January 29, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
There’s another kerfuffle at the New York Times about an article it ran on fathers (New York Times, 1/22/17). It’s a strange piece that starts nowhere, goes nowhere and ends nowhere. It says so little that it’s hard to imagine it occasioned the groveling mea culpas from the writer and various Times editors that were immediately forthcoming.
The piece by Filip Bondy is about a fairly affluent suburb of Montclair, New Jersey and what happened to it last Saturday when many of the women there went off to the Women’s March in Washington. So, what did happen? Not a thing. Life went on just as usual, and why wouldn’t it? After all, the ladies hadn’t been carried off by the plague, just by a few trains and cars headed to the nation’s capital. Dads took care of the children and a myriad of other duties and, well, that was that.
Which raises a question about the article’s headline, “How Vital are Women? This Town Found Out as They Left to March.” If the question is “How vital are women,” the article’s answer seems to be “Not very,” which would be an odd take for any publication, but particularly for the Times. After all, the fathers did all the parenting for the day, the mothers marched and then came home and everyone had dinner.
“Doing everything by myself all day long is not typical,” Mr. Coyle said, not so much complaining as stating a simple logistical fact.
Steve Politi, a sports columnist for The Star-Ledger of Newark, missed the Rutgers men’s basketball game on Saturday to stay home with his two children. He did the soccer-game thing, set up play dates (arguably, cheating a bit) and warmed up some leftover pizza for lunch. He also cleaned the refrigerator.
After his wife headed to Washington by chartered bus, William Jarrett took his children to dance class, a birthday party and a grocery store. The Edgemont Park playground, a popular weekend meeting place for parents and their children, featured a dozen fathers chasing around frenetic children.
This is cause for an article in the “paper of record?” One dad took his kid to a soccer game, another took his children to dance class and a birthday party and someone else cleaned the refrigerator. Stop the presses! What could be more important, more compelling?
The complaints about the article fell into the vein described by the Huffington Post (Huffington Post, 1/23/17).
The piece seemed to reinforce three old-fashioned tropes about gender and parenting: Men can’t handle parenting tasks; men who manage to handle the basics of parenting are exceptional and worthy of a news story; and parenting is fundamentally the work of women.
I basically agree, although Trope One isn’t borne out by the article at all. Indeed it’s the opposite. Fathers of course handled the minutiae of childcare perfectly well. But the other two are spot on. Why write an article about something that happens every day countless times? Why not run a piece on grass growing or paint drying? Hey, those things are happening too. At this very minute! Could be a scoop.
Interestingly though, the HuffPo piece includes a tweet from former Salon.com opiner Heather Havrilesky that is a complete non-sequitur and undermines both the NYT and HuffPo articles.
“We all voted for Hillary, but don’t get it twisted. The division of labor in our homes is straight-up 19th century,” tweeted Heather Havrilesky of New York magazine.
Ah! Finally someone said something worth saying, even if it directly contradicts the article in which it appears. One way of describing the phenomenon Bondy wrote about would be “Dads pitched in to accommodate mothers who wanted to take the day off and march.” It’s sort of a microcosm of what Havrilesky is talking about, albeit probably without meaning to.
The fact is that, regardless of what may be true of one small suburb of one medium-size town in New Jersey, fathers, many of whom would love to spend more time with their kids, end up accommodating mothers’ desires to be either stay-at-home moms full-time or most of the time. Dads do that by sucking it up and spending far more time in the corporate rat race than they’d prefer. Generally speaking, that role falls to them because they’ve prepared themselves to be the primary wage-earner and their spouse hasn’t. So when little Andy or Jenny comes along, the decision about who’s going to do most of the parenting and who most of the earning is a foregone conclusion.
Countless sets of data as well as anecdotal evidence bear all this out. The Census Bureau reports that stay-at-home mothers outnumber stay-at-home fathers by over 30 to one. Judith Warner of the Times reported years ago on women opting out of paid work for childcare and later, when the kids were in school, not opting back in. Studies report the highest-flying women, those with law degrees, MBA degrees and those in STEM fields opting out of work in favor of childcare. The number of women over the age of 16 in the workforce has never gone north of 60% and is now about 56%, while the number of men has been as high as 86%.
Most recently, the American Enterprise Institute analyzed data on college degrees and the earnings of those who hold them. Of the thirty top-earning degrees, 26 were overwhelmingly dominated by male students. That is, the overwhelming majority of students majoring in, for example, various engineering fields or computer technology and many others are male. That’s true despite the fact that men make up only 42% of college students in this country.
So clearly, particularly among the educated and more affluent parts of society, men will continue to emphasize career and earning, leaving the door open to their wives and female partners to stay home with little Andy or Jenny when the time comes. And that is in fact what happens.
Combine the two – men being good and capable fathers while still doing the lion’s share of the working and earning – and you have a generation or two of men who are becoming stressed beyond what is probably good for them. And of course there’ve been studies of that too.
Come to think of it, that would make a pretty good article for the Times or the Huffington Post to run. Don’t count on it.
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