Saliha Bava and Mark Greene are aghast that the Wall Street Journal claims his testosterone won’t allow him to nurture his kids.
You can read the study here, for yourself.
The study indicates that those men who took parental leave, (their contributions at home were measured across a list of 25 specific child-care tasks), didn’t do as much child care by a long shot compared to the mothers, even in cases where the mother might be still working.
It’s an outrage right? The study’s authors, father and son team Steven E. Rhoads and Christopher H. Rhoads, go on to say that men don’t have the urge to nurture because of biological factors. The study’s authors state, “Males have more testosterone, which inhibits nurturing, and women more oxytocin, which enhances it”.
Whoah. Now wait just a damn minute. Let’s just hold our horses here, people.
Evolutionary biology is only one thread in the full tapestry of human behavioral studies. To invoke the purely biological, as a predeterminate to how a man will function as a father or as a spouse, doesn’t take into account the social cultural processes that inform gender identity and hence gender equality.
In other words, I’m not buying the following: “Sorry ladies. Back to the kitchen with you. I would love to nurture my young son, but I have to go manufacture some testosterone at the office.”
Shea goes on the note, “One woman quoted in the study broached what’s problematic about giving male professors parental leave, given the trends identified in the surveys: “If women and men are both granted parental leaves and women recover/nurse/do primary care and men do some care and finish articles, there’s a problem, though a problem with no clear solution.”
I took a peek at this study about how “men don’t really have the biological chops to handle nurturing.” And frankly, I’m little annoyed I had to take the extra time to do this, because I already had to get my son up this morning, dress him, get him his favorite pancakes ( I like to grind a steel cut oats and add them to the batter along with frozen blueberries), make his lunch (with a little love note to him I always try to put in there), look over his homework, and then walk with him to school. On top of that, he was feeling a little off today so I had to pick up some Tylenol for him. I told his teacher that he wasn’t feeling well and let her know that I had given him some Tylenol but to call me if he continued to feel badly. She said they were going on a field trip today, which I actually KNEW because I had filled out the permission slip a few days back and made sure to put it in his backpack, but it had slipped my mind because I wasn’t really tracking THAT part of the school schedule because today was “dress up like your teacher day” and we had decided to not do that because of my son not feeling 100% okay, but he was feeling good enough to go to school and see how things went…..oh. Heh. Sorry…. CLEARLY I’m digressing a bit here…
Anyway, the study states the following in the section titled sample: “5.5 percent (unweighted n=11) were males who had taken paid or unpaid leave in the past two years; 24.7 percent (unweighted n=49) were females who had taken leave in the past two years.”
I’m thinking this means the study draws its conclusions about men, male parental leave, childcare and fairness from interviews with eleven guys. Eleven.
Is the idea here that we can judge the validity of male parental leave based on interviews with eleven guys? And then on top of that we base our conclusions about these new dad’s success or failure on the completion of a list of 25 tasks? Tasks? How male is that? WTF?
Look, I’m not going to go too far into this, but when a baby is born to a couple, it is an event that changes every single aspect of their lives. It can cause extreme emotional turmoil for a women who has given birth. It certainly realigns every single process and function in the household. And it creates significant challenges to the emotional and sexual relationship of the mother and father.
This being said, the opportunity for a working father to live into those changes for a few weeks after a child is born is huge. Being in the house gives a father the opportunity to stay connected to his wife and to participate in the first weeks of his child’s life. This is extremely important. This initial bonding period can impact how connected and involved he is as a father going forward.
Whether or not he does 50% of the child care or 13.675% of the childcare does not determine the validity of a parental leave policy for men. It’s not just about who does the diapers. It’s about being in the home for the first weeks of the most life-altering period his marriage and family is every likely to go through. Personally, I would suggest that if the guy knows what’s good for him, he’ll change the damn diapers.
But, how the work at home and childcare is eventually divided up is an issue for each couple to work out. I’m not saying there isn’t “unfairness” here. But this study is hurtful to men and women, as it tends to generalize based on the narrow lens of evolutionary biology and judges success based on a list of tasks. This is the age old debate about the difference between doing and being. To gauge the relative “fairness” of a couple’s move into early parenting based solely on shared tasks doesn’t take into account a range of relational and interpersonal markers. There’s a hell of a lot more going on there than a list of completed tasks. Its about how the couple are co-creating a new way of living into their relationship with the arrival of a baby.
And don’t get me wrong. The diapers do matter. We all know that. We worked it out at our house. You can do it at yours. Personally, I took pride in scrubbing the bathtub and doing the laundry. I am proud to have done the dishes, changed diapers, taught, played with, and held my baby son close every single day of his life. As a Stay at Home Dad, I still care for my son. I take pride in it to this day. Damn right I do. The experience has fully validated me as a man and as a father. And personally, I feel sorry for guys who are forced to spend their days at the office instead of at home with their babies. Because raising a child places demands on you to grow as a person in ways nothing else compare to. Nothing. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to be here for my son.
But, really, Misters Rhodes and Rhodes, testosterone is not causing men to dodge nurturing their sons and daughters. The social factors that inform a father’s ability to nurture his children are vastly more powerful. Do we as a culture respect Stay at Home Dads or empower men to make that choice? Because maybe we should. With the rise of the Stay at Home Dad, I can assure you that a lot of men are raising their children with the same deeply felt sense of connection and nurturing that mother’s have known about for years. And it’s making us better men in the process.
Meanwhile, maybe you two should stop being so task-oriented and just give each other a nice hug.