Friday, June 05, 2009

Feminist fatherhood (and motherhood)

[I haven't written much on here about how I became a dad a little over four months ago. That's not to say that I haven't been writing - I've been keeping a diary for more than ten months, addressed to the baby herself - but that I haven't known how to write about it for more than an audience of two or three. But maybe I should try?]

Victoria, who's reviewing some books on motherhood, tells me that there's an assumption among those who write about (and attempt to enact) feminist motherhood that the mother should put herself first and not sacrifice everything for the baby. So I can only suppose that there's an assumption of a feminist partner (either another mother or a father) who is able to take on a co-primary caregiver role. (Though, as I understand it, the other partner's role often isn't emphasized at all.) The ironic thing is that many of the same people who write about feminist mothering admit that they don't know how to actually do that.

As for feminist fatherhood, it seems implicit that my goal should be the reverse – that dads need to learn how to put themselves second if not third, to the baby if not the mother. But I'm generalizing to a great degree when I say this - the practice of "feminist fathering" is far more amorphous and phantasmatic than feminist mothering. Amazon lists some 900+ books on the latter topic and about 125 on the former, but even this comparison is misleading - the "feminist fathering" search results includes many of the books that are more properly about feminist mothering, and the only result from among the first half dozen pages that is actually about feminist fathering addresses it in such a way that it calls the very existence of a practice into question: "Do Men Mother?" (What does it mean to "mother" anyway? And what sorts of limits does that place on fathering?)

But if I'm right to draw out this distinction, then it's also true that things rarely work out this way - and that, in fact, it's still often the opposite. Feminist moms can't fully extricate themselves from the mostly conservative models of motherhood they've inherited and the same seems true of feminist dads and fatherhood. (This might be why the book title above asks if dad can "mother", presuming that they need to cross-identify in order to find something worth imitating.) And while there are people in our lives that assert the need for Victoria to find me-time or for me to act more like a full-time dad, these are still largely exceptional moments. For the most part, our casual friends, colleagues, and co-workers will (uncritically and unconsciously, I'm sure) question Victoria whenever she goes anywhere without the baby and, conversely, assume that I should be free and flexible to drop things at a moment's notice. (Less often, there's an assumption that I can/should want to work more and make more money; Victoria is often challenged for not taking a leave from school and work.)

It’s hard enough to negotiate these ideals of feminist mothering and fathering when it seems as if no one knows how to negotiate them. But it's even harder when those people who should, you would think, be most supportive of these goals don’t realize that they’re constantly undermining them.


James said...

Hey, congratulations man!

Andrew said...

Congrats on becoming a father. That's great news!

neilshyminsky said...

Thanks, guys!