A few weeks ago blogger for the Motherlode Lisa Belkin wrote an article for the New York Times entitled “Calling Mr. Mom?” The article reiterates many of the same statistics as recent articles about the equality of women on paper vs. the equality women feel. No matter how you look at it women and men are still not equal in the work place or in the home.
While this may seem like a problem that is fairly current, at least since the second wave of feminism in the 60s and 70s, it actually was foreseen by the suffragists, over 90 years ago. Crystal Eastman wrote a speech after the vote was won entitled “Now we can begin”. In the speech she told women that the vote was just one battle in the war of equality. She said the fight for economic independence would be every bit as tough, but what will be even more difficult will be to have men become equal in the home. She said “It must be womanly as well as manly to earn your own living, to stand on your own feet. And it must be manly as well as womanly to know how to cook and sew and clean and take care of yourself in the ordinary exigencies of life. I need not add that the second part of this revolution will be more passionately resisted than the first.” She went on to talk about how men have been groomed to be “no good around the house” and it must start with raising boys to accept and seek out responsibilities in running a household and raising children.
I know in my own life this has been difficult. There are certain things that my husband does to carry his weight, he’s not bad at laundry and I think actually enjoys vacuuming, but even if he did exactly half of the “tasks” associated with running a household and raising children, it still wouldn’t be equal. Because, at least for me, it’s not the tasks of everyday life that can make me feel like my life is not my own, it is the mental gymnastics that I run through at every stage of my children’s life. Is their self-esteem high enough? Are they nice to others? Are other kids nice to them? Will they succeed in school? Will they succeed in life? And what am I doing or what am I missing that will make this house of cards collapse.
I had a bit of an ah-ha moment about a year ago. My daughter was on a traveling basketball team. My husband was a college athlete and since our kids were very young (too young some would say) I have always told myself that the sports thing would be his area. I would trust him to make the decisions about the level and kind of sports the kids would be in and to be honest he’s always done a great job with it. He’s coached whenever he could. He’s played with them in the yard and worked with them on skills. I have never had any reservations about his ability to handle this, until last year. I wasn’t completely comfortable with my daughter’s coach. He was a bit of a yeller, but even more than that he had a way of being disgusted with them when they weren’t playing well. I may not be the best at everything I have tried, but I always needed the adult in charge to at least appreciate my effort and at times I felt that this coach didn’t. So, I got very agitated as the season approached. Looking back I know that all of this uneasiness was caused by the fact that I was not in control. I was not driving this bus and I did not like the passenger seat. I did what I always do when I feel like I need to gain control. I researched. I Googled, I purchased books, I read articles, I met with people in sports psychology and coaching. I thought that if I got enough information about how best to coach girls, I could put together a strong enough argument for my husband to make sure that my daughter had the best experience possible. Well, needless to say he wasn’t open to any of it. He shut me down and didn’t read one word of the massive amounts of literature I had collected, even though I had highlighted the sections for him. I went a little overboard. During one of the first games, the coach had a mini-melt-down and was very vocal about how the girls were playing. It made me so uncomfortable I had to leave the gym. The second half the girls played much better and won the game. When it was over I said to my daughter “wow, the coach was really mad, I didn’t like how he was yelling at you.” She responded, “ya well we were playing terrible, we needed to be yelled at”. That was when the ah-ha moment happened. I realized that she doesn’t need all of these tactics I had been reading about. She doesn’t need to be told she is doing a good job when she really could do better. She really would rather win than be best friends with everyone on the team. She doesn’t need all of same thing that I do. She is not me and she is half her father. In some ways he understands her much better than I do. I don’t think we should push her so much, he sees that she needs to be pushed a little harder. While basketball may seem trivial, the experience taught me to critically think about many different aspects of this parenting journey.
While I agree with Lisa Belkin and Crystal Eastman that gender stereotypes and gender expectations will need to change and this will be a difficult road to travel toward equality. I think it is almost more difficult to see that we need to change ourselves, to give up some of the control and insight we have (or think that we have) as mothers and let the fathers take some of that burden. It is hard to get in the passenger seat and let someone else take the wheel, when you feel like your whole existence is banking on the outcome of how children turn out. But, if we don’t let fathers take charge of some of it, we can’t expect any real change.