I recently witnessed a panel in honor of Father’s Day titled Dads, Dudes, Doing it, where four very bright feminists from different generations charted how their identities were shaped by the men in their lives. Gloria Feldt, Kristal Brent Zook, Deborah Siegel, and Courtney Martin parsed maleness from “a penis and a paycheck” to the encouraging preponderance of voluntary stay-at-home dads.
Dad day ’09 is history, but the subject of dads’ and men’s roles in families and feminism is exponentially relevant every day of the year. A fresh approach to fathering has bubbled up in our country, thanks, in some part, to a president who happily attends parent-teacher conferences and is unafraid to also be father-in-chief. His bold, demonstrative love of family is palpable and inspires both women and men. Even my husband uttered a spontaneous “aw!” while watching a montage of Obama and daughters laughing, cuddling, and publicly loving each other.
This bodes well for the role of men in a contemporary, more gender equal future. What doesn’t is this polemical throwback in USA Today written by the editor of Men’s Health, David Zincenko. I pity the women in his life.
The silly stereotypical folklore of a Jewish father functioning as merely a sidekick to a domineering Jewish mother can be useful here, because that’s exactly the anachronistic trope that Zincenko employs. The author of “The Abs Diet” and other neon-colored, body-obsessed volumes, casts the male lot like Woody Allen might – nebbish, and downtrodden, their progress waylaid by those pesky women and their nattering rights. He casts the male species as endangered and becomes a scorekeeper, tallying up women’s gains and men’s losses; he sabotages the new administration’s successes to make his point:
The Obama administration showed great eagerness in addressing the problems of women soon after it took office, with the establishment of the White House Council on Women and Girls. We applaud that move, and we now look for equal time for the males of the species.
When my brother and I were small, our mother helped us split a piece of cake in this fashion: one would cut, the other would be the first to choose a slice. It seems Zincenko is looking for fair-share tactics like these when it comes to the immeasurable needs of people. More men may be unemployed, lacking health insurance, and living with diseases that go untreated, but he wistfully divvies up these modern problems into the subsets of “male” and “female,” categorizing our woes rather than calling on all of us to do the hard work of fixing them.
His “he-Cession” and “he-covery” discourse is the exact opposite of what we need right now. Women and men must address these difficulties together, in our communities and in our own homes. Women and men are undoubtedly shaped by each other, but if we continue to partition the discussion into “his” and “hers” we will thwart any constructive efforts to repair troubles that ail us all.
The Myth of the Endangered Male