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"First Dude": Feminist Hero for Us All?

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Rejoice, fellow female citizens! Double Standard Numero Uno -- that women
simply can't simultaneously be mommies and say, vice-presidents -- is
officially dead! At long last, the Double Standard's longtime standard
bearers have acquiesced, enthroning Sarah Palin as their Official
Feminist Icon and angrily excoriating anyone who dare suggest that a
mom of five youngsters might slight her family if she takes on
co-leadership of the nation ("Would you say that to a MAN"?!?). Do we
need more proof that this sexist assumption has, like some toppled
Brobdingnagian Lenin statue, now been buried in the dustbin of
history?

Only thing is, there's something to something behind that stereotype,
and it's what's fueling discomfiting discussion among many feminist
moms like me. Here's the gist: A family that includes a special-needs
baby and a pregnant teen indeed needs parental hands-on, and it'd be
pretty impossible for Veep Palin to provide it. You don't have to be a
mom to imagine what's needed to keep a large family with these
formidable challenges emotionally secure, especially while family
life's battered by living under the world's microscope. You don't need
to be an expert on teen pregnancy to intuit that a teen who got
pregnant while her family was already in the public spotlight is
begging for some parental attention. Yes, I know it's complicated -- as
I've advised for years as editor of Daughters, the national bimonthly
for parents of tween/teen girls (sadly, now defunct), teen pregnancy
also stems from potent factors such as a culture obsessed with "sexy"
as a female trump card. But there's no doubt that rising teen sexual
activity and the 3-in-10 teen pregnancy rate are clearly connected with tuned-out parents unwilling
to provide critical advice and support to daughters AND sons facing
sexual choices.

However, there's a happy answer for the Palin family if Sarah and
John win (certainly not my electoral choice) as well as for every
other couple similarly positioned with a mother whose avid pursuit of
a passion eclipses a mate's ambitions. All it takes is dismantling
Double Standard Number Two: Men can't really parent, so don't expect
them to. In other words, Todd Palin could make it crystal clear to
the American public that Sarah would be free to be all we'd need her
to be -- whether her team wins this round or not -- because he'll be there
for the kids. Todd's high-profile precedent could upend with a
wham-bam the insidious, insane lie that men can't and won't fully
parent.

Think of what we'd all gain when Todd manned up to the Dad role and
American dads took his lead to parent on a meaningful, widespread
level. We'd have children blossoming under a much-deserved shower of
full parental attention; we'd witness the first generation ever of
sons who'll know how to truly provide fair solutions to the
work/children dilemma every family unit faces. Family care legislation
and workplace supports will be commonplace as men "get" in their bones
what's needed to produce happy, healthy children and liveable wages.

We really can make this happen, and we really must begin now. Surely
there are very few parents these days who'd disagree that all girls
and boys deserve to realize their potential, whether it's pursuing
parenthood or a calling in politics or anything else. Thus, in the
same way that my boomer generation has witnessed a metamorphosis of
girls and women going from second-class citizens to leaders who often
out-gun the guys, we'd surely see a swift sea change in boys and men
as well. Here are a few fundamental rules to make it happen:

1. We'll start today by changing our ridiculous assumptions about
men. Dads "just don't have the emotional
acumen/patience/organizational chops" that Moms do? Please. Think of
all the men you know who develop and use these key skills to reap the
rewards of success in the field of their choice. If men can do it for
work or personal advancement, they can do it for kids and home.

2. With the confidence that men are capable of doing/learning to do
any parenting task that women can (childbirth and breastfeeding the
very brief exceptions), we'll stop giving them a pass for the more
difficult aspects of parenting. Lots of guys are good at the fun
parts of parenting--taking a kid to the park or attending the
occasional school play is easy. But while getting up for the fifth
time with a toddler or investing long hours guiding a teen through
tortuous social/dating terrain is indeed tough and tedious, women do
it routinely (and yes, some males, further proof that men can fully
parent). We have to let our male partner know by words and actions
that it's his turn, and repeat (and repeat) our convictions until he's
on board. And if that means he's "Mr. Mom" so that family's not
sacrificed during Mom's career rise, so be it.

3. We'll recognize that boys actually are natural caretakers, and we
can further nurture those skills. Any parent knows that boys are just
as gifted as girls at caretaking a pet or devising highly detailed
systems surrounding hobbies or sports (see #1). We'll stop assuming
boys can't or shouldn't babysit or assist at running the household,
and we'll follow through from the git-go by making these activities
part of the daily life of our sons as well as daughters.

It may just be that Todd won't be our trailblazer. It's a bit
discouraging to consider that this Family Values dad seems to have
spent very little time with his family between his North Shore oil job
(surely a job in little old Wasilla or even Juneau will pay the bills
along with Sarah's paychecks?) and his fulltime dedication to his
snowmobile racing competitions (Do the Republicans really want to
promote Peter Pan daddies?).

Good thing we don't have to wait on Todd. Women of the world, let's
do what we need to do to help dads be the change we all want to see
for the future of our children.