In the 1950s, stereotypical housewives, like June Cleaver, of Leave It To Beaver and Margaret Anderson of Father Knows Best, may have brought immense joy and laughter in the households of many, and perhaps, in many women, a longing to be as flawless as they were. The two cleaned, cooked, and mended with complete delight all while maintaining their composure, beauty, and subservience to the wise father. Since the 1950’s the typical role of a stay-at-home mom has significantly changed. Today, our social trends have shifted and men are taking on nontraditional roles, such as becoming a full time caregiver and tackling everyday household chores while women bring home the “bacon.” An exploration of traditional and nontraditional gender roles of parenting may help redefine stereotypical roles that are perpetuated by various media conglomerates, and move us toward greater acceptance of gender roles that defy our long held core values and beliefs about the role of men and women.
Goosebumps may still ripple when you think about our country’s economic state between 2007 and 2008.We had taken a steep decline downward on the financial queue; companies laid off thousands of employees and many people lost their financial assets wealth. The financial crisis took a serious toll on everyone. If you were not devastated directly during that time, you were eventually bound to feel a pinch down the line. Weathering one of the most dismal economic periods in our nation forced people to look at the concept of work and family life with a whole new perspective. According to a research analysis commissioned by The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, The Unemployment Gender Gap During the Current Recession reports, “In August 2009, the male unemployment rate stood at 10.9% while that of females was 8.2%. This 2.7% percentage point difference is the largest unemployment gender gap in the postwar era.” There may be a growing acceptance of nontraditional gender roles.
The idea of men in the 50’s doing household chores while being the primary childcare provider could have been seen as unthinkable and emasculating to the holder of the Y Chromosome. However, if you fast forward to the 1983 film Mr. Mom and the 2003 film Daddy Daycare, it will give you a funny but realistic glimpse of how nontraditional gender roles are projected and quickly changing. These movies showed men flummoxed and uncomfortable with performing household and child care tasks that would have been ascribed for women. Guess what? The times are changing! Today, you can find TV ads, from Tide and Huggies showing the “New” American dad folding laundry and changing diapers. These humor commercials show fathers as being competent and efficient completing tasks. This may very well be a glimpse of the modern day dad, depicted as a multi-tasker and a playful and totally engaged father.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing a former colleague of mine, Chris Moore, who served as The Opportunity Agenda’s Communication Associate and who is now the quintessential modern dad. When asked; what is the best part of being a stay-at-home dad? Moore stated, “I love being able to spend so much time with my daughter. I like knowing that in those moments of guidance, or reassurance, or comfort, or even reprimand, it's not some stranger who is there, it's her own father.”
Chris finds the gender stereotypes around men and fatherhood troubling and misleading.
There's a general caricature of dads in America today as being fairly bumbling and incapable when it comes to parenting. There's a sense that girls grow up to be women who embrace motherhood, whereas boys become men who have to be badgered into growing up once they become dads. But since I've taken on this new role, I've talked to a number of guys who say they wish they could do the same.
On the other side of the spectrum, Andy Hinds a contributor of The Atlantic.com blogs his two cents about what it means to be a stay-at-home dad of two twin girls. He believes that “relying on your wife for financial support isn't emasculating, but it can be infantilizing sometimes. Hinds took to the option of staying at home when he and his wife concluded that it made better financial sense for their family. He enjoys being a stay-at-home dad but expressed that there were times that he felt like a “loser” because of his lack of financial contribution to the household. Whether a man blissfully or hesitantly accepts the role of stay-at-home dad, the transformation can be challenging due to existing stereotypes.
Our view of men in nontraditional gender roles, like being a stay-at-home dad, may have gained greater acceptance in our society, but we still have a long way to go. Indeed, the task of being a full time parent should not be relegated to a particular gender. If you think of parenting as playing an important role in doing what is best for the family, then the question of whether a man loses pieces of his masculinity doing so would be a figment of the imagination. Recognizing that men make contributions to the family beyond money liberates men from rigidly defined gender roles and allows them to be the dad they’ve always wanted to be.