Fatherhood and feminism: not a zero-sum game.

Kathryn Lopez posts a column this week about the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl XLIV: Brees after Super Bowl win was a poster boy for family. K-Lo notes that the winning quarterback for the Saints scooped up his young son in the aftermath of victory, holding him with both love and glee.

It’s an image America needed.

“Given that about one-in-four American boys are living apart from their dads at any one point in time, it is great to see a Super Bowl champion with his wife and son, and to see that this win is all the bigger for him for being shared with his son,” Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project said.

Elizabeth Marquardt, author of “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce,” and director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, isn’t a football follower, but she liked what she saw: “It bespoke an intimacy of real time spent together. Even in a football stadium of screaming fans the toddler boy didn’t look anxious. He knew he was safe. He was with dad.”

I couldn’t agree more that it was a touching moment. I too like the image of a father embracing his son; I like seeing unguarded affection between parents and children. We all agree it’s a lovely thing.

So what’s the problem? The folks K-Lo cites in her piece (and the organizations with which they are affiliated, like the Institute for American Values) are relentless in their insistence that fatherhood has been damaged by feminism. For the cultural right to which folks like Wilcox and Lopez belong, the empowerment of women has led to the inevitable marginalization of men. In the strange math of social conservatives, it’s all a zero-sum game: the greater the freedom of women to divorce, exercise reproductive sovereignty, and earn money outside the home, the less self-worth their male partners will invariably feel.

It’s subtle in this piece, but explicit elsewhere in the writings of the anti-feminist traditional marriage movement: the great lie that male responsibility is contingent on female vulnerability. Only when women defer to men, submit to men, allow men to take the proverbial reins — only then will men “feel” valued, feel needed. According to this tired bit of wisdom, men get confused and alienated when they are denied the opportunity to shoehorn themselves into a traditional masculine role. The notion that gender identity is a continuum rather than a dichotomy, the notion that men and women can possess different plumbing but the same skill set — all this is too much for the be-penised to grasp. Fathers have abandoned their families, the lie goes, because they no longer feel needed or valued as men.

I adore my daughter. My worth as her father is not compromised by the fact that my wife earns a good living outside the home. My wife relies on me as I do on her — we rely on each other to be there, to do what we say we’re going to do, to pick up the dry cleaning and the baby food when we say we will, to be faithful. The fact that my wife could be a successful single mother without me doesn’t vitiate my value as a Dad. The fact that the world wouldn’t go to hell in a handbasket were I to disappear doesn’t mean I don’t feel loved and important. My daughter needs me, and I believe her life is better with me in it. My wife and I love each other and are building a life together. But my manhood — and my status as a father — is not under attack in our culture, unless you buy the myth that insists that a husband’s dignity requires a certain amouht of frailty on the part of his wife.

So here’s to encouraging fathers to be present in the lives of their children. And here’s to recognizing that the greatest obstacle to making that happen on a wider scale is not feminism, or the culture, or the legal system — it’s our outdated notion of masculinity itself.

8 thoughts on “Fatherhood and feminism: not a zero-sum game.

  1. I don’t know from whence you are reading any of these things into this piece Hugo (FWIW, I don’t generally care much for K-Lo in general myself). I read it twice and don’t see them. You admit that you “couldn’t agreed more” with the basic sentiment expressed for what it was. I wouldn’t know what the “National Marriage Project” or the “Center for Marriage and Families” or any of its members stand for more generally from reading this, and, in any case I wouldn’t care, nor do I believe that nine tenths of the people reading this would. Was it really that necessary to dig so deeply in search of something to disagree over?

    On another note, interesting article in the Atlantic.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/201003/jobless-america-future

    Figured that some of the assumptions on gender roles implied or discussed and their implications under the current economic situation might be of interest.

  2. Here’s some background on my tofurkey with Wilcox:

    http://hugoschwyzer.net/2007/05/14/still-more-on-the-myth-of-male-weakness-a-longer-explanation-of-what-troubles-me-about-brad-wilcox/

    And yes, this is a bit “inside baseball”, I confess — it’s the idea that this is so-amazingly-wonderful-despite-the-relentless-assault-on-fathers that drives me nuts. But I’ve been reading K-Lo and Maggie Gallagher and Brad Wilcox on these subjects for years…

    Off to read the Atlantic article.

  3. I get it, and Wilcox’s theses, as far as you represent them, are pretty troubling (doesn’t expect much of men to say that we need to be “domesticated” by the churches and women).

    Stuff like this that invokes happy-face images like Drew Brees and son (or Tim Tebow and mom?) looks an awful lot to me like a tar baby one is being invited to pick a fight with. Without all the background, it just looks like you seeing a dad and his kid and being set off on some sort of tirade about unrelated matters.

  4. But my manhood — and my status as a father — is not under attack in our culture, unless you buy the myth that insists that a husband’s dignity requires a certain amouht of frailty on the part of his wife.

    I slightly disagree, but it requires a diversion into a seemingly unrelated subject.

    One of the premises being pushed (and accepted by the courts) to justify opposition to same-sex marriage is the premise that marriage exists to encourage “responsible procreation”: that is to say, the premise that marriage is a bribe states give straight men to encourage them to support their children.

    I find that argument to be a per se attack on straight male masculinity, and it is rife with assumptions about how the normal male doesn’t love or commit to his offspring.

  5. For men in realitively ¨traditional¨ relationships where the woman does the majority or all of the housework, the empowerment of women is a zero sum game. I would much rather be a single mother than have to take care of a child and my adult husband as if he were a child too. Hence, the man loses everything…

    If a woman is frail and dependent (emotionally or economically), she can´t leave, regardless of how tired she is of taking care of her husband.

  6. “The notion that gender identity is a continuum rather than a dichotomy, the notion that men and women can possess different plumbing but the same skill set…”

    Thank you. This is so great to read somewhere, that there are people out there, that there are men out there, who get it.

  7. It takes two to tango but only one to file for divorce or fight for sole custody. Having been married, had children, and gone through a very ugly custody battle for 12 years I am only to familiar with how equal our custody laws are and the people who want to keep things the way they are. Next time you talk with a feminist, ask them what they think of shared equal parenting laws or move away provisions and why their organizations consistantly have fought against them.

  8. Gosh, xyz, theres a lot of feminists here. You could ask them yourself. Though I guess that might lead to some uncomfortable discussions about whether it really makes sense to pretend that “Daddy pays the bills and Mommy raises the children” is something invented by feminists.

    On the K-Los of the world, I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory explanation as to why they’re almost universally opposed to same-sex marriage (c.f., David Blankenhorn’s testimony in the Prop 8 federal trial). They paint it in terms of lost fatherhood, but why aren’t they then in favor of two-father marriages? If daddies (but not mommies) are essential to a child’s well-being, why wouldn’t two daddies be better than one?

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