There are many names you could call a stay-at-home dad who raises the young’uns while wifey brings home the bacon. “Mr. Mom.” The babysitter. Or, according to Marie Claire magazine, a status symbol — the beta husband of the “alpha mom.”
One stay-at-home dad, however, has a different label he would like you to use. This morning, “The Today Show” interviewed a pediatrician mother and her husband, the full-time parent of their toddler daughter. This proud papa was frankly disgusted that traditional stay-at-home mommies at the playground have asked him, “Oh, are you babysitting today?”
“No it’s not babysitting,” he sniffed. “It’s called parenting.”Marie Claire‘s editor-in-chief Joanna Coles suggested that women are winning by relying on their stay-at-home husbands because, previously, men had been the ones with “trophy wives” at home. Neither the stay-at-home father on “Today,” nor correspondent Matt Laurer, who interviewed Coles, embraced the label “alpha mom.” The stay-at-home pops resented the notion that he shouldn’t be the primary parent, as if his wife would be better suited to the job simply because she is a woman. In that same vein, Matt Lauer suggested that instead of looking at a stay-at-home dad as a “power symbol,” we should instead look at him as a symbol of enlightenment.
Frankly, I don’t like the “alpha mom” explanation either, but for a different reason: Low-income and middle-class women have always supported their families, with or without a partner, and they’re not called “alpha moms.” Breadwinning women just busted their hides because they had no choice. From a journalistic standpoint, I understand that Marie Claire needs an enticing angle for their article and a label like “alpha” is aspirational. The reality, though, is that individual families, their financial situations, and parenting styles are varied and complicated. The idea of someone being the “alpha” and someone being the “beta” seems like a distinction only wealthy people get to make.
I think we should celebrate stay-at-home dads for a different reason. All the different “feminist” waves throughout history — periods when women’s rights advanced — have been good to women. We’ve gained the right to vote; we’re legally protected to control our own fertility and to earn equal pay for equal work; and in some states we are legally allowed to marry whomever we want. Whatever “femininity” meant in 1776, or 1919, or even 1962, is not the same today.
But, hopefully, for men, the growing acceptability of stay-at-home fathers means whatever “masculinity” means is changing, too. Feminism is fundamentally about equality between the sexes and choices for everyone. Women have made so many advances, but it’s high time that the societal norms tying up men are loosened, too. Because this is the truth: All the incredible advances women make in the halls of Congress or in the boardrooms aren’t quite so shiny looking if society still sees her as the parent and dad as “the babysitter.”