Fathers Are “Hardwired To Be Dumb”

Once upon a time I was a little girl whose dreams didn’t solely consist of being a mother.

I was exactly one year old when Helen Reddy’s seminal “I Am Woman” song was introduced to the world. It was 1972 and, in that same year, the Ms. Foundation for Women introduced one of my favorite childhood books (with an accompanying album) titled “Free to Be…You and Me”.  Both of these events contributed greatly to how I grew up despite the fact that my parents held traditional roles of the time. My mom stayed at home to raise three daughters while my father went out and opened his own printing company. If I picked up on my mother’s frustrated domesticity it was quickly altered when she, with the help of my father, opened up her own printing shop and became her own boss. We girls were a bit older by then and were expected to work at her shop as well as at my father’s. This helped us get a sense of what the working world would be like and the family expectation was that we would attend college and become working women ourselves someday.

Fathers are nurturers, too

Fathers are nurturers, too

It is owed to that, then, that I am the feminist I am today. Our parents encouraged us to question authority, push boundaries, and tenaciously pursue our own interests. We attended dance classes and did some modeling but we were also expected to play sports to benefit from Title IX. Interestingly enough, Title IX was introduced as part of the Education Amendments of the year, you guessed it, 1972. All that is to say that I am a product of my upbringing and that all these things are great influences into the woman I am today.

What woman is that? you may ask. Let me tell you. It’s a woman who singlehandedly raised a daughter on her own and who has worked since age 14 when she had to secure a worker’s permit to do so. It’s a woman who has been the primary breadwinner for the bulk of her career. It’s a woman who, while in a committed and non-marital relationship, is the sole owner of the house in which her family lives.

All that is to also say that I feel like in the 40+ years I’ve been on this planet that I like to think we’ve come a long way regarding parenting gender roles and that men are as competent as women in household chores, cooking for a family, and raising children.

Except last night I wondered why everyone hasn’t also come that far.

20/20 had a segment on titled “D is for Dad and Dumb” with their resident “expert” Dr. Jeff Gardere which really ended up being a Lowlife Fatherhood reel. You may be familiar with this so-called “America’s Psychologist” in that he once said that Sarah Manley, of the blog Nerdy Apple, had “outed” her son when she wrote a brilliant piece about allowing him to dress up as Daphne for Halloween. Her post got over 1 million hits in 2 days and many people, myself included, cheered on this mother for ferociously protecting her son’s right to dress as he pleases. Her post opens with “My son is gay. Or he’s not. I don’t care.” and she shot down the judgment she was getting from other parents for letting him dress as a girl character. When she went on CNN Sarah got to hear Dr. Gardere say that having a gay child is a straight and homosexual parent’s “worst nightmare”, which he later had to retract.

Dr. Gardere hasn’t quite learned his lesson since I watched him say the following on 20/20 last night. The interviewer set him up poorly by asking, “Is there something with the hardwiring of the male brain that makes us just slightly less capable in this arena?”

“I think you’re being very kind by saying slightly less capable. I think we’re a lot dumber in some of these things. Yes, of course, it’s the way that we’re hardwired, we’re much more rough and tumble, we’re not as nurturing.”

How’s that, Mr. Flintstone? You studied psychology and how the brain actually works, didn’t you?

Sarah happens to be one of my Facebook friends so I got a chance to ask her about Dr. Gardere’s latest blunder. She responded with this:

I find it dangerous for a person using Dr. in his/her title to spout off regarding fatherhood and how men are subpar when it comes to parenting. Men are capable of being breadwinners, primary caregivers, and everything in between. It seems negligent for a psychologist to label men as ‘rough and tumble,’ and ‘dumber.’ It diminishes all parents, not just fathers. It’s misogyny via the backdoor. He isn’t directly saying women belong in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. Just that men certainly don’t, thus it’s the role women must take on for the welfare of the children.

Dr. Gardere has a history of saying things that don’t correlate results of studies or the psychological/psychiatric institutions. (having a gay child is not, in fact, every parent’s worst nightmare.)

I’m more concerned that as a doctor he is giving substance to those that already hold misogynistic or homophobic beliefs.

Fathers aren’t dumb nor are they incapable of caring for their children. I have scores of friends who are stay-at-home-dads who would disagree with his absolutely idiotic statement. I have sons who would like to be fathers themselves someday who know how to properly put a diaper on a baby and who are tender and nurturing with the children in our lives. For Dr. Gardere to perpetuate stereotypes of Ward Cleaver and to say that men are less capable than women is a lazy way of hoping that women will do all the work in child-rearing thus undoing all the work that I’ve been witness to since 1972. Whatever century Dr. Gardere is living in needs to kick him back to the present where dads are primary caregivers and where little boys who got to read “William Wants a Doll” from the Free to Be…You and Me found themselves in a much more equitable world when it comes to raising children.

Because there’s no room for you, Dr. Gardere. Fathers are much smarter than you can even bother to credit them so you can stop pretending to believe this dominant fairy tale you’ve been pushing. Because once upon a time, people believed that crap. The happily ever after turned out far differently.

Photo credit to John Ryan

Read more from Kelly at her personal blog, Mocha Momma Manifesto: The Giant Ball Pit of Life

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