Since becoming a father, I, like many people, have spoken up about dads playing more of an involved role in the upbringing of their children -- as well as the way this increased involvement is still not only being downplayed, but even ridiculed by so many. And being the kind of person who loves to whip out my soapbox from time to time, I never have a problem when it comes to defending fellow dads.
This year has been unofficially deemed the year of the dad. We've seen some pretty big strides taken to help break down the stereotypes of the idiot dad, but it still feels like we have a long way to go. For every hip and cool commercial, like #HowtoDad from Cheerios and the call to celebrate dads with Real Dad Moments by Dove Body Care, we still encounter examples of dads being marginalized on a daily basis. Some men even face particularly harsh criticism; such was the case with baseball player Daniel Murphy, who took off the three days of paternity leave granted to each player by MLB to attend the birth of his son. Because that paternity leave conflicted with opening day, Murphy was subjected to major criticism by many in the media. Even long-time family traditions like apple picking are not safe from those who would like to drum up a laugh at dad's expense. Don't believe me, just look at the picture below:
The picture above was taken just this past September at a farm in Massachusetts where they offer apple picking, but only if children, and dads, are under strict supervision. The man who took this picture, Aaron Gouveia from the Daddy Files, wrote a stellar and pointed response detailing why stunts like this (that companies will claim were all done in the name of jokes and a good old-fashioned ribbing) are ultimately dangerous to our sons and daughters, who grow up with the idea of dad being less valuable than mom.
Look, I get that there are many out there who will say that people need to lighten up or not take things so seriously, and I'm all for a good joke. But if we continue to push these kinds of messages -- specifically, the message that dad is less than mom -- and just write them off as jokes, then we as a society are doing a major disservice to our young sons. Because one day those little boys will grow up to be men, even fathers, who think that it's OK to put less time into raising their children because society said so. Thus, the cycle of diminished male involvement will continue to grow, and for what? A cheap laugh?
I wish I could say that this stereotyping of men and fathers was isolated to ignorant companies and media looking to drum up attention (because as we all know, even bad press can be good press), but it's not. It's unfortunately happening in the home as well. There are still plenty of women who think taking potshots at their husbands' competency, or lack thereof, is acceptable.
I recently read a post by author/blogger Toni Hammer that, in my opinion, continues to reinforce many of the ugly stereotypes dads are still facing, hiding behind the claim of it all being done in good fun or satire. To be honest, I'm uncomfortable even linking to it, but I think it's important for people to see that much of the struggle many men/fathers are facing begins right at home, and is being perpetuated by the very people who are supposed to be their biggest supporters: their partners.
In the post, the author tries to relate a birth story from the point of view of a husband. Not her husband, I might add -- just some random dude.
While still speaking as herself, Hammer equates women telling their birth stories to veterans comparing war stories and battle scars, saying, "We've all been in the trenches and wanna know what happened when a fellow solider was there, too."
As an actual veteran, I was offended by that. She even went on to pretend the man in her story told his friends the birth process was "like going to war. It was awesome." This is objectionable on so many levels. I have not given birth myself, so would never presume to know the difficulty and pain that can be involved -- and I don't think people should make assumptions the other way around, either. I would feel the same way about an announcer at a sporting event saying players are "warriors" or are "on the field of battle"; these comments are ill advised and, frankly, ignorant. There are some things in this world that you do not use as a comparison to anything else, and being a veteran with "battle scars" is right up there. You know what else is on that list? Giving birth!
The entire post was just one men-are-morons yuk yuk joke after another. Listing every single one would literally take up my entire post, but here are a few, just so you get my point:
1. Husband says he was too busy to pay attention to his wife going through active labor at home because he was watching an abs workout infomercial.
2. Husband stubs his toe on the way out to the hospital and contemplates asking the doctor to check out his foot after caring for his wife because "all doctors are the same, right?"
3. Husband falls back asleep after wife tells him baby is close to arriving.
4. Husband talks about the size of his wife's lady parts, calling them "huge," and then refers to his wife as his "warrior princess" and his son as his "future linebacker."
Each poorly-told joke felt like a kick to the face, pushing dads/men rung after rung back down the ladder of progress we have been working hard to climb. As a whole, the article came off as closed-minded, marginalizing, and most of all overtly sexist towards men.
Of all the examples listed above, my concerns are best summed up in example 4. Because you know, all men talk about their wives' downtown situation to their friends, call their wives by demeaning pet names, and envision their sons as a future linebackers. Hey, you're not a real man unless you like football.
I would suggest that the next time Hammer wants to write a piece relating how the opposite sex would react or retell something as personal as a birth story, she should perhaps, I don't know, talk to a few men to figure out how they remember their children being born. Had she done that, I'm confident she would have found more descriptive terms like "breathtaking," "greatest moment of my life," "pure joy," or "no words could explain how awesome it was" -- and less war, blood, vampire references, and all things Bro.
I realize in the world of blogging and writing that being provocative, and even inflammatory at times, gets more views and clicks than actually being earnest and heartfelt. Many have even come to Hammer's defense, saying men need to lighten up because it was simply satire. But this article was anything but satire; it was simply mean, and in my opinion, this is where Hammer and the site that hosted her article failed as a whole -- because the topic of birth, and furthermore the role fathers play in the process, deserves better than to be treated as a punchline in an awful joke.