Because we don’t ask the questions, are we depriving dads of the opportunity to share their challenges? Are we insulting men by implying that parenthood matters less than it does to their spouses?
Few things annoy me more than when we take the accomplishments of brilliant, creative, ambitious women and boil them down into a single, reductive, insulting sound bite: “Having it all = hard! Work/life balance! But you’re a mom! Priorities? How does she do it?”
It doesn’t recognize that brains and female reproductive organs can—gasp—not only coexist but function at the very same time! It assumes that Sandra Bullock, Wendy Davis, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, Shonda Rimes, Marissa Mayer, and Beyonce are made of the same anxieties and pressures because they all happen to be moms.
No one would think to lump Will Smith, Matthew McConaughey, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Jon Stewart, Jay Z, and David Beckham in the same “OMG, you’re a dad” bucket. No one asks them, over and over again, how parenting has changed their priorities, how their work lives are affected by their home lives, how having children has impacted the way they conduct themselves in the world.
But maybe we should.
Maybe the problem is not that this is what we talk about with women, but that this is not what we talk about with men.
The questions that we ask powerful women and splash across magazine covers are not stupid questions. They are not insipid, fluffy, useless questions. They are meaty! They are juicy! They are worthy of thoughtful discussion and debate. For the first time in my life I have friends who are moms (no dads yet, but it can’t be long now), and their newfound status as parents does change everything. To pretend it doesn’t, that life is just as it was before they built a new human, now that would be insulting.
But that’s exactly what we do to dads all the time. Rarely do you read interviews with famous fathers in which they are asked about work/life balance. Because we don’t ask the questions, are we missing out on half of the conversation? Are we depriving dads of the opportunity to share their challenges? Are we insulting men by implying that parenthood matters less than it does to their spouses? Is the reason men don’t share the guilt because we don’t ask them to?
Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Noah) was recently interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi on CBC and the conversation included this near accidental exchange about fatherhood and work:
Q: You’ve said filmmaking is a calling for you, that it’s your life, and that you’ve made big sacrifices to get your vision on screen…Where do you draw the line for yourself in terms of how far you will go to make a movie? How do you know when the sacrifice is too great for Darren Aronofsky?
A: I love hanging out with my son. I’m probably more selfish about time I spend with my son than I am with time I spend on set. That has kind of changed for me. I try to balance that. I do look up to filmmakers who have good family lives, and balance family lives. I don’t think I was that way before I had a family, I think it was all about the filmmaking. But since The Wrestler, I’ve been a father and it’s been OK trying to figure out a balance. I actually think that time away from the set, the project, and being knee deep in LEGOs gives you good perspective and separation. It allows you to approach the material in new ways.
Huh, well how about that.
We’ve got all the buzzwords—“family,” “balance,” “separation”—but the framing is exactly opposite to how these conversations unfold when the subject is female. Instead of the interviewer forcing the conversation toward “having it all,” Aronofsky takes it that direction himself. Instead of assuming that family comes first for his subject, the interviewer begins with the assumption that the sacrifice Aronofsky makes is to his art. Aronofsky is the one who brings up fatherhood; it’s like he’s answering the question he wished he’d been asked.
Read this not as a specific criticism of Jian Ghomeshi whose work I admire, or as specific praise for Darren Aronofsky. Let’s not pretend that the basic principles of parenting (i.e. playing with your kid) are wondrous accomplishments when performed by men and obvious and boring when performed by women. Men do not deserve kudos for reorienting their lives around their children, and women do not deserve guilttripping for the same. Read this exchange instead as a conversation I wish I heard more often.
Having a kid rocks your world, or so I’m told. We should talk about it, both intimately with our friends and on the record with movers and shakers whose stories get shared on broader platforms. Most people are or will be parents someday, and relegating the conversation about how that changes everything to the Fashion & Style section or Good Housekeeping does a monumental disservice to everyone.
What would happen if, instead of tsk tsk-ing journalists who pose the cliched “having it all” question to the Marissa Mayers and Beyonces of the world, we asked the same of Bill Gates and Jay? What would happen if instead of dismissing this conversation as anti-intellectual and uninteresting, we reframed it as one of the great human questions of all time?
What if we asked it of everyone who chooses to become a parent, and what if we listened to all of their answers?
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.