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Stay-at-Home Dad Research: a liberal’s dilemma

Stay-at-Home Dad Research: a liberal’s dilemma

I’ve been working in my downtime over the past several weeks on an internal research project that aims to understand the stay-at-home dad. I started with secondary research, digging through the few marketing studies that have been published and the countless academic articles proclaiming the advent of the modern man. Then I moved on to a more ethnographic approach, analyzing forums, blogs, dad-targeted ads, etc. And what i’ve found is that the trend is growing very rapidly and that a collective identity is being formed.

I watched a conversation develop in the comment section of one blog post about how stay-at-home dads should refer to themselves. People threw out options like “full-time father” or “work-from-home dad” as opposed to “stay-at-home.” The conversation was heated with men and women alike weighing in. The woman’s perspective was interesting to me because it presented an experience the men didn’t have. One woman explained that her husband liked “full-time father” but when she used that phrase among her peers they felt judged, as if their husbands were only part-time fathers since they worked outside of the home.

One conclusion though is unanimous among the group: the term “Mr. Mom” is terrible. Not only is itĀ emasculatingĀ for men, but it insults women by equating childcare with womanhood. This stereotype isn’t easily overcome, however. There are rumors that a remake of the 80′s film “Mr. Mom” is being planned which will by all accounts perpetuate the misguided gender associations. And even the census institutionalizes the stereotype by referring to a mother’s taking care of her children as “parenting” and a father’s as “childcare,” a babysitter.

I shared this ongoing identity exercise that is happening across the web in stay-at-home dad communities with two colleagues of mine. One was interested and concerned, wanting to ensure that the terminology we used, especially as we move into surveying and interviewing, was thoughtful and respectful of this social group’s experience. The other colleague was less concerned, opting rather to note that the phrase “Mr. Mom” is catchy so we’d have to think about it more later.

I really do try to hide my biases, but when it comes to dealing with people, especially ones that feel oppressed (as stay-at-home fathers rightly do), it is difficult for me to ignore obvious displays of apathy. I like to think of myself as a consumer advocate in my field, fighting for what consumers really want and protecting them from campaigns that would perpetuate oppressive stereotypes. But sometimes, often really, power wins – even when the decision-maker is acting on a whim. That is frustrating.

February 17, 2012 2 comments Read More