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Men, Childcare and Change

I found the following, from FairerScience friend David Mortman, interesting and thought provoking and thought you might as well.

In a private forum today, the question came up: "Why, at a social level, are men not asked to make the choice between being bread winners or caretakers and balance the two?"

Because despite the success of feminism at introducing concepts such as work-life balance, men are still expected to be the primary source of income in a family. Then there is the larger problem where child care is till considered to be women's work to the point where if a man wants to take off time from work to be home with a new baby, any more time off than a week gets him strange looks. In fact, when my son was born, I started working from home one day a week to take care of him while Kathryn worked on her PhD, I was the first man out of 8000 employees (and over 12000 in the corporate history) to do so. Despite the level of privilege that (especially white) men enjoy, there is still tremendous pressure to comply with societal norms. For instance, every time I took time off work to be home when S was sick, I heard comments, especially from older coworkers about how when their kids were my age, they never missed work when the kids were sick.

Feminists have already given us the tools to make changes happen. However, it takes men demanding things like their rights under the Family Leave Act to time off to encourage others to do the same. Within a year of me doing so, just about everyone who had new kids was working from home at least one day a week and caring for their children.

Unfortunately, this change is not yet happening on a large scale. In large part, I think because when you hold the power, change is particularly scary so it is more actively avoided then by those who have nothing to lose. So it's up to folks who have less to risk or for whom the balance of power is otherwise in their favor to agitate for those changes. Certainly in my case, I was considered good enough that they were willing to put up with my weirdness and were pleasantly surprised that taking care of a child did not in fact turn a man's mind to jelly and were then willing to let other men do so as well.


Pat, I think you're right on here. It will take some personal courage for men to take advantage of FMLA in workplaces that haven't done so traditionally. Then, once it has occurred, it becomes easier for other men to do so. In my case, both of us took FMLA leave and then implemented telecommuting -- and now the whole department telecommutes one or more days a week regularly. It will take some time, but it certainly can be done. And it really must be done, for more equitable distribution of both work AND play, and most importantly for all who wish it to be able to experience the daily joy of raising children.

Nice work!

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