind of stuff with my classes all the time. It’s a challenging–and I think fruitful–way of looking at the world.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Sorry ref – did you whistle me for the “intellectual dishonesty” slash? My bad.

    How do you feel about “pseudo-intellectual ignorance”?

    A game misconduct?!?! Fines?!?!

    Please not suspension. I promise to be nice from now on. 🙂

  • Jim Shapiro

    Dan – Well said. I hereby take back all of my nasty attempts at pointed humor. I posted the last one before I saw your comment.

    Your students are very fortunate.

  • A J

    The anti-dad bias is decades old. The media loves to portray fathers as incompetent boobs who can barely take care of themselves, let alone the kids by themselves.

    Watch TV and imagine swapping roles the mothers and fathers play. The effect is startling. If mothers were ever portrayed the same way, there would be a public outcry of a scale rarely seen elsewhere.

  • BJ

    Love it >>> A warning to both team’s benches


    PS I know a few Dad’s who do fit in the article, my wife and I laugh about why their spouses put up with it.

  • David

    Thanks Christie.

    I have noticed one weird behavior with society, my kids are 2.5 and 3.5 and I’ve been lugging them with me since they were both in diapers.

    It seems many people treat me one of two ways, like a saint or a weekend warrior divorcee to be scorned for abandoning a mother of two small ones. (neither case is true) Yet, when a woman lugs two little ones it’s just expected.

    @Dan “this notion that men are inept parents is in fact a locus of pressure–a strategy employed by patriarchal forces–that serves to keep women in a particular role”

    I call shenanigans on that, but we’re all entitled to our own opinions. I can give tons of examples of women behaving badly on the topic and I assure you there were no patriarchal forces at work.

  • Kevin

    I think the question of whether mothers and fathers are better parents is meaningless. It’s not like we’re asking whether males or females are better at math, or reading comprehension, or chess, or basketball (not that these questions are all easy to answer independent of cultural bias/influence). Parenting is not a singular quantifiable skill. There’s no way we could even all agree on which skills are important to have to be a good parent.

    My observation, as a very broad generalization, is that women tend to be better at some aspects of parenting, and men better at others. I don’t personally know any couples where the mom (or dad) is better at everything.

    Having said that, I identify with the moms in the story who have trouble giving up control. I am a dad who stays home with the kids in part so my wife can have a career that requires travel. But when I need to leave the kids with her for an extended time, it’s hard, as unfair as that is to her. I need to remind myself that the kids are benefiting from having two parents with different strengths and weaknesses!

  • It’s interesting and fun to flag stories like this. When I am out with the kids (I’ve been a stay-at-home dad and have operated a childcare out of my home for 5 years) I get lots of comments, “Oh, daddy is baby-sitting today?” and “Are all these kids yours?!” and “Where is your mommy?” and I just smile and briefly explain my situation, and watch their expressions change to disbelief or admiration, or exasperation. I do things differently than your typical provider, but I see it as a strength, not a weakness. Whatever anyone else might think, that’s their issue.