On Gender Warfare and Dirty Looks

park, city, bench, leaves, basketball, fall

Sometimes it is best to pick your battles. And sometimes dirty looks are justified. Just ask Oren Miller.

When I first found this article on the Babycenter blog, my reaction was predictably defensive. After all, this is how it starts:

The discriminated dad has been getting his day in the press lately. There is a new story about stay-at-home dads almost every day detailing the unique issues that they face. To those gentlemen – you have my respect, admiration, and slight jealousy (for being able to spend so much time with your kid). That said, can you please shut up about the dirty looks you are getting?

There are plenty of charged words there, dismissing the difficulties of stay-at-home dads who want only what’s best for their kids, which in many cases means being accepted into parenting circles populated by moms who may disapprove of dads infiltrating said circles. Also, using words like, “shut up,” is meant to end the conversation, rather than to contribute to it.

That said, once my immediate defensive reaction to the article subsided, I had to admit he had a point. Sure, I wouldn’t have used these words (that may or may not be there only to get a reaction from a potential angry commenter), but I had to agree with a lot of it:

The gentlemen profiled in [an article the writer cites earlier] mentioned that he had to switch play groups because he didn’t feel welcome. Good. There is a fine line between sucking it up doing the best thing for your child and forcing something to work when you don’t have to. If people are not welcoming in a kid’s group, find a new group because the apple don’t fall far from the tree.

Damn right. If you’re not accepted by the other parents, then you’re better off without them, and more importantly, your kids are probably better off without their kids.

I talk about the way institutions and marketers continue to equate motherhood with parenting, while relegating dads to a secondary care provider status. This is bad for dads, as well as for the moms who are already often riddled with guilt for choosing to concentrate on their careers while giving up their “natural” place at home, and it’s bad for kids who may spend their days with two parents who feel judged and ostracized by the institutions and by popular culture.

Saying that, I’ve been at home for nearly six years, and I don’t remember any mom not welcoming me. Maybe I don’t look threatening, and maybe it’s because I live in a progressive area, but I’ve never felt unwelcome.

Well, except that one time.

I went to the park with my then-toddler son and infant daughter. I rushed there from home, trying to deal with two kids with different agendas, and finally, when we somehow made it to the park in one piece, I couldn’t help noticing the stares. Why was that? Why were they looking at me like that?

Two things came to mind. One, this was a class thing. The park was in Roland Park, where the rich people in Baltimore lived. And they could probably tell I was living in Hampden, where the working class people lived. Rich people can tell stuff like that!

Or two, I was a man. With a beard. I was a man with a beard, who dared to step into the moms’ territory, and these poor women had to share their precious park with a guy, and now they would feel uncomfortable gossiping about their nannies, or whatever it was these rich moms did. Yes, it was a combination of class and gender discrimination against me. And well, if they didn’t want me there, I didn’t want to be there anyway.

So I left about 20 minutes after I got there. And when I got to the car, I realized my fly was open.

 

This article first appeared on A Blogger and a Father

Image: Flickr/olo81

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About Oren Miller

Oren Miller was born in Israel, then moved to London when he was 22 to become a rock star. After his bass guitar was stolen, he quit the band to follow his American girlfriend to Maryland, got himself two Pit Bulls, made two babies, and started a blog. Other than blogging for Blogger Father, he has written for the Baltimore Sun and for Redbook magazine.

Comments

  1. Will Best says:

    I am not a SAHD but I do have a flex schedule so I am around a fair bit to take kids to park district activities, the park, pick up from school, and field the occasional play date. So I know the look and I have even experienced real discrimination by the moms. I find the looks more humorous than anything else, but then I am comfortable with myself. I suspect if I wasn’t they would bother me more. The actual discrimination is unfortunate but what can you do, world is full of people that discriminate. Case in point the author of this article.

    “Damn right. If you’re not accepted by the other parents, then you’re better off without them, and more importantly, your kids are probably better off without their kids.”

