This is a guest post by Lucinda Hancock.
Recently I’ve been trying to live with more respect for my husband’s role as a father. It’s embarrassing, but for many years of my marriage I bought into ideas that effectively consider men to be ‘defective’ women. This has been most stressful in our relationship as parents. Fathers are men and the failure of our society to be reasonable about gender has made it difficult know what that means.
Last October I was surprised by new wording on the birth-certificate application. Instead of “mother” and “father”, it used “parent 1” and “parent 2” with gender selection boxes for each parent. I’d actually heard people talk about this kind of thing happening, but when you’ve just given birth, and you have to put your name under “parent 1” and state that you are female, it really sticks out how you are contributing to a socially constructed fiction, like there is nothing objectively female about the event of giving birth. And I can’t imagine anyone fighting to be called “parent 1” or “parent 2”. Frankly it would be more consistently non-specific just to go with Dr. Seuss’s “thing 1” and “thing 2”.
So here we are, in a society that seems to be gleefully attempting to erase observable and factual differences between the sexes in the area most pertinent to the fact of gendered existence, that is, in reproduction and parenting. The question is whether such ideas can answer and guide actual parents who are anxiously seeking to know about best parenting practices for the sake of their children. Many men and women have no idea how to agree on important details because there is no room to allow for differences between moms and dads.
The research is clear that fathers matter, but for the most part, we are uncomfortable acknowledging the particular and gendered differences that make fathers so important. Much of the analysis seems to bring out the economic poverty suffered in many single-mother families, but this view often gives the impression that having a dad is all about increasing the income of a family, and fails to give adequate insight about why a dad matters even if he fails to prosper economically. Even more than that, our failure to convey workable guidance based in reasoning about gender is pushing many viable marriages and families to the breaking point, as husbands and wives struggle to hash out important details of unity.
Who is right?