Friday, September 16, 2011

why don't we ask men?

The star of I Don't Know How She Does It, Sarah Jessica Parker, is on every talk show in existence this week promoting her new film.  From the reviews that have been trickling out, the film itself isn't that good, but the conversation surrounding the film is pretty interesting.  I almost always find SJP more engaging in an interview than in character.  She's a genuinely nice person, the kind of woman who makes others feel better about themselves.  And since she too has a pretty busy life, it's always a little instructive to find out a little more about "how she does it."

Yesterday, I was watching an interview with the cast of the movie on Anderson Cooper's new daytime talk show/Oprah void filler.  I thought Anderson brought up a pretty good point.  He said to Greg Kinnear, "I bet you've been interviewed thousands of times in the course of your career.  And you have 3 kids at home.  Have you ever once been asked, 'How do you do it all?'" To this, Kinnear replied, "Well, no I haven't!" as if he'd been slighted.  It was amusing but telling. 

This conversation left me wondering, "Why don't we ask men this question?  After all, working women are asked the question at every turn!"

I think a big part of the answer to this question is that we still fundamentally believe that women are the ones really responsible for parenting and raising children.  We accept that this is a fundamental part of the job description of woman, but we are slower to look at it as part of the fundamental job description of men.  I suppose part of the reason for this is that only women can give birth to babies and nurse them at their breasts.  There is a certain bond between mother and child that is unique and powerful.  And traditionally throughout history, women have often been the domestic managers, caring for children and taking care of the home.

But this is 2011.  If we are going to ask women the "How do you do it all?" question, shouldn't we be asking men too?  If we don't ask this question of dads too, we fail both men and women.  By relegating parenting primarily to the realm of the mother, we do a profound disservice to fathers.  For too many years, fathers have been made to feel that their contribution to parenting wasn't that important.  In a divorce, the mother often retains primary custody.  In marriage, wives often give their husbands the impression that they have no parenting advice of value to offer, we roll our eyes at our husbands and fail to listen to their perspective.  And yes, men often do have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to parenting, just because, through the generations, most of their fathers were not as actively involved.  There's a learning curve for active, involved fathers.  And there's a need for deep bonding with the child too; a man starts 9 months behind in terms of his relationship with the child.

But men have a different perspective on parenting than women, often providing helpful correctives and balances to their approach.  Their voices are important.  If their voice and influence were not important, God would have allowed women to spontaneously have a baby without the help of a man.  We need men.  I shudder to consider the day when science tries to convince us that we don't.  If that ever happens, we will be missing the balancing note of the universe.

So, failing to ask men "how they do it all" is bad for men.  But it's also bad for women.  Having been a working mother, I feel such a frustration with a system that penalizes women for prioritizing family and unevenly burdens her with the responsibility for the family.  The old guard of employers makes a woman feel her place is really in the home.  Simultaneously, the old guard expects men to stay in their place in the workforce, not offering much time or consideration to family. 

I am so grateful for a new generation of men who are now husbands and fathers and who do not ask this of their wives.  Men who do housework, care for children, and share the load of work and home.  Even as a mother who is staying home now, I have volunteer commitments and am attempting to re-launch my writing career from home.  And I need a little down time, now and then too.  I am so grateful to have a husband who is a real partner in life, who considers my goals important--along with his--and helps support me in achieving them.  He is a gift to me.

Let's start asking men how they do it all.  Especially those self-sacrificial men who come home at the end of the day and put their tired toddlers to bed and hug their wives and throw a load of wash in instead of putting their feet up and grabbing a beer.  They are heroes.  They should be acknowledged and appreciated.  And for those men who aren't doing their share, maybe it'll shame them into starting!


  1. Yes, exactly - I had the TV on while I was getting ready the other day and heard someone on some morning news show interview the author and director of this film, and all I could think to myself was "Why are we only asking women this question? Why is the baseline assumption that men can and do have it all (and have some inherent right to have it all, without the expectation of putting as much effort into maintaining the home half of it all) but women have to choose between work or family, or run themselves ragged trying to have both?"

  2. I think this is a good point, but it brings up another issue in my mind - men are more able to "have it all" because, other than in some workplaces, men aren't made to feel guilty for saying no to extra responsibilities outside the home. Men aren't guilted into helping run the church potluck, or teach Sunday School, or be a Den Mother for the Girl Scouts. Society as a whole accepts that men have a limited amount of time and resources, and then trusts them to make decisions about how to best use them. Women, on the other hand, are taught to help when we're asked, even if it cuts into other priorities, and we're taught that other people's needs supersede our own. It's like there's a cultural perception that others know better how we should contribute to society than we do. This makes the appearance of having it all a much stickier situation for women than for men. So, while I agree that some men need to step it up more in the home, I also think that we need to re-assess, as women, why pleasing others is such a driving motivator in our definition of having it all.

  3. Catrina, you put it so perfectly, I have nothing else to add!

  4. Embers, Ahhhh...pleasing others...yes, this is a big problem for us as women. Instead of doing what we feel called to do or what we are personally responsible to do, we take on a whole load of other things and then we get mad about it. Society's expectations are part of the problem, but even more importantly, we must learn to own our "yes" and "no."


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