Emotional Health · Family & Friends

Fatherhood: A Changing Picture?

  1. Equity

Women and men have different feelings about equity in general, it turns out. The New York Times writes, that men and women typically experience unfairness in different ways:

“ Inequality makes everyone feel bad. Studies have found that people who feel they’re getting away with something experience fear and self-reproach, while people who feel exploited are angry and resentful. And yet men are more comfortable than women with the first scenario and less tolerant than women of finding themselves with the short end of the stick. Parity is hard, and this discrepancy lays the groundwork for male resistance.”

In other words, women are harder on themselves when they get a pass than men, and they are less angry when they feel exploited. Men also tend to overestimate their contributions while women underestimate themselves, as a rule.

  1. Power

Men have traditionally been more comfortable using the dynamics of power. They enjoy winning, and make things competitive even when unnecessary. Even in social interactions, men sometimes act as if they are trying to “win” a conversation.

Women are likely to be more cooperative, a tendency that likely has biological roots. As mothers, women have always been dependent on the clan or the family during the long early years of a child’s life. There were no baby strollers and grocery stores available to hunter-gatherers. Mothers needed to cooperate with the group in order to insure their assistance for survival. They literally could not operate totally independently when birthing and nursing an infant, (though many modern women have done it.)

Men not only enjoy power more, they are less comfortable if they lose it. There is no equivalent to feelings of “emasculation” when a woman’s power is diminished. It’s not a thing.

The Times writes,

“Though many men are in denial about it, their resistance communicates a feeling of entitlement to women’s labor. According to Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams, leaders in the field of family studies, authors of “Gender and Families,” men resist equal labor in the home because it is in their “interest to do so.” Their passive refusal to take an equal role, serves to reinforce “a separation of spheres that underpins masculine ideals and perpetuates a gender order privileging men over women.”

The male hegemony has served them well. Why would men want to undermine that?

  1. Understanding

Men just don’t get it, some women claim, and some men, once forced to, acknowledge this. My father told me that once (just once!) he had to stay home and take care of my sister when she was sick. This was unusual because my mother did not work, and usually had some household help as well. He also told me it was the hardest day of his life!

Many men, when forced through circumstances such as a wife’s illness to take over her duties, are shocked to discover how much she does. New York Times readers were asked to discuss the division of labor in their household. A man from Michigan wrote,

“My wife of 56 years and I figured we had a good system. But then she developed severe dementia and I took over taking care of the house, shopping, dinner, etc., while also taking care of her. It was this that opened my eyes and haunts me with guilt — the realization of how much she did for years and held a job to boot.”

Similarly, when my husband became seriously ill and was hospitalized for many months, I realized that I felt better about the fact that I did more than my fair share of the work because he was sick, and it wasn’t his fault. This made me aware of how much I had been resenting him and when he recovered I became more comfortable asking and allowing him to do things. For example, he now does all the cooking because he is better at it and enjoys it. He now also does most of the household shopping but still has to be reminded to pick up detergent and toilet paper and other items that just aren’t “on his radar.”

Marriage and family takes work. The art of the work is for everyone to be watchful of tendencies to regress to the mean. For men, this means being mindful of power motives, ignorance, and self-centeredness. Women must be on guard against giving in to perfectionism and allowing resentments to build up and undermine their family relationships and happiness.

Meanwhile, take father’s day to thank Dad for what he does, praise what he does well, and keep encouraging him to do more of it.


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