Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gender stereotypes, two for one today only

Do I just not leave the house enough?

Monday morning, couple weeks ago now, I still had the rental car I'd used to drive Theo and I to Pennsylvania for the weekend, so I decided to take advantage and run to the commissary.

It was one of those perfect grocery trips. No crowds, lots of other kids for Theo to interact with and he actually walked with me and listened to me when I told him not to pick up glass jars from the bottom shelf.

Our bagger had a great time talking with Theo on the way to the car, but then came the question that every stay-at-home dad gets at some point: "...and Where is your Mommy?" The way she asked, her meaning seemed clear ... but I don't assume anything, and I'm polite even when other people aren't, so I gave the honest answer: "She's at work on the big ship, right Theo? We'll see her this afternoon. (Deep breath)"

"OH!" ... and then silence. I've heard this dozens of times -- The sudden realization that I am the stay-at-home spouse of a female sailor, followed by a fruitless attempt to find the right cliche or canned comment to make about our situation.

I'd forgotten about it by the time the car rental rep was driving us home. We were talking about our trip and I mentioned that we were both ready to be out of the car, after spending so much time together there over the weekend. She told me, "Well, you'll be really happy for that Daddy bonding time later ..." I didn't think anything of it, I just told her, "Oh yeah, we spend all day together, I stay home with him."

"OH!" ... and then silence.

I never let this bug me before I had kids. There's so few of us civilian male spouses, we just never make it onto most people's radars, so why would they have anything to say?

I try very hard not to feel slighted and I'm not playing the victim card here. After all, we're outside the norm and I just get an occasional silly question; my wife and other military women have had to deal with far worse stereotyping. And this isn't something that's unique to the military, I'm sure most stay-at-home-dads hear it from time to time.

Still, why would anyone still believe the underlying assumptions? They're either saying that Mommy SHOULD be at home, or else they're assuming Daddy wouldn't spend his days buying groceries, changing diapers and making dinner.

I guess I should be happy to be out there breaking down stereotypes, making it clear to the folks with preconceived notions that I'm happy my wife is in a career she loves and what's more I ENJOY spending all day with Theo and being the support system for a talented and driven Naval officer. I'm basically a 230 lb. kid, why wouldn't I love it?

Still -- not to beat a dead horse, since friends and I have been over and over the Mr. Mom thing -- I don't think I need to be happy about having my role minimized, as if somehow a man is missing the skills to be a good full-time parent and housekeeper.

In the end, my wife and I aren't out to make any grand feminist statements and we certainly never planned our lives to intentionally undermine traditional gender roles. We just feel lucky that we live during a time when each of us can have the job that suits our skills and temperaments. It's a wonderful feeling to know that even if I get a few weird questions and funny looks, no one thinks twice anymore about a woman in my wife's position.


LindaWright said...

Hi John,
I follow your blog to keep up with Jim & Michelle's friends and try not to intrude... for the most part.
Anyway, I want to know if I can have your permission to use your posting for my Ethnicity class where we are currently discussing stereotypes.
If you'd rather I not do this, I won't.
Oh yeah, and thanks for being a "supporting" spouse for a member of our military who is out there keeping our country free!
Jim's mom, Linda

JA3 said...


Great to hear from you! Thanks for asking, of course you can use the post in your class. Once it's on the Internet, there's no way to hide it from anyone.

Thanks for thinking of us, have a great holiday!

Melanie said...

Hi John,

I am so glad you wrote this blog this is my first time on here. However, you would be amazed at how people treat Javier when he is out with the girls by himself or just when I tell some people ohhh, he gives the girls baths at night. That is the only time he gets to be around them a quick play here and there and then its time for a bath. So, daddy comes home and gives the girls a bath and then reads to them!!! They enjoy that time with them, why should I take it away!!! People always look at me craaazzy!!! I know that you are a wonderful father and a great cook!!! I love you and Ruth to death!!!! I wish sometimes people would just keep there negativity's to themselves.

Thomas Litchford said...

It's weird that, while it's now considered normal, even positive, for a woman to have a career outside the home, people still find it surprising that there are men who stay at home with their kids.

Maybe I'm just sensitive to it, but I feel like I'm always getting strange looks from people when I'm at the park with Sean or having lunch at a restaurant. No one thinks twice about seeing a woman alone with her kids.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you say it's now considered positive for a woman to have a career outside the home. That raises some interesting some interesting questions: Does that mean it's considered negative for a woman NOT to have a career outside the home? I mean if it's considered positive to to have a career outside the home, then society is encouraging women to work outside the home, which can only be done by discouraging women to stay home. So in the interest of treating both sexes equally we must similarly consider it positive for men to have a career outside the home and must similarly encourage men to work outside the home. Do you agree?