“B*tch, you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym”
— Drake on Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe, in Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin”
American society does not value childcare and housekeeping. Oh, we say we do. Last week, Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, got het up when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen questioned her ability to advise her husband on women’s issues since “[Romney] hasn’t worked a day in her life.” Mrs. Romney countered that raising five children is indeed working–hard work, in fact. And I agree, though I note that as the privileged wife of a millionaire, Ann Romney should hardly be the voice of the average stay-at-home-mom. But I don’t believe all the Conservatives rushing to voice their support of mothers everywhere. And I believe few of the Liberals saying of course parenting is just as valuable as working outside of the home mean it either. That is just not the society we live in.
We live in a society where childcare providers–mostly women–are barely paid living wages. American parental leave pales in comparison to that of most European countries (Parents in Sweden receive a whopping 16 months to care for newborns, for example). And when a woman forgoes a career to help a man reach the pinnacle of success by tending to home and hearth, and then divorces in the face of infidelity, some folks greet the idea of equal division of family wealth with, “Bitch, you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym.” I guess child-rearing skills just aren’t as important as tossing a ball through a hoop with amazing accuracy.
You know when I will believe that our society values housekeeping and childcare? When men do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of men who are involved spouses and fathers, but few who take primary responsibility for maintaining home and family. That is why childcare providers are unfairly compensated. That is why single mothers without outside employment are not applauded for working hard raising their families. That is why America doesn’t give a damn about affordable and reliable childcare. Housekeeping and childcare are not important because men don’t do it. Because what we really believe is that these things are “women’s work.” And as long as this is true, and we all still live in a sexist society, then these things will always be undervalued.
Say you run into an old college classmate at the corner coffee shop. He was a smart guy back in the day. Sharp. Everyone knew he was going to be somebody. You ask him what he’s up to and he says he’s a househusband. He cares for his two young children while his wife works in a high-powered corporate job. If you find this news anything but admirable–if you find it at all emasculating–ask yourself why.
The idea that keeping house and raising children are unimportant is a product of a sexist culture, but to change this, it’s not just men who will have to adapt. If women believe nurturing is as important as providing, well then, we have to be okay with potential husbands and life partners choosing the former and not just the latter. We have to let go of the idea that the most important thing a man can bring to a committed relationship is a paycheck. Now, this is not some endorsement of shiftless, lazy men with no life direction, but we should equally admire the brother who is a captain of industry and the brother who stays home and raises future captains of industry.
In an ideal world, a couple could make decisions about work and childcare, based on their family’s unique needs and the strengths and desires of both parents NOT based on worn ideas of femininity and masculinity.
What do you think? Would it be okay if your man was a stay-at-home-dad?