This originally appeared on NYCDadsGroup.com. Republished here with permission.
Typically in my blog posts, I focus on the outlier status of being a stay-at-home father: We’re different; we’re outside the norm; other parents don’t trust us to host sleepovers alone; is there a correlation with stay-at-home dads and low testosterone; what is it like to be the only dad at mommy and me yoga/music class/children’s gym class/on the playground. As such, we cater to the ever growing, tight knit community of fathers who, for whatever reason, have found themselves at home in an unfamiliar position. What goes by the wayside is the fact that we are parents and part of a team, a pack, a family.
And that family is under attack.
I’m sure you’ve heard it every day, all over the news. The American family is under attack. And yet, depending on where you get your news, everything you have heard is probably wrong.
We hear that “gay marriage” is going to be the end of marriage. I have been married almost 15 years and have many gay friends who are now married and we all agree that the end of marriage is divorce. We hear that “Stay-at-home fathers lead to emasculated young men.” No, not just wrong, it’s utterly laughable.
There is a war on families and it starts with an all out assault on the fairer sex. Our women are under attack.
How does this relate to us as stay-at-home dads, or dads in general?
When we undercut women and their reproductive freedom, their economic equality, and basic protections in the workplace, we undermine the family and put our effectiveness as stay-at-home fathers in jeopardy.
There is a concerted effort to roll back the rights and protections women have gained over the last hundred years. Last week, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced it was cutting grant funding to Planned Parenthood. The decision was pointedly political. The outrage was immediate, the impact so harsh, that 30 years of groundbreaking work on women’s health issues were erased by 36 hours of narrow minded political hackery. This was the culmination of a year-long coordinated effort to destroy one of the only places where women of any income can get the kind of life saving care they need—all because they perform abortions—which constitutes a whopping 3% of what they do.
My wife once used Planned Parenthood as her primary reproductive care provider, as many women in this country do. Necessary procedures for women, such as pap smears and breast cancer screenings, constitute the majority of their work. We learned about STDs and were taught about effective contraception and family planning by Planned Parenthood. Yet there are those who call for the public hanging of these health care providers and a small, loud, myopic group of shortsighted individuals threaten to end this kind of care, putting all of our women in danger.
Before you say this is an isolated incident, please note that the day after the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation, there was a discussion about birth control on the floor of the House of Representatives. Birth control. At issue was the new provision of the Affordable Health Care Act that requires Insurance Companies to cover prescription contraceptives. The majority was not just arguing about dismantling this provision, they were arguing the actual value of birth control.
We’re debating birth control in 2012? Birth control that, prescribed by a doctor, insurance companies refused to cover as part of a woman’s prescription drug benefit, even though they cover Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and any other prescription to give a man an erection. We’re debating birth control that, when used properly, can prevent unwanted pregnancy, effectively lowering the incidents of abortion. The United States House of Representatives chose to debate birth control instead of jobs or the economy.
This war on our families includes a fight over pay equality. The Lilly Ledbetter Act was passed into law in 2009. The bill’s basic assertion is that a woman should be paid the same as a man for the same job. It seems insane that it was actually necessary to make this a law, and yet it still faces opposition. How can anyone realistically state that a woman is second class; that a woman deserves to be paid less than a man because of her gender—or, for that matter, that a man is worth more?
It is also perfectly legal to fire, without substantiated cause, a woman who is pregnant. Several states have targeted unions, which have historically protected employees from these kinds of abuses by employers. This leaves a pregnant woman, in the case of a dear friend of mine, a woman five months pregnant, without an income or health insurance. Since we tie health insurance to employment in this country, many women are forced to work because the medical costs associated with having a child require health insurance. (We have not touched on the fact that there is no paid maternity leave in the United States, something that differentiates us from every country on the planet save Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.)
How does all of this affect us as dads?
I’m a writer and actor. I work freelance and my income is not steady. I have no insurance save that provided by my union and it’s tied to how many weeks I am hired to work. My primary occupation is stay-at-home parent. My wife, who works in higher education, has a steady paycheck, great insurance, and ability to provide us with the stability we desired when starting our family. Organizations like Planned Parenthood provided us with health care early in our marriage and the tools we needed when deciding to have our child. Prescription birth control allowed us to have the child when we chose and not before we were ready fiscally and emotionally. As the primary source of income, we expect my wife to be compensated according to her ability, her education, and her skill—not her genitalia. We expect her job to be protected from the kind of unscrupulous tactics that caused our dear friend to lose hers, leaving another family to scramble in an economy where the same people attacking our families through harmful legislation or backwards corporate decisions are also actively working to dismantle the very safety nets that ensure none of us fall into poverty. Our definition of “family values” includes the institutions and protections that give us the freedom to raise our child the way we do.
On a bigger scale, this is a battle against our wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. It’s one we, as men, must join.
So how do we fight back? Vote. Be active. Find out how your representatives actually voted. Don’t listen to spin, get the actual voting record. Join local groups dedicated to protecting the health of women and mothers; to ensuring our women are equally paid and respected; fight to make sure we are always moving forward and never to the regressive past. Progress is what we strive for as stay-at-home fathers, breaking the conventional rules every day, proving we’re just as equal to the task as any stay-at-home mom, bringing our own set of unique skills to the table. Much in the same way our wives, mothers, and girlfriends do in the workplace.
Christopher VanDijk is an actor and screenwriter in New York City, husband to Angela and the stay-at-home dad to Turtle, a precocious two year-old who loves Elmo, pirates, and dinosaurs. You can follow him in the Twitterverse @skinned_knees and on the blogger machine at skinnedkneesinshortpants.blogspot.com.