Monday, November 25, 2013

The hidden sexism of preparing for babies

In preparation for the baby my wife and I have attended several classes. Last week we went to a class on breastfeeding. One commonality in all the classes was a couched (or overt) plea by the instructor to the expectant fathers to do more of the housework both toward the end of the pregnancy and after the baby has arrived in order to take that pressure off the mother (while she is finishing gestating and then is recovering and then is getting little sleep with feeding the newborn).

No duh.

While I understand the mother needs that break, I also think it's rather presumptuous in 2013 to assume those 1950's gender roles are still commonplace—especially among those people who are, as a couple, attending such a class. Even before we got pregnant I did the laundry, washed the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed, etc.; we both work and expecting that just because she was born with a specific chromosomal alignment she should be doing all that would have been patently unfair. I don't deserve applause for that; I'd merely argue any husband who expects his also-working wife to do all the housework deserves some level of condemnation.

But to assume those guys are the default for fathers in general seems sexist against both sexes these days. A simple fix could be the instructor rephrasing the plea as how the fathers will need to do "more" or the housework during this period, which at least suggests they were contributing to that before (because, let's face it, any Neanderthal who did nothing before—on the extraordinarily rare chance he was convinced to attend—is highly unlikely to be swayed by a stranger—and a woman at that!—saying he should take up that "woman's work").

The breastfeeding class was held at a private facility (started by RN's) rather than at the hospital, and unlike those other classes there were complimentary refreshments provided (in addition to good instructors, that's what the higher price gets one). In addition to cookies and Perrier there were chilled bottles of beer. Obviously those weren't for the pregnant ladies but for the accompanying gentlemen, and it was clear those were meant as an enticement for the guys to make "being dragged" to the class seem more tolerable (with the implication supporting your wife and being informed about the care of your child isn't justification enough to attend willingly).

I'm not saying I was too offended to take one—because, hey, free beer—but still, you know, all that sexism stuff. 

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