When Hilary Rosen said that stay-at-home mom Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life", social media sites exploded with argument, politicized commentary and feigned compassion for the verbally assaulted Mormon or the "contemptible" lesbian. Watching the Rosen/Romney controversy unfold was another example of the media's infinite capability to be shortsighted. The real social stigma isn't attached to stay-at-home moms, it it stamped squarely on the chest of stay-at-home dads.
The current economic depression has unevenly cost more men their jobs than women. That increase in unemployed dads has been combined with a gradually changing family dynamic of more moms entering the workforce simultaneously coupled with dads wanting be more involved fathers. As I hear from dads all around the country, they often say they want to be more involved than their father was with them. Whatever the reason, there are multiple dynamics in play resulting in a much larger stay-at-home dad demographic that society has yet to accept.
Men are still traditionally viewed as "the breadwinner". It is their socially-dispensed role to go to work, bring home money, read a newspaper, then go to bed. Actual family situations don't really matter because our view of masculinity hasn't radically changed since the 1950's. In opposition to that stagnation of view is the reality of modern family dynamics. In 2007, stay-at-home dads made up approximately 2.7 % of the stay-at-home parents in the United States. This is triple the percentage from 1997. These statistics only account for married stay-at-home dads; there are other children being cared for by single fathers or gay couples. Furthermore, stay-at-home dads make up 12% of stay-at-home parents in Canada, according to a Statistics Canada study. One in seven fathers are the primary caregivers in the United Kingdom according to a recent Aviva study.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Corporations Catching Up to Fatherhood, media and most corporations still view families -- and specifically fatherhood -- as we did decades ago. However, dads as caregivers (single dads or stay-at-home dads) are slighted in special ways. Hollywood developed a formula for portraying dads as a primary caregiver. Warren Farrell, Ph.D., called it, "If Dad is the primary caregiver, Mom must be dead". According to research by Jerry A. Boggs, Hollywood used this formula in one movie in the 1970s, four movies in the 1980s and at least 20 movies in the 1990s. That is rapid growth, indeed! Movies like Sleepless in Seattle, Independence Day, The American President, Clueless, Contact, and Arlington Road helped cement the public perception of dads being forced into the role of a primary caregiver or stay-at-home dad rather than choosing it willingly.
The Rosen/Romney discussion glossed over the serious social failure of recognizing both genders of stay-at-home parents as valid, important and hard-working. It really has nothing to do with rushing to Ann Romney's defense or castigating Hilary Rosen. Sure, Rosen took a low and unimportant swing at Ann Romney. It has almost nothing to do with our upcoming choices for President and this is confirmed by the absence of any meaningful mention of Mitt or Barack in the conversation.
Dads aren't better than moms and moms don't have the "hardest job in the world". Kids need a mom and dad and as a culture we need to stand up for the importance of both roles by rejecting outdated and insulting stereotypes when they are put before us. After all, we parents know that the only people who have "never worked a day in their life" are the people who aren't parents! (This is a joke. Sort of.)
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