Gloria Steinem asked me to write this. No, really. After she finished her speech last night at Bergen Community College, she challenged all of us in the audience to do one thing for social justice today. I’ve decided to concentrate on something she’d said mid-way through her speech:
“We’ve proven women can do what men can do. So how come we don’t think men can do what women do?”
The (mostly) women in the audience snickered, and then applauded. I wanted to shout, “Because so few of them do it!” but people weren’t there to hear me speak. They’d come to hear one of the founders of modern feminism talk about how much has changed over the decades — and how much hasn’t. Though we’ve come a long way, baby, it appears we still have a long way to go, at least at home. And, according to Ms. Steinem, we won’t get there until men step up and do their fair share, because though half the workforce is now female, the majority of childcare and housework still falls squarely on our shoulders.
Many men still boast that they “help” at home, as though their involvement in everything from cleaning toilets to changing diapers to carpooling to lacrosse practice is optional, and, therefore, any such effort they put forth is just the whipped cream on the sundae. Case in point: When neighbors of mine took in three foster children in addition to their own son a few years ago, it meant driving to the school bus stop four times in the morning, and four times in the afternoon. When the husband did it for the first time, he announced, “I am a hero!”
“So when your wife did it every school day, twice a day, for the last month, was she a hero?” I asked. Later, his wife said she heard him telling the story on the phone. Apparently, I made him think about something he’d never thought about before: Men can do anything women can do.
Okay, so they can’t give birth and they can’t breastfeed, but judging by the (however paltry) increase in at-home dads, the number of men at the school bus stop, at Back-to-School night and on class trips, not to mention the increase in men at the supermarket since I became a mother 14 years ago, men can do a lot of things women used to handle all by their lonesome, whether the womenfolk have paying jobs or not. Are they all heroes? Or are they just keeping house like the rest of us?
Now more than ever, Gloria Steinem might be right — a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. With a third of women now outearning their spouses, and husbands creating an additional seven hours a week of housework for their wives, it’s a wonder young women marry at all.
Sure, there is an increasing number of enlightened men who don’t believe that nurturing (or scrubbing) chips away at their masculinity, who know that childcare and housework are important parts of anyone’s life, no matter what’s in their underwear. Some of them have even complained about the mom-centric tone of a web site called MommaSaid, and tend not to understand that our Housewife Awards are only half tongue-in-cheek. (But we are heroes!) But, even in 2011, even decades after women’s lib, there just aren’t enough of men who have stepped up.
Gloria Steinem said last night that there won’t be full equality until men do their fair share at home. I agree. Apparently, so does one of my neighbors, who told his son to one day get a flexible job that allows him the freedom to be at the school bus stop and much more when he becomes a father some day. In other words, he’s teaching his son that men can do anything women can do.