This post is in the same vein as the recent Freshly Pressed post “Where are all the dads” (when I learn how this linking business works, I’ll do it).
I grew up with a father who loved to cook. For the first few years of my life, my mother cooked dinners for me and my brothers, and she was good at it. But, some point after we moved from our small apartment to our house (I was around 10 years old), my father did most of the cooking. I didn’t think anything of it until I mentioned it to one of my friends. He expressed shock that my father cooked, and not my mother.
I explained that yes, my dad cooked most of the time, but sometimes my mom did too. Later, I asked my parents about what my friend said. They told me that years ago, women didn’t work, they stayed at home and cooked and cleaned for their families.
This was an interesting concept to me. I’d grown up in a house where both my parents worked, something they had to do to support our lifestyle. I wondered why my friend thought it was odd for my father to cook if women didn’t do all the work at home anymore.
That was my first real run-in with gender roles. After that, I started to notice that gender roles were regularly enforced on television. It made no sense to me, even as a child. If we didn’t insist on gender roles anymore, why did the people writing television shows do it? Why had my friend expected it?
This is something that I continue to see today. There are more stay at home mothers on television than stay at home fathers. Which is something that’s no longer reflected in reality. In commercials for cleaning and food products, the only people using said products are women. And when the men try to do the same, they’re portrayed as woefully incompetent, even stupid.
I’ve seen one too many ads involving a man being completely overwhelmed by taking care of his children, baking, or even operating appliances. Isn’t that just two varieties of sexism presented as humorous? It’s the same patting a man on the head and saying “Your place isn’t in the home, that’s for your wife.”. An idea which is damaging to both sexes.
This is the reason stay at home dads feel emasculated, and why people are perfectly willing to perpetuate it. After all, a man couldn’t possibly be happy providing for his family if he’s not operating heavy machinery or sitting behind a desk to do it. And how could a woman feel she’s doing anything but betraying her maternal nature by pursuing a career to put food on the table?
Perhaps people aren’t defined by their sex any more than they are by the color of their hair. And maybe expecting them to live their life according to what box they check on a form is limiting to everyone involved.
Just my two cents.