Redefining gender roles in parenting and what it means to be a father.
What is the Role of a Father?
With Father’s Day coming up this June, it is the perfect time to acknowledge the consequences of enforcing strict, parental gender roles. Although there are no longer laws prohibiting women in the workforce or preventing men from staying home, the stigmas are still present.
When I ask you to think of Mother’s Day, I assume you envision a bouquet of flowers sitting on the kitchen counter and a warm cup of coffee in the morning. Father’s Day, on the other hand, is characterized by buying your dad a new screwdriver or some other masculine gift. Although these clichés seem minuscule in the grand scheme of things, they represent a large-scale issue of rejecting femininity in men and enforcing inflexible gender roles in parenthood.
Throughout the years, the role of a father has been skewed in a negative direction. This can, and should, be changed.
The Dangers of Fixed Gender Roles in Parenting
On this blog, we’ve often discussed the consequences that defined gender roles have on women. By forcing women–specifically mothers–into the box of a “homemaker,” their professional success is hindered, and their ideas are not often taken seriously in the workplace. However, the dangers of gender roles do not only apply to women, but to men as well.
A study on men’s mental health performed by Can J. Psychiatry found that a leading cause of male suicide was job instability and unemployment. Men fear the perils of unemployment at a significantly higher rate than women, reflecting the outdated, unspoken rule that men must be the breadwinners. With the pressures society places on men to maintain the household financially, it is no surprise high suicide and depression rates would follow.
Fixed gender roles are also seen in divorce, as 80% of fathers do not have custody of their children after separation. These low rates of paternal custody, due to the fact that fathers are seen as the less involved parent, can account for the higher rates at which men face depression post-divorce.
Additionally, the United States provides no federal paternity leave, placing them behind numerous developed countries. The Family Medical Leave Act, which provides job-protected leave after the birth of a child, issues paid leave for only around 60% of Americans. This leaves fathers everywhere to be forced to take the back seat when it comes to parenting.
Throughout history, the role of a father is seen as inferior to the role of a mother. By reversing this mindset, we will alleviate the stress on a mother to be the sole parent, allow all couples full control over the allocation of employment and economic pressures, and give fathers everywhere the appreciation and opportunities to the parent that they deserve.
Destigmatizing Femininity in Men
An integral step in reversing the societal gender roles enforced in parenthood is destigmatizing femininity in men, therefore allowing masculinity and femininity to disassociate from gender. Men do not need to be solely masculine and women do not need to be fully feminine; however, male femininity is continually ridiculed and punished.
A 2018 article from the Harvard Business Review outlines male penalization for straying from the gender norm of masculinity. Stereotypical “feminine” traits in men, such as niceness, are associated with an 18% lower average income and the label of being less competent and hirable. Similar statistics are seen when analyzing crying, modesty, and feminist behavior. This causes men to fear demonstrating feminine traits, which only continues to reinforce gender roles.
Since men are apprehensive about being perceived as feminine, they are prone to mock men with such characteristics, creating a vicious cycle. Furthermore, this fuels misogyny, as men are taught to look down upon femininity. Luckily, with the increasing acceptance of male femininity, society can enable men to break down the outdated gender roles that have long categorized parenting roles for so long.
Together, we must destigmatize stay-at-home fathers, advocate for equal co-parenting, and break the strict gender norms that hurt mothers, fathers, and anyone in between. We must value men as caregivers equal to women just as we must value women as providers equal to men. A new type of parenting is on the rise–one that promotes harmony, balance, and optimizing both parents. So, this Father’s Day, consider buying your dad a bouquet of flowers.
Sydney Gilmore is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh Honors College majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Studio Arts and Chemistry. She is deeply passionate about issues surrounding women’s empowerment, the struggles of Asian-Americans, and women in