A common complaint of women in the “traditionally male” workplace has been that it is hard to be taken seriously, and that we are looked upon as sex objects instead of peers. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way, and while we still face discrimination and sexism, we have established a formidable presence in the workplace. Unfortunately, women don’t always seem to have learned from that struggle when the shoe is on the other foot. Now that men (like my husband) are trying to get a foothold in the “traditionally female” world of stay-at-home parenting, they are finding… surprise, surprise… that they aren’t being taken seriously, and, if you are to believe this article by Ellen Himelfarb, they are being looked upon as sex objects.
Himelfarb’s article talks about how, as a stay at home mom who goes on play dates with stay at home dads, she finds the sexual tension highly problematic and awkward. She describes one dad (who works both from home and the office) as being so flustered by this tension that he goes “to great lengths to avoid play dates with me, stammering excuses and pretending not to hear the doorbell...” I don’t mean to be rude to Himelfarb (who I am sure is an incredibly sexy woman that men cannot resist), but isn’t it possible that this man is avoiding play dates for reasons other than his not being able to trust himself around her? After all, if this man is indeed so controlled by his libido that he can’t spend an hour with a mom and her kids, he must have a terrible time at the office where he is surrounded by attractive women in flatteringly tailored business suits (who don’t have kids snotting on their legs, either!). More than likely, I would wager this man is avoiding play dates for another reason… he could be shy, the kids could have had a falling out, or maybe he can sense Himelfarb’s discomfort.
Himelfarb also says these plays dates are awkward because she doesn’t find the same rapport with dads that she does with moms. This statement reminds me of the kind of lame excuses men used to give for not wanting to work with women; excuses I’ve found to be untrue. I’ve been employed by male-dominated industries and my male coworkers had absolutely no problems not only working with me, but becoming my friends. We just found common ground and went from there – just like I do with any other person I deal with in life, regardless of their sex. Think about how much in common stay at home moms have with stay at home dads! They both spend all day running around after their kids, both struggle to get their kids to nap, and both are very tired of watching cartoons (just to name a few of a myriad of examples).
I don’t want to be hard on Himelfarb. I saw “Little Children” too, and the stay at home parent affair between Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson was steamy enough to be burned into my brain forever. But, it was the moms who were sexualizing Patrick Wilson, and it was Kate Winslet’s character who started the affair by planting a kiss on him out of nowhere. All Patrick Wilson’s character wanted was to be taken seriously as a dad, and that is all my husband and the other stay at home dads I know want as well.
If men (for the most part) can accept women as equals in the workplace, women need to accept men as equals on the home front as well. So here’s my suggestion to Himelfarb… don’t say no to a play date just because the parent coming along is a man. Treat him like you would a fellow mom. I bet you’ll find that you enjoy yourself because stay at home dads can be a lot of fun to talk to. Mine can discuss “Glee,” diapers, and bedtime trials with the best of ’em. Because he’s a parent – just like you.