Life, Paternity Leave and Being a “Man”
At Salon, our friend and OTer Elizabeth Stoker writes about the pathetic “controversy” of Daniel Murphy taking three days of paternity leave. Elizabeth does a marvelous job of taking apart the criticisms of Murphy, demonstrating how these paleolithic views of fatherhood are damaging to fathers, families and men. Elizabeth is spot-on when she accuses Murphy’s detractors as fostering a view of “fatherhood as trivial and emasculating compared to the station of work”.
To an outsider, the U.S. approach to parental leave is shocking. Minimal time is granted and, according to the cited research, there is no paid time off. You’d be hard pressed to develop a system that could be more anti-family. As Elizabeth notes, this is “anti-life culture”.
Move a bit north and you’ll find a nation that, far from leading the world, at least offers more protections. In Canada*, 17 paid weeks of pregnancy leave (available to, ya know, the pregnant person**) are offered and 35 weeks of paid parental leave are available to parents–which can be taken by one parent, or split between two, though it can’t be taken at the same time.
In all, we have 52 weeks of paid leave available***. If I recall, you are paid 55% of your regular salary/income, up to a certain amount.
On top of that, both parents are legally allowed to take time off together (again, I think, a year), though only one can receive EI payments during that time. So it can be quite a hit, financially, to do so.
So far, this system works pretty well. It doesn’t totally destroy career development (though there exist sleazeball employers who will break the law and punish those who take leave, because humans suck, apparently), nor is it some huge economic burden (did I mention that Canada is poised to run a budget surplus in the next year, even while we pay for all this socialized health care?). Not everyone will take time off, nor should they, necessarily, but the option is afforded to all, not simply those who can (or choose to) afford it.
There was another part of Elizabeth’s piece that caught my eye. Talking about the reaction to the reaction to the meager three days of maternity leave, Elizabeth highlights a rather interesting response by Chris Hayes:
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called in to his own show – from which he is currently taking leave to be with his wife and newborn son – to condemn Francesca’s “Neanderthalish” comments on paternity leave, noting that taking time off to be with one’s wife and child following a birth is “part of being a man.” Hayes wasn’t alone in identifying old-fashioned notions of gender as key in the paternity leave debate; at the Nation, Dave Zirin chalked up the suspicion and excoriation of leave for dads to a culture of toxic masculinity.
Without reading too much into Hayes’s use of the phrase, “being a man”, those words make me think of the (often lengthy) discussions of what it means to be a “real man”. In the past, Real Men liked to work on cars, watch sports, grunt and eat meat. The Real Man wouldn’t concern himself with such things as rom coms, wedding plans or – ugh- feelings.
In more recent years, there has been much pushback against the “traditional” concept of masculinity. In some regards, the pendulum has swung far to the other end. Now, being a real man can mean such things as showing respect for your lady or reading a foreign newspaper.
The next generation of the Real Man is a tremendous improvement over the old school Real Man (not there’s anything wrong with cars, grunting or meat). Much of the inspiration of this new imagining of manhood is to create a more inclusive model that allows men to pursue endeavours that may have been considered “feminine” or “wussy”, in the past. Further, there is a drive, as demonstrated in the links above, to ensure that all traces of misogyny be fully scrubbed from our notion of manhood. This is a tremendous improvement over chauvinist ideas of manhood that plagued our society in the past.
Of course, it’s just the next iteration of the same problem.
Just as chivalry is rooted in sexism, so, too, do these views of what it takes to be a Real Man reinforce the notion there is a true, essential meaning to what it means to be a man. Although the parameters have been expanded (for the most part; they’ve also been reduced to get rid of a lot of bad stuff), we are still making determinations as to what is the ideal form a man should take, and, often, the ideal way in which they should interact with women.
People who clutch dearly to the notion of chivalry (opening doors for women, bringing flowers on dates, etc.) will eschew any notions that such a viewpoint is steeped in chauvinism, claiming:
The new era of chivalry is not rooted in the chauvinistic mindset of the past. We have evolved past performing these acts for women because “they can’t do it themselves.”
The new gentleman performs these acts for the right reasons – love, caring, and respect.
Men shouldn’t treat women with respect because that’s what Real Men do. We–men and women–should treat others–men and women–with respect because that is what common basic decency demands.
But this veneer of sexism quickly becomes transparent when you notice that never once is there a claim that men should do these things for other men. It’s a heteronormative view of society that relies upon treating people certain ways based on little more than their genitals.
Writing in the New Republic, Claire Carusillo rejects these pushes for gender conformity. Noting that, intentions aside, these ideas–being a Real Man means respecting women and treating them good–can be problematic:
Obama’s address echoed what Vice President Joe Biden said on the subject recently: “Men have to take more responsibility; men have to intervene…the measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.”
Obama and Biden mean well. Aware that many American men think being “a real man” means conquering women and otherwise acting aggressively, they want to reframe masculinity in terms of protecting women and otherwise acting responsibly.
Circling back to Elizabeth’s piece, her argument in favour an inclusive view of family and life presents an opportunity to refresh our ideas of the roles of men and women. Basically, even a more progressive view of such roles misses the point. We should not be looking to expand the boundaries for these roles. By doing so, we will just further entrench the notion that there is such a thing as Being A Man and Being A Woman. We must move past this mindset and just, simply think of each other as people.
*Most of Canada. Things are slightly different in Quebec. Don’t ask.
**Things change if we’re dealing with adoption.
***In reality, you get 50 weeks. The program is run through Employment Insurance****–emphasis on Insurance–and the first two weeks are considered the deductible and are unpaid.
****Except in Quebec. Again, don’t ask.