Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Do We Need to Believe that Men Are Inept?

Patriarchal societies limit the areas where women can apply themselves and excel to the private sphere. Kinder, Küche, Kirche (Children, Kitchen and Church) are considered specifically female pursuits. The sphere of Church does not, of course, need women as pastors. they are only needed as sheep ready for indoctrination. The "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" scheme would not work, however, if women did not receive some compensation for limiting themselves to this sphere. The compensation that the patriarchy offers women for limiting their opportunities in the public sphere is the belief that at least in the private realm their competence is absolute and cannot be challenged by silly, incompetent men.

In this respect, a commercial of Hanes socks comes to mind. A woman comes home to discover her husband dipping their son's feet into a weird white substance. It turns out that the man is tired of  socks that don't fit and is using the substance instead. The woman rolls her eyes and takes out of the bag a pack of Hanes socks that she throws at her husband with a sigh of exasperation. This commercial presents men as fools who are so inept in the simple tasks of daily life that only a smart, competent mater familias can deal with these mundane problems.

The same happens with many sites, books, and articles that offer parentting advice. Here are some prime examples from an article that teaches mothers of newborn children how to handle and manipulate the father of their baby into loving the child and helping to take care of her or him.

1. "Your partner may feel less confident than you do in caring for the baby’s daily needs. He may want to watch you diaper, bathe or feed the baby before he tries to do these tasks on his own. Or you might end up learning these baby basics together. Either way, compliment his efforts, and see them as one more reason to give him a hug and one more moment when you can share the miracle of your infant." Now, why should any of this be true? Why should a man necessarily be "less confident" in attending to HIS child's daily needs? Why is it somehow assumed that a woman is born with the knowledge and confidence needed to change diapers and bathe babies? New parents, who never had an opportunity to change a diaper before in their lives, are on a completely equal footing when their baby is born. It is possible that the father will learn to do these things faster and better than the mother. Also, the idea that a man has to be cajoled and complimented into caring for his own child is very strange. The whole tone of this piece of advice suggests that the father is some sort of an overgrown baby who needs to be parented by his partner.

2. "Comments such as “He has your eyes!” or “Wow! I can tell he has your sweet smile!” help your baby’s father appreciate how much you love about him. In front of your partner, share the good news with your friends about the “family affair” that you and he have begun, a true partnership in parenthood. Doing so will send him a message that you need and love him - a sure way to help him feel great." The question of why a grown man (who hasn't just got through a pregnancy, hasn't given birth recently, and is not breast-feeding) needs to be helped to feel great remains unanswered. There is nothing wrong, of course, about saying the things listed here. What bothers me is the suggestion that they should be said with the purpose of manipulating men, instead of being offered spontaneously by BOTH new parents to each other, irrespective of gender.

3. "Put yourself in his shoes: You’ve been given so much of the attention during pregnancy; now it’s time for that attention to shift to how “we” are doing as a new mom and dad. Let your partner know what you’d like him to do and accept his telling you his needs too. This is new territory - although he may know which salad you like at a restaurant you always go to, he may not know how important it is to you that he give the baby a bath." Poor man, it really makes me feel sorry for him. He must have felt so neglected every time he heard people say to his pregnant partner: "Wow, you've grown so huge. How are you feeling?" He really needs to be compensated for all this 9-month long loss of attention. This inept fool is so concentrated on his feelings of resentment for not getting enough attention that he is incapable of realizing that a baby might need to be bathed periodically.

4. "Intimacy means different things to different people. But one way to boost your emotional satisfaction as a couple for the rest of your lives together is to marvel at the miracle that is your child. Set the stage now: Share your feelings about the baby as you bathe, diaper and hold her together; then never let those feelings go as your baby grows." Note the reference to "setting the stage." This is one of the most long-standing patriarchal ideas: the woman's power lies in her talent to play act and  manipulate. It's a great way to get what you want and feel good about proving that there are some areas where you are smarter and better than men.

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