I’m not sure I’m cut out for blogging. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very cathartic, and always nice to have folks read what you’ve written. But the ability to some of my fellow panelists on the #scimom discussion to bang out interesting, thoughtful pieces a few hours after the event is over leaves me in awe. I took part in the inaugural Pub Style Science discussion on parenting and science careers, dubbed #scimom on Twitter. If you haven’t seen it, please do, it’s great. I can recommend it with a straight face because I barely say anything.
Everyone agreed that the most interesting take on the problem was Michael’s idea that both partners can feel like they are putting in over 50% effort and still fall short, either in the eyes of their partners or societal expectations. I’m not going to elaborate more on that, because Dr. Isis and Proflike already have in a more meaningful way than I can. Plus, due to an unfortunate choice of words on twitter, driven mostly by butthurt, I’ve already incurred the wrath of DrugMonkey and don’t feel like doing it again.
I’d rather address the renewed debate on the choice of #scimom instead of #sciparent, the underlying assumptions at play, and letting go of butthurt.
When the topic was first broached last month, Michael called it #scimom, and folks took him to task, myself included:
— Jeramia Ory (@DrLabRatOry) July 11, 2013
My issue with #scimom was predictable and self serving: I’m a scientist and a father, what about me? Me, me, me!! Ahem. For the record, that’s not why I joined the panel. I’m a dad who took family leave to raise our twins while my wife went back to work, and thought I might provide a different perspective. We didn’t get to that topic, so I mostly prattled about support networks and brought everybody down with the realities of the science job market.
Since this episode aired, others have brought up the #scimom issue again, arguing that if we want men to help out we need to support them and give them recognition. Which on the surface sounds fine, but in reality… is bullshit. For one, anyone who wants a pat on the back and recognition for being a parent is in the wrong business. If you’re lucky, maybe in 20-30 years your kids will thank you, but don’t count on it. For another, it furthers the complete skewing of societal perceptions of mothering and fathering as discussed by Proflike and Dr. Isis last week (I do read other blogs, promise). My favorite essay on the subject is by Michael Chabon, titled “William and I” (google it, you can find it in its entirety). I wish I could quote the whole thing, but it starts:
The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.
He goes on to describe a woman in the grocery store who compliments him on being such “a great father,” the only evidence of which being he is in public with his child and hasn’t let physical harm come to him. If his wife were in the same situation…
I don’t know what a woman needs to do to impel a perfect stranger to inform her in the grocery store that she is a really good mom. Perhaps perform an emergency tracheotomy with a Bic pen on her eldest child while simultaneously nursing her infant and buying two weeks’ worth of healthy but appealing breaktime snacks for the entire cast of Lion King, Jr. In a grocery store, no mother is good or bad; she is just a mother, shopping for her family.
He ends with a mantra that I try to read regularly, to keep my sanity:
But above all, there is intimacy in your contact with their bodies, with their shit and piss, sweat and vomit, with their stubbled kneecaps and dimpled knuckles, with the rips in their underpants as you fold them, with their hair against your lips as you kiss the tops of their heads, with the bones of their shoulders and with the horror of their breath in the morning as they pursue the ancient art of forgetting to brush. Lucky me that I should be permitted the luxury of choosing to find the intimacy inherent in this work that is thrust upon so many women. Lucky me.
Amen. Now, that essay speaks to me on a number of levels, but mostly I am thankful that in this day and age, I can choose to be a connected father and have the luxury to be with my children. That said, if I expect people to praise me and hold me up as an example, that’s just cookie seeking. It also reinforces the notion that men are fragile creatures when it comes to parenting and intimacy, and we’d best watch our tone and show respect if we want to more of them to join in the panacea of equal parenting.
What. The. Fuck? The only way to get recalcitrant men to take on more of the parenting burden is throw them a parade when they start to do things that women have been doing since time immemorial? When men show interest in something traditionally feminine they are praised, given a cute nickname and patted on the head. When women show interest in a traditionally masculine, they are vilified, called a poser and told to go away.
So what’s butthurt have to do with any of this? As a self-confessed progressive feminist, it’s something I fight with pretty much… constantly. Why do my female friends complain about men in my presence? Don’t they realize I’m a man? Don’t they realize how sensitive I am? How hard I work? How awesome I am? Me, Me ME! Give me my cookie, dammit!
I can’t know other’s motivation, but I suspect many of the calls for civility and tone on this issue comes from other sensitive guys toiling along without much recognition. To which I say… keep toiling. You’ll probably be called a faggot, a Gamma Rabbit, or unserious about your career in the process, but… you’ve made it this far, and you’ll be all right. After all, you’re a dude in a dude-centric society. The alternative, as DrugMonkey called me out on, is making elitist, douchey assumptions about other people’s lives.