“I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.”- Emma Watson
The famous actress and Ivy League graduate uttered those spectacular words in an address to the United Nations last week. Watson, a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, gave an impassioned speech calling on men to join women in the battle for gender equality. But in the process, she spoke about the importance of dads, the gender stereotypes that exist for men, and the reasons both sexes have to speak up for one another.
And her timing couldn’t have been better.
This weekend, I waded into unexpected controversy regarding this very topic at the unlikeliest of places – a Massachusetts apple orchard.
As my wife and two sons dutifully joined me in the most quintessential of New England activities, we paid our money and eagerly set out toward the tractor that would bring us to the honeycrisp, macoun, and gala apples we love so much. But before we could hitch our ride we had to stand in line, giving my 6-year-old – a first-grader with a voracious appetite for reading – time to show off his budding skills by reading every single sign in sight.
Except this particular sign was one I wish neither of us had seen (and not just because the font was Comic Sans). It said “All Children (And Dads) Must Be With An Adult At All Times.” My son was confused, and asked me if “daddies have to be watched like kids.” I was confused as well, wondering how a “family friendly” farm could be so tone deaf in taking an unnecessary potshot at fathers (who double as paying customers).
At that point I knew two things: 1) I was going to firmly but respectfully call them on it via their Facebook page and ask them to reconsider, and 2) I was going to get absolutely slammed by angry Internet zealots upset about “political correctness.”
“You’re a whiny [expletive]!”
“You’re such a pansy!”
“Get a sense of humor. PC people like you are what’s wrong with this country!”
And those were the polite ones that didn’t insult my physical appearance, my wife, or my children. But as someone who has tackled this topic before, I expected every bit of it.
Unfortunately, this is usually what happens when men speak out against negative and harmful stereotypes that cast dads as overgrown children and second-class parents. We’re told to “suck it up and be a man.” We’re told we should shut our mouths because there are more important issues on which to focus. We’re even told there’s a lot of truth in those old stereotypes, because many dads are like children and do need supervision.
Look, this sign is not the end of the world and it’s far from the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen. But you have to understand the mixed messages fathers get nowadays, and how negative the cumulative effect can be when the bar for dads is set so low.
Men are roundly criticized for working too much and spending too much time away from home, yet many people are suspect of stay-at-home dads and routinely stigmatize them as lazy freeloaders. People call for fathers to spend more time on the home front in an effort to be equal partners in parenting, yet dads who seek out paternity leave or flexible scheduling do so while risking their advancement and earning opportunities, because many employers believe such actions show an employee less dedicated than his counterparts.
It gets even worse in the media. Huggies thought incompetent dads were the “ultimate test” for their diapers, Clorox put dads on par with house pets, and Ray Romano’s character in “Everybody Loves Raymond” constantly had to be bailed out by his wife, making him the gold standard of what not to do if you want to be an involved dad.
On one hand we’re told we need to be more involved, but at the same time we’re routinely bombarded with messages on TV and in advertisements showing dads as bumbling morons and second class parents. And as Watson pointed out, that kind of attitude isn’t just bad for men. It’s damaging to women as well.
If dads take on more work at home, more women can choose to pursue careers. As for working moms, it allows them to get out from under the so-called “Second Shift,” in which they work and then have to come home to handle the bulk of household and childcare related tasks. The upside is children benefit from time with both parents, men start to become more equal partners in parenting, and women gain ground in the gender equality department.
To the orchard’s credit, they agreed to take the sign down. I’m positive the slight to dads was unintentional and not malicious, but I stand by the decision to address it publicly because shedding light on an issue is the only way to implement change.
It’s not whiny to offer valid criticism and it’s not effeminate to speak up for change. And if Emma Watson is brave enough to speak up even in the face 4Chan bullies* threatening to release nude pictures of her, I’m more than happy to be called a “spineless lib-tard crybaby” if it helps even a few more people break down gender stereotypes.
I genuinely hope people heed Watson’s words, because she’s right. Dads or moms, it doesn’t matter. In the end it’s the same fight, and we’re in it together.
Aaron Gouveia is a husband and father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.
*UPDATE: That threat turned out to be a hoax.