There’s been a lot of ‘stuff’ (for lack of a better word) making it through my ‘what’s interesting’ filter in the last week concerning women. It started off with the debate coverage concerning Romney’s ‘binder of women’ and ensuing discussion of feminism, which happened to fall on Ada Lovelace Day, continued with a brief twitter conversation started by @Chookooloonks, (who keeps one of my favorite photography/mom blogs) in which she asked if dads’ views on feminism change once they have daughters, and emerged again today when #womensciwp surged on my twitter feed.
I was probably not as perturbed by the binder comments as most women I know, more vastly amused by the resulting meme. At least he acknowledged he had a blind spot. However, I was pleased to see that a fair amount of the discussion triggered pointed out that men, just as much as women, are in need of flexible schedule during child rearing years. For a mother to be able to take on a career, she absolutely needs a support system. If you have tons of money, like Marissa Mayer, then you can avail yourself of 24 hrs worth of nannies and all the hired help you can get. Or, if you are like the rest of us (read: me!) you need your partner to be able to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, in the US, it seems this is not happening, especially in the kitchen. Fortunately, for me, my husband definitely picks up the slack. Even when I was not pregnant, R does the majority of the cooking, and now that I am ridiculously immobilized by this pregnancy, he does the majority of the cleaning too. On top of his 55-65 hr/week startup job. And he does it without a word of complaint. (Well, ok, a little grumbling. He’s not a saint. But he does come close.)
During our birth class when pregnant with J, the mothers were all aghast that I was taking only 6 weeks maternity leave (that’s it???) while the fathers were amazed that R was taking 3 weeks of paternity leave (that’s a lot!!!!). This is clearly in line with how our nation ranks against most other industrialized nations in paternity leave (hint: we’re rock bottom.) How many of those fathers from the birth class, I wonder, are cooking meals or doing the laundry, now, and how would it compare to the fathers from, say Sweden?
Which brings me to the twitter exchange about fathers and feminism. When asked if there were dads out there whose views evolved when they had daughters, there were of course an avalanche of yes’s. But I was struck by one father who immediately said “no. Being the son to my mom did… but not being dad to my daughter.”
R is one of the most progressive, feminist men that I know. His actions (of which he never touts, it’s always me who brags about him) speak loudly and clearly; he thinks women are just as capable of doing anything a man can do, and he will support whomever he believes in, in whatever they want to do (within reason) no matter their sex. This means that he contributes equally, if not more (especially these days) to the housework, especially when my schedule is crazy. And he expects me to have the same courtesy for him. Where does he get this from? Somewhere, I’ve heard the saying goes that any man who has sisters will respect other women. But I do think it goes further than that as well. R has no sisters. He has not experienced parenting a daughter (yet). I think it comes from his parents. And not just his mom, but both of them. For most of his childhood, R’s father made it a point of being home by 5 so he could be involved in evening life at home. His mother went back to school when he was young, and has been working full time since. Those examples clearly had an effect on his attitudes about what women are capable of, and how men should treat women.
I don’t know if his parents realize what a stellar job they did there, but standing ovation to them for that. We married young, and I didn’t quite realize just how amazing he is in that respect (I had an inkling, but not a true understanding of it).
And this brings me to the third piece. Today, wikipedia entries are being created or edited on women in science and technology, and that made me think about the challenge that is raising a potential female nerd. (Yes, I am being optimistic assuming that my daughter will be bright. So sue me.) Here is where I do think R has a blind spot. A couple months ago, I brought up in conversation with 2 college friends of ours (who also have one son and one daughter) that I was nervous about how I would parent a daughter as opposed to a son. R turned to me and said somewhat stridently “I don’t see how this is an issue. You treat your daughter just as you treat your son.” And I applaud him for that sentiment.
But, as my friend very sagely replied, “I don’t think you’re going to convince her or I that it’s that simple. After all, the rest of the world will not treat her the same way they will treat your son.” My friend and I have both experienced life as women engineers, and we have both faced subtle and blatant sexism as a result. R has not had this experience, partially because he just doesn’t have that kind of bias himself and expects others to be the same way.
The issue has been tabled since then (after all, our daughter is still in utero, what’s the point of beating that bush?) but as a woman in science, reading about past women in science who have forged the path in front of me, I do wonder if enough progress has been made such that my daughter will get picked as a partner in machine shop class by a boy while she’s in college. I certainly hope so.