The State of Gender Norms and Why Fathers Are Demonized

May 25, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Following up on yesterday’s piece in which I added to Martin Daubney’s assessment of the state of anti-dad/anti-male vituperation throughout the English-speaking world (at least). Daubney rightly bemoaned same and placed responsibility for our widespread misandry at the feet of a radical feminism that’s never made a secret of its fear of and disdain for men and boys.

But, as I said, the causes of same run deeper than that. We’ve accepted women into the workplace and into all areas of public life, but when it comes to men emphasizing the private role of father, we bridle. Therefore, men in family courts who seek equal access to their kids post-divorce are routinely denied, despite what they ask being in their children’s best interest. At this point, the culture isn’t comfortable with men playing the traditionally female role, despite our promotion of women in the men’s.

The question is ‘why?’ Why, if we’re questioning traditional sex roles and acceding to the appropriate demands of women to branch out from theirs, don’t we give men the same opportunity? It’s a particularly pertinent question given the fact that, if we gave that break to men, it would help women achieve in the public sphere. (Just listen to Anne-Marie Slaughter who frankly admits that her success in academia and government was made possible by her husband’s taking up the parental reins.)

The answer is that the traditional female role is in decline while the traditional male role is not.

In the mid-19th century, what we now call feminism began insisting on a greater role for women in the traditionally male realm – the vote, expanded job opportunities and the greater educational opportunities that would allow them to achieve and gain respect in countless other fields, etc. That happened predominantly in the United States and Great Britain, which gives rise to the questions “why then?” and “why there?”

Plus, the women who led that movement were, overwhelmingly, not the dispossessed, but affluent, educated white women, raising yet another question, “why them?”

The answer to all those questions is that, at that time, in those places and among those women, the traditional role of women had become less important than ever before in human history. For untold millennia, women’s role had been the conception, gestation, birthing and care of children. That had been true of human females as it had been for countless other species of social mammals. And for eons, that role had been not only important, but the more important one for the survival of the species. Human infants are too fragile and take too long to reach maturity for their care to have been any but of the greatest importance.

But by 1847 (the year of the meeting of feminists at Seneca Falls, New York) much had changed to diminish that hitherto all-important role. The very success of the human enterprise, plus improved medical knowledge and practice had combined to place 1.5 billion people on the planet. The Industrial Revolution had increased wealth which increased leisure time. Improvements in agriculture had brought better nutrition to a larger group of people. Put simply, the age-old issue for every species – survival of that species – was, for homo sapiens, no longer in doubt.

Fast forward to today and the same is true, but in spades. Over seven billion people now threaten earth’s resources. Unique in our history, the danger to human survival is no longer too few people, but too many. The entire process of pregnancy, birth and childcare is far safer than ever before and children’s survival to maturity is a vastly better bet. And technology has made the female role much easier to perform. Everything from indoor plumbing to washers and dryers to daycare and improved medicine has transformed childcare from a long, iffy slog to a much simpler, quicker and more assured affair.

That of course is exactly what Betty Friedan was saying in The Feminine Mystique. For affluent, educated women, their traditional role simply wasn’t much of a challenge. Two hundred years previously, few women could have imagined such a thing, but in the mid-20th century, it was hard to deny, so it was predictable that at least some women would want more.

So why shouldn’t women step out from their traditional role since it’s neither as important nor as difficult and time-consuming as it was for so long? Conditions diminished the female role, so where were they to go except into the male one, which, interestingly, remains very much intact.

The typically male role of protector remains in the form of a nation’s armed forces, police and fire departments and family protector. We see the role of provider in everyday employment, the lion’s share of which is still performed by men. And we see the disposability of men in the fact that almost all the most dangerous jobs – commercial fishing, logging, construction work – are performed almost exclusively by men.

More importantly perhaps, industrial and post-industrial capitalism have at least one thing in common – the need to reduce labor costs. Bringing huge numbers of women into the workforce had the predictable consequence of damping wage rates for everyone, so bringing women into the traditional male role of provider was attractive to capital.

All that of course is contradicted by a man who shows his desire to opt out of paid work, if only partially, to spend time with his kids. He’s seen as not only abandoning his usual male role, but taking on the female one. Neither is in the flow of our present-day cultural current, so he’s demonized.

Note that Daubney’s other examples are of the dangers to men of taking on other typically-female occupations. Should a man want to become, say, a daycare or primary school teacher, he’d be well advised to think twice. As many men have pointed out, the danger of being branded a pedophile are just too great.

Both of those occupations are dominated by women and are rightly seen as extensions of motherhood. For a man to take on one of those jobs would be, once again, to be seen as abandoning his traditional masculine role in favor of a traditionally feminine one. Thus he risks not only being shamed but being jailed for his trouble. However it happens, the culture is expressing its wish that men remain men, even if women are doing much of what men used to.

As I see it, such is the state of the culture regarding traditional sex roles. We’re stuck with a political philosophy that preaches gender equality, but the far more powerful motivator is the draw of the masculine role at a time when the feminine one is retrograde. That dynamic “moves as the moon tides” beneath our consciousness, confounding our rational minds and branding us hypocrites. But move us it does and move us it will.




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Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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