by Justin Rosario
Before we get started, let’s clear one thing up: Of course I have male privilege. I’m a male. Duh. Taken on the whole, I can almost guarantee I got paid more, was promoted quicker, and had an easier time in my professional life than my female coworkers. As a particularly tall and large male, I’ve never had to worry about being sexually harassed to the point that the few times I was inappropriately groped, it was amusing instead of threatening. I have quite a bit of male privilege and unlike many (most?) men, I’ve been aware of it for a very long time.
But having male privilege in most areas of my life does not mean I have it in all areas of my life, a fact I discovered when my wife and I decided that I would be a stay-at-home parent while she went back to work after the birth of our son, Jordan. Naturally, the years-long aggravation I went through, which I will get into later, made my eyebrows shoot up when I saw the title of Billy Doidge Kilgore’s article in the Washington Post: “I didn’t understand my male privilege until I became a stay-at-home dad“.
What fresh hell was this?
Kilgore goes on to describe how women flocked to him to praise his amazing parenting skills:
At the deli, I exchanged pleasantries with a young woman behind the counter and ordered a pound of sliced turkey breast. I was immediately surrounded by a group of female employees. They leaned close to admire my infant son as he raised his bald head from the green cloth wrap.
“I never could get mine to like the wrap,” one said.
“I bet y’all have so much fun together,” another said.
“You are the best dad ever,” another said.
I swelled with pride. Maybe they are right; maybe I am the best dad ever. I soaked in the praise before tossing my sliced turkey into the cart and heading toward the produce. As I strolled, more comments came from fellow shoppers, and I absorbed them, giving little thought to the reason I merited heightened attention.
That….is not the experience I had. At all. For years, years, people, almost always women, would comment how nice it was that I was babysitting the kids. The lack of respect was appalling. I didn’t require a pat on the back for raising my children, women don’t get it so why should I?, but at the same time, no one ever says to a woman that she’s babysitting her own children. So whatever the opposite of male privilege is, that was my experience.
Kilgore learned that what he was experiencing was called “the pedestal effect” where men are congratulated for doing things that women traditionally do as if they are accomplishing some great feat. You changed the diapers? You’re amazing! You scrubbed the toilets? Here’s cookie! You’re a stay-at-home dad? My God, tell me your life story, you hero, you!
Meanwhile, not only was I not on a pedestal, I wasn’t even on a footstool. My own mother-in-law refused to acknowledge the idea that me being a stay-at-home parent was my primary responsibility, even after we learned that Jordan was autistic and it became more important than ever. One Christmas, she actually got me a sweater vest to wear on the job interviews I would obviously be going on soon.
I tossed it in the garbage the next day.
Kilgore isn’t wrong, (some) men do get credit they don’t deserve and he does have some ideas how to push back against it:
Men can make the effort to closely listen to women to understand how they perceive male privilege. And, most important, we need to believe them. Maybe you remain skeptical that a pedestal effect exists for fathers. Ask a mother whether she believes fathers benefit from undeserved praise. Her answer might surprise you. Men get attention and praise for doing work women do every day.
Raising awareness and listening are important steps, but I also wanted to know how to best respond when given undeserved attention. Peretz recommends reacting “with humility and a sense of humor, while bringing attention and awareness back to the work women have been doing for a long time.”
I’ve done this exact same thing but from the opposite angle. I’m often accused by right wingers of being a lazy mooch for being a stay-at-home father. I challenge them to say that to their mother or grandmother who most likely were stay-at-home parents themselves and see if they don’t get a slap across the face for belittling the work they did to raise a family and keep the home running. Usually the response involves a lot of cursing followed by me being blocked. I like to think of it as raising awareness one benighted soul at a time.
The only time I’ve ever received the kind of praise Kilgore got just for showing up was after spending 4 years taking the broken and dysfunctional PTA at my children’s school and turning into something they’ve never seen before. And that required spending endless hours volunteering in the school, getting to know everyone on the staff, and being seen by the parents and students so often that they sometimes literally mistake me for the principal. If that sounds eerily similar to “I have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition,” well, there you go. Not every stay-at-home father gets to bank on male privilege.
This isn’t meant to be a woe-is-me article. If it wasn’t for the constant disrespect, I probably wouldn’t have put so much effort into proving everyone wrong. And I definitely wouldn’t have poured 4 years into the PTA, raising a ton of money the school needed and lifting the teachers’ morale when they needed it the most. So that worked out just fine for me, my kids, and their school.
On the other hand, it’s important to keep in mind that not giving men undue praise does not require you to actively denigrate them. Kilgore points out that men are already constrained by “rigid forms of masculinity” and those constraints are tightened when we’re told that we’re not really parenting, we’re just standing in for mom, the real parent.
Don’t kiss our ass and stroke our ego but don’t belittle us, either. Stay-at-home dads are just parents. Nothing more , nothing less. Treat us like it.
As a Banter Member, you helped pay for the creation of this article. Thank you!