Brent Brookhouse joined an online stay-at-home-dad group for discussion and support, instead found a faction of fathers who railed against the stereotyping of men, while marginalizing and harassing women.
I’ve been afforded the tremendous opportunity to stay at home with our now ten-month-old daughter since her birth, thanks to my job as an online sports journalist. This turn as a stay-at-home dad is a drastic change from what I expected as a younger man, but it is an experience I would not give up for anything.
Still, between work and watching a very active baby, I have very little time for adult interaction with anyone aside from my wife. Given that I have no friends with children, I ended up joining a Facebook group for stay-at-home dads (SAHD in shorthand), embracing the opportunity to talk to other men who deal with the same situations as I do on a daily basis.
The group, affiliated with the National At-Home Dad Network*, did initially provide some interesting discussions while seeming to serve as a solid resource for questions and advice. While I didn’t partake in the complaints about spouses the way some did, I understood the value for some in venting in what they considered to be a “safe space.”
Where the group started to lose me was in what I felt was an increasingly negative attitude toward women. Complaints from women about stay-at-home dads or behavior thought undesirable often resulted in calling the woman in question a “bitch,” and there were several bro-tastic sexist jokes that floated around.
Where this strikes me as odd is that sexism and gender stereotyping is at the heart of the mission of the National At-Home Dad Network. If you want to rile up the group, simply find an article that calls into question the masculinity of a SAHD or brings up comments from strangers about “dad being stuck babysitting” or discusses broken or missing changing tables in public men’s rooms. TV commercials or online memes that depicted fathers in anything other than a glowing light stirred up similarly passionate responses.
So why, if bucking gender norms was of such high value in the SAHD community, was the same positive gender valuation not given to women? I bit my tongue for weeks as this behavior seemed to increase. Until the following post popped up:
We have a babysitter come every Friday to help out. She totally caught me looking at her boobs 🙂 #awkward 🙂
The post was accompanied by a photo of the babysitter from behind while she attended to the poster’s son.
The comments quickly filled with questions about how much trouble he’ll be in for sneaking “a picture of her ass” and calls for pictures of her chest so they could “see what he was looking at.” The original poster admitted to trying to get a picture of her “side boob” for the group. After explaining that she gave him “the look” and a half smile when she caught him—“They were hanging out!”—he posted another photo.
This photo showed the babysitter from the front/side as she folded a blanket. She was now in a tank top, as opposed to what appeared to be a three-quarter sleeve sweatshirt in the first photo, and the top of her cleavage was slightly showing. “Now you can see why I was looking at them it’s 41 outside and she’s wearing this,” the photographer explained. Ignoring that it likely was not 41 degrees in his house and the first photo showed her in a sweater.
After another joined in with, “If it’s that cold out, that shirt was chosen for a reason,” I finally voiced my objection.
As I tried to explain how creepy I found taking photos without her consent in an environment where she should expect to be safe and posting them on the internet and the corresponding comments from the group that her tank-top meant she was “asking for it,” I was met with a constant flow of “the weather calls for more clothes than that” or “everyone is just joking around” comments. This is a community of fathers. The idea that a babysitter—a role that many of our daughters are likely to eventually find themselves in as they grow up—is not safe from the leering and consent-less photos being taken by the fathers they are working for is disgusting.
I eventually linked to an article by Soraya Chemaly at Feministe, hoping it would get through to them. Chemaly deftly explained the links between photos without consent and rape culture:
People take pictures of girls and women, without their consent or desire, for public consumption and review, all the time. What does this have to do with conservative rape qualification and women’s reproductive rights?
To begin with there is privacy. Or lack thereof.
And consent. Or lack thereof.
Then there is volition,
and, yes, elusive-to-females, basic physical security.
This type of thing happens on a smaller scale to girls and women every day. Just a few weeks ago, as my early-teen daughters and I stood outside of our house, a truckload of men driving stopped to hoot. One yelled, “Smile for the camera, ladies!” and snapped a picture as they drove away. But, woo-hoo, it got even better. Behind them, in another car, an older man stopped to scold my children for wearing bathing suits, beach cover-ups, and flip flops for the walk to the car from the front door. “You see! You see what you did? Put some clothes on!” Bundling up in 98 degree weather just didn’t make sense to any of us for what would be no more than a 30-second sprint to the car. Clothing is irrelevant, of course. Even girls in hijab and chador have these experiences.
But the article wasn’t going to get through to men who, quite frankly, just wanted to bro out and claim that, “We’re men. It [sic] genetically programmed into us. Hence the reason they put in the commandment that says we shouldn’t want to bang the wife next door. Either that or the guy who wrote them was a pussy with a hot wife.”
That comment was the culmination of what ramped up to become a microcosm of what I felt had become my biggest issue with the SAHD community. Far too many involved in the community are men who want to embrace “genetic programming” and nonsense “boys will be boys” attitudes toward women while angrily shouting back at the idea of gender roles in parenting. The community should strive to be better than that.
As dads, we should push for women to feel safe. Push for our daughters to not feel that they can’t wear clothing in which they feel comfortable lest they “ask for it” through pictures, looks, or physical action.
And teach our sons, through example, that we are not the worst of our urges.
A note from the NAHDN:
The National At-Home Dad Network deeply regrets Brent Brookhouse’s experience with one of our affiliated private Facebook groups. He sought out a group to help him be a better dad, husband and man and we let him down. We did not effectively encourage our affiliate to moderate comments so all dads feel safe to express themselves. The comments he endured are grossly counter to the values of the National At-Home Dad Network and we sincerely apologize to Mr. Brookhouse for allowing such a disgusting conversation to take place. It is not who we are. – Al Watts, President, National At-Home Dad Network
Editor’s Note: Our apologies go out to the National At-Home Dad Network, which is a fantastic organization designed to support dads and families, for not reaching out to them before this post went live. Upon receiving critiques on this post, we reached out to them and will include any follow-ups they offer us in this posting and elsewhere on the site, should they choose. – Joanna Schroeder, Executive Editor.
Author’s Note: To be clear, my issue is not with the National Stay At Home Dad Network, they were only mentioned to establish the ‘legitimacy’ of the Facebook group. They are, in fact, a tremendous organization and we have had the opportunity to speak at length and I’m happy to hear that they have a plan for how they intend to address the concerns raised in the article. – Brent Brookhouse
Credit: Image—Jonas Strandell/Flickr