Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Men Who Change Diapers Change the World

A couple days ago when I was walking to work I saw the title of this post on a bumper sticker. The timing was perfect. I had just been thinking about how involved R is and how much he wants to be a part of all this. But he has often been frustrated by the way the outside world perceives his interest. At my doctor's office, people treated it like a novelty that R decided to come to our first appointment. I think he has spent a lot of time feeling left out of the process.

It is not only the doctors, though. At his work, paternity leave is two weeks while maternity leave is up to 24 (with 12 unpaid). At my work, there is no paternity leave at all. It seems that men of our generation really want to be involved, they want to change diapers and wake up with the baby and feed them and be as much a parent as the mother, but the laws and culture are not catching up to this sentiment.

The law is extremely one-sided in terms of favoring the mother. Women get child support, alimony and full custody, while many men who have been left never see one dime of child support. The law will barely give a father visitation rights, but feels free to award mothers unreasonable amounts of money to support the child.

What message do we get from all this? To the men: please go out and earn lots of money and leave the nurturing to the women-folk. As much as these archaic ideas are unfair to men, they are deeply unfair to women. The message to women: your career is not nearly as important as your husband's/partner's and we do not expect you to be able to stand on your own two feet so we will write laws to make sure you get half his money. Women have control over their reproductive rights, but men do not. And meanwhile, if women do have a child on their own, the law says they could not possibly make that choice without being subsidized heavily by a man. Where is the equity in that?

As R and I become parents, I am struck by the different responses we get. My career, my life and everything about it are going to change dramatically. And while R's will also be turned upside down and I know he will be an amazing, attentive and involved father, all the big choices are still mine. I still get the "what are you going to do about work after the baby comes?" while no one has asked the same of R. My friendships with childless/single people are expected to change, while R's will likely remain the same.

I grew up with the idea that men and women are equal. That I could do anything a man could do and vice versa. But this is the first time in my life I have really been faced with just how skewed this country remains. And then I think about that bumper sticker. Sure, its true. But our laws, work culture and general attitudes need to change first. Men who change diapers very well could change the world. But the world has to listen.

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