“B*tch, you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym”

— Drake on Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe, in Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin”

American society does not value childcare and housekeeping. Oh, we say we do. Last week, Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, got het up when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen questioned her ability to advise her husband on women’s issues since “[Romney] hasn’t worked a day in her life.”  Mrs. Romney countered that raising five children is indeed working–hard work, in fact. And I agree, though I note that as the privileged wife of a millionaire, Ann Romney should hardly be the voice of the average stay-at-home-mom. But I don’t believe all the Conservatives rushing to voice their support of mothers everywhere. And I believe few of the Liberals saying of course parenting is just as valuable as working outside of the home mean it either. That is just not the society we live in.

We live in a society where childcare providers–mostly women–are barely paid living wages. American parental leave pales in comparison to that of most European countries (Parents in Sweden receive a whopping 16 months to care for newborns, for example). And when a woman forgoes a career to help a man reach the pinnacle of success by tending to home and hearth, and then divorces in the face of infidelity, some folks greet the idea of equal division of family wealth with, “Bitch, you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym.” I guess child-rearing skills just aren’t as important as tossing a ball through a hoop with amazing accuracy.

You know when I will believe that our society values housekeeping and childcare? When men do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of men who are involved spouses and fathers, but few who take primary responsibility for maintaining home and family. That is why childcare providers are unfairly compensated. That is why single mothers without outside employment are not applauded for working hard raising their families. That is why America doesn’t give a damn about affordable and reliable childcare. Housekeeping and childcare are not important because men don’t do it. Because what we really believe is that these things are “women’s work.” And as long as this is true, and we all still live in a sexist society, then these things will always be undervalued.

Say you run into an old college classmate at the corner coffee shop. He was a smart guy back in the day. Sharp. Everyone knew he was going to be somebody. You ask him what he’s up to and he says he’s a househusband. He cares for his two young children while his wife works in a high-powered corporate job. If you find this news anything but admirable–if you find it at all emasculating–ask yourself why.

The idea that keeping house and raising children are unimportant is a product of a sexist culture, but to change this, it’s not just men who will have to adapt. If women believe nurturing is as important as providing, well then, we have to be okay with potential husbands and life partners choosing the former and not just the latter. We have to let go of the idea that the most important thing a man can bring to a committed relationship is a paycheck. Now, this is not some endorsement of shiftless, lazy men with no life direction, but we should equally admire the brother who is a captain of industry and the brother who stays home and raises future captains of industry.

In an ideal world, a couple could make decisions about work and childcare, based on their family’s unique needs and the strengths and desires of both parents NOT based on worn ideas of femininity and masculinity.

What do you think? Would it be okay if your man was a stay-at-home-dad?

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  • Marce

    I encountered this thinking in a college course with a required textbook that turned out to be quite eye-opening: The Second Shift. Of course, there was one married white male in the class who completely refused to read the book (hello, instant fail, were it me grading that course!) and then argued with the teacher about it for the next 3 class sessions. Um, you haven’t read it, STFU. I have very few doubts his wife was at home lollygagging through her day of taking care of all the housework, chores about town, and probable childcare. He stank of so much privilege I found myself wanting to move further across the room from him.

  • Aisha

    I think the only way a stay-at-home-dad situation could work is if the woman had a predominantly masculine core where she was comfortable being the primary or sole provider. And the guy had a more feminine, nurturing nature. But if you pair a feminine woman with a man like this, it will bring about disaster.

  • TB

    The choice of who stays home with the children is also strongly influenced by whose income can be sacrificed, if any at all. Unfortunately, we live in a society where, on average, a woman still earns much less than a man, currently about 77 cents on every dollar. Therefore, it’s not just our perception of what is appropriate for each gender that determines our choice of houseparent. We are constricted by our economic reality of pay inequity stemming from sexism and the devaluation of women’s work everywhere, not just in the home.

  • I agree with all that Tami said. But I would add that men and women both undervalue those who provide childcare because they simply do not believe that job is all that important. Even if more men were employed as daycare workers, the mentality that working folk have about the pecking order of jobs would not automatically change. For instance, people don’t really consider daycare owners entrepreneurs. They don’t consider daycare centers real businesses — even though they provide one of the most significant services on the planet. Both men and women who work outside their homes or from their homes feel elitist next to daycare providers. That tells us a hell of a lot about American society. I know way too many middle class folk who drive luxury cars and get their hair and nails done regularly and eat out more than they eat at home, but try to find the cheapest daycare centers in town to leave what should be their most precious gifts — their children. And they leave them at those cheapest centers all day — from 6 or 7 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the afternoon while they do the oh-so-important jobs of teaching at real schools or being a nurse or, heaven forbid, a doctor or lawyer. They just put no value on the work of providing child care — no matter who does it. Granted men have been directed away from jobs that have typically been held by women – often because they have been socialized to be the primary breadwinner and they prefer higher paying jobs. But if we really valued our children, we would want to pay the folk who keep them at least as much as we make — no matter what their gender. They deserve to live as comfortably as the parents of the children they keep — if not more comfortably given the difficulty of their job. We don’t give a damn that they barely get paid enough to get by; and that says a lot about what we truly value in this society.

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