    First, damning the child for the “sins” of the parent. Classy

    Second, you won’t ever change somebody’s preconceived notion of you unless they have a chance to see what you are all about

    Third, I am sure the segregation lesson you are teaching your children about how to handle people that are different squares with the values you profess to have.

    If those kids are not on the surface criminals, and your kid wants to play with them. Suck it up. Its only for a couple years. Then they can hop on their bikes and head to their friends house on their own and you don’t have to deal with the parents past a text message exchange “did they get there?” “yeah” “thanks”

    • I wouldn’t say I’m terribly intelligent, but you know, I went to college and stuff. Yet I have no idea when you’re being sarcastic and when you’re being honest. I can tell you think I’m not classy. Then on the second point, I don’t think you’re being sarcastic. Then, on the third one, you lost me. I tried.

      • Will Best says:

        You are correct. I don’t think you are classy. #2 is not sarcasm. And to elaborate on #3.

        When you don’t let your kid play with children because their parents don’t share the same ideals as you, what message does that send your kid? I would think it sends the message, we don’t associate with people that don’t share our beliefs. You are basically telling your kid to segregate.

  2. HAHAHAHA. I belly laughed for a solid ten seconds after reading the ending. Well done.

  3. I’ve been a front-line caregiver for over ten years and have experienced the same curious stares from moms. I’ve also been accepted into their lairs, so I’ve seen both sides. The bigger issue here is not so much how dads are perceived, it’s the double-standard; women would never be chastised for venturing ANYWHERE with their children. Full stop.

    • “Lairs” — That’s funny.

      The thing is, I don’t think the double standard is the bigger issue. Sure, there is a double standard that comes from mostly irrational fear of men, but the negative effect is not on men/dads, but on our kids, whose social lives are more limited than they could have been. I don’t care about some kook chastising me–hell, I wait for that one stranger’s comment that will set me off on a rant, but with or without the chastising, we can still go wherever we want to go as men and as dads. Our children’s activities may be limited because they’re with us, and this may be a real issue in a smaller town, but otherwise, I still don’t think any of it is a big deal.

      • While I can agree that the bigger negative effect is on kids I have to disagree there is no negative effect on men because of this. Alienating men because there are men doesn’t do a lot of good when its happening at the same time we see calls for men to “step up” in parenting. Not too different from calling for women to get into the career place but then still treating them like an invading force. Can’t have it both ways.

  4. John Anderson says:

    So would a guy staring at a woman suffering a clothing malfunction be justified or would they be a perv?

  5. John Schtoll says:

    SAHD have really issues and people who are supposed to be in their corner making light of those issues just serves to reduce their issues to jokes and therefore are not to be taking seriously.

    • SAHDs have real issues. Many of these issues are shared with our SAHM sisters-in-arms. I’m brain-dead most of the time, because I usually feel like raising two kids and spending most of the day with them only works if I’m on auto-pilot. I put my life on hold, and if and when I return, I will have to pretty much start from the beginning in a world that has moved on without me. And there might be real issues that only SAHDs face. That doesn’t mean we can’t make light of a silly incident with a bearded man, angrily walking around the playground with his fly open.

  6. Change gender to race and see how that sounds?

    “The gentlemen profiled in [an article the writer cites earlier] mentioned that he had to switch play groups because he didn’t feel welcome. Good. There is a fine line between sucking it up doing the best thing for your child and forcing something to work when you don’t have to. If people are not welcoming in a kid’s group, find a new group because the apple don’t fall far from the tree.”

    Discrimination based solely on gender? Plenty of men didn’t feel comfortable with women in the workplace, especially at THEIR workplace, would you say it’s good that these women don’t feel welcome and have to find another job too?

    • I don’t think it’s the same thing. Well, first of all, yes, if a group doesn’t want me or my kids because our skin is more pink or brown or because we belong to different religious groups, then of course my kids are better off without them. I just don’t think it’s the same thing. Institutionalized discrimination against men may exist in family courts, but I’m not going to compare custody issues to playgroup inconveniences, and definitely not to institutionalized, deep-seated racism. No.

