Dads, you have it easy. Oh I know it’s kind of annoying when people refer to you as babysitting when, in fact, you’re just looking after your own child and my heart really does go out to you for that but, in general, it’s pretty easy to be an amazing dad. Which is nice for you.
Of course, on the flip side, it’s not such cheery news for us mamas. While the blokes change a nappy and we all roll out the red carpet, all us mamas have to do is mention bottle feeding, or going back to work, or going on a night out before we’re quickly condemned to a status not much above child abuser.
Let’s tackle the ‘dad’ side of things first. How many times have you heard women gush about a man who turns up for all the ante-natal appointments? ‘What an amazing guy!’ they say. ‘How supportive.’ As Ali Wong says in her stand up show, Baby Cobra, ‘You know who else was there? Me.’ Quite. We book time off work and every two weeks we go to these appointments and pee in tiny pots that leave us with urine covered hands and a loo seat that looks like three toddlers have crossed swords; we grimace through blood tests; we drop our knickers and bare our beaver for the world to see so that a midwife can have a fiddle inside us while expressing all the emotion of making a cheese sarnie? We do that. The mum. And let’s face it, more often than not, the ‘amazing husband/daddy’ is checking his damn email while it all happens.
Then there’s the nappy changing. I remember being out with our first baby not long after she was born and she needed a nappy change. Without missing a beat my husband said, “I’ll do it,” and off he went. We were out with another couple and the woman gazed at him as he left and said, “Wow, what a great daddy.” Well, actually, yes he is but surely we’re not basing this on the fact that he offered to change a shitty nappy without his haggard wife nagging him? Are we? Oh we are. OK then but if that’s the case then surely, surely, that makes me the maternal version of Mother Teresa because I’ve also changed a shit load of nappies. Just sayin’.
My husband is also pretty great at doing shit around the house and women often congratulate me on my choice of life-partner based on his willingness to do the dishes after a meal. “You’ve got him well-trained,” is a common response along with, “You’re so lucky, Cat.” Hang on a minute – what day and age are we living in? If you’ve got a husband that does fuck all around the house then I would argue that you’re the unlucky one. I’m sure there are men of our generation who are still getting away with leaving all the domestic stuff to their wives (who are probably working too) and perhaps we should be spending more energy calling them out on that shit than patronisingly applauding the men that clean a few dishes?
In days gone by when the domestic duties were more clearly cut, you know, when men went out to work in a hunter/gatherer kind of way and women worked managing the home and kids then I suppose it would have been a bit off for a woman to sit on her arse all day and ignore the laundry and the ever-growing dust bunnies. Whatever your thoughts on that, there was a clear division of labour and they both held up their end of the deal.
Now though, it isn’t so simple. Women are working too – we’re sharing the money-earning responsibility. Division of childcare is more 50/50 than it’s ever been so why are we praising men for their share of the baby-rearing duties? In the same breath, we’re damning women who are mothers for working, or not working, or breast feeding for too long, or not at all. See a dad out with his baby feeding it a bottle and I’m pretty sure no one is going to harangue him over the whole formula/boob debate but in this day and age, chances are that decision to bottle feed that Small was a joint one so why can’t we challenge him in the same way women are challenged. Oh no. They’re far more likely to coo and say, “Oh, look at that guy with that gorgeous baby.” OK so he obviously can’t breastfeed but he’s endorsing and supporting the formula route (as he should if that’s what’s best for family) and no one would dare question his feeding choices. On the other hand, I’ve lost count of the amount of times, as a mother, I was questioned by perfect strangers about why I was feeding my baby formula.
Even stranger is the attraction factor. Mothers appear to go through some sort of involuntary transformation that renders them almost sexless in the eyes of the opposite sex. Women with children aren’t sexy. It’s not that we’re gagging for a wolf whistle as we push the bugaboo down the street hoping desperately that our oozing breasts are staining our grey marl tee, but I’ve literally watched women melt in a puddle of fizzy knickers as they watch my husband do his ‘fathering’ thing. A man with a baby is the sexiest thing in the world. A woman with a baby is someone you literally cross the road to avoid for fear (I can only imagine) that you might catch ‘mumsiness’ or perhaps be the victim of an errant boob squirt.
The simple fact is that it’s ok to congratulate men, to put them on a pedestal of adoration for simply doing what dads should do. They work and take on their share of baby-rearing and we worship their forward-thinkingness, their supportive nature and their modern approach to relationships and parenting. Women take on their share of money-earning and we’re lambasted for ignoring our children, abandoning them to some faceless childcare system, for being selfish.
To be clear, my problem here isn’t with the blokes; it’s not their fault that women (and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that it is mostly women who are perpetuating this ridiculous double standard) are so quick to build the boys up while simultaneously undermining the role we play as women in the family team. I’m sure many blokes find it condescending and patronising that they should be applauded for changing a nappy.
So if you’ve ever swooned over a bloke with a baby, or cooed over a man who’s turned up to appointments or expressed admiration because he’s washed the dishes or changed a nappy or spent the day looking after the children while the mama has gone to work, or to hang out with her friends…then please stop. Surely, we’ve come further than this?