      • “I just don’t think it’s the same thing. Institutionalized discrimination against men may exist in family courts, but I’m not going to compare custody issues to playgroup inconveniences, and definitely not to institutionalized, deep-seated racism. No.”

        Ugh, ok let me school you. There is a pedophilia hysteria, a simple accusation can severely mess up a man’s life. There are far less men entering child-related professions such as schooling, and children are growing up with far less male role models. There are so few male teachers now that it’s not hard for a child to never have a male teacher. Discriminating based on gender is helping cause these problems.

        A young girl died because she wandered off and fell into a lake, drowned. A guy had seen her alone but didn’t want to help out because people might think he was a pedo (he didn’t see her fall into the lake). A lot of guys I know are afraid to be around children more n more. A man was on the phone checking his stocks, a woman complained n accused him of being a pedophile and he was interviewed by police IN FRONT of his OWN kids, he was there watching over them and checked his phone for a little bit. Things that men do get seen as horrible, yet women can do the same and it’s all hunky dory ok.

    • Discrimination based solely on gender? Plenty of men didn’t feel comfortable with women in the workplace, especially at THEIR workplace, would you say it’s good that these women don’t feel welcome and have to find another job too?
      Exactly.

      Sure those women could probably go find another job just as those dads could find another play place for their kids but at the same time I don’t think anyone would seriously entertain the notion that its okay for men to give women strange looks and judge them as disruptive simply because they are women, even if she came to work on the first day with the top button on her shirt undone which cause extra cleavage to show.

      • Of course, but you just can’t compare work discrimination that limits women’s life-choices to being shut out of playgroups. When women are being paid less or being made to feel bad at work simply because they are women, it influences their lives and the lives of their families. There are similarities in the way groups guard their perceived spheres, but the implications are different. A woman who is pushed out of a job loses a life-opportunity, while a man pushed out of a playgroup is probably better off.

        • I’m not trying to say that the two of them are not the same but I do believe that both are pretty serious problems. Just because the implications aren’t the same doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be seen as a big deal when this happens to dads.

          Just as I think that work places should be more welcoming of women playspaces should be more welcoming of men.

          A woman who is pushed out of a job loses a life-opportunity, while a man pushed out of a playgroup is probably better off.
          Then who is to say that that woman isn’t better off by not working at that job? If the dad can go find another play space why not just tell that woman to find another job?

  7. It may have been the closest they’ve been to a penis in a long time.

  8. Hi Oren,

    If the worst of it is that you get a few stares, I’d say that you are doing all right.

    It’s easy to jump to an incorrect conclusion when we see things through wary eyes. We are on guard for the worst, so we recognize the slights even when they are not there. When we moved to a rural area from the big city in 1998, I brought my NY spidey sense with me — always on the lookout for potential trouble. One day, while pulling up to my house, I saw a car parked across the street with two guys looking at my house. I pulled into my driveway and immediately approached the car in a combative way. “What are you doing!?” It turns out that they were remodeling there house and admiring the way the builders installed the eaves on my house, or something like that.

    Like with your zipper incident, I exposed myself (pun intended) by how I reacted.

  9. I suggest reading Men On Strike by Helen Smith. For the last 40 years men have been told that we
    are all potential rapists/pedophiles/abusers, and the message has sunk in. This is why many men
    are opting out of activities involving children because they don’t want to be seen as a pervert. There
    was a man in England named Clive Peachey who was afraid to stop and help a two year old girl he
    saw wandering by herself. She then walked into a pond and drowned. People were quick to blame him
    instead of the daycare workers who were not watching. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  10. It’s territorial; parenting is female territory and, in my experience, very cliquey. That’s hard for guys to break into. I’ve been spoken to in an incredibly patronizingly way by mothers who look upon hands-on fathers with disdain. It’s a prehistoric attitude but you know what? Women faced the same struggle when they tried to even up the career path. So in many ways, they should know better.

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