Men Who Change Diapers DO NOT Change the World. They Change Diapers.


Within one week, I’ve seen a bumper sticker reading, “Men who change diapers, change the world” three times.  There’s nothing new about this bumper sticker.  In fact I first saw it four years ago and thought to myself Yeah, that’s kind of a cool message.  We should applaud those men.

Now I’m bothered by it.

It took me a day to figure out what I didn’t like about this message and it came to me when I was doing the dishes cleaning up after my fiancé.  Before I proceed with my explanatory rant, I want to mention that I feel incredibly fortunate to have a partner who’s actually quite good about housework and very open about discussing what’s working and what’s not.  But no one is perfect.

And so my rant…

When I first moved in with my fiancé (two years ago and then boyfriend), we were okay about sharing household chores.  I’m sure part of it was about impressing one another and proving that we weren’t going to be one of those couples that fought about cleaning duties.  Neither of us were messy people to begin with anyway.  A few months later, my fiancé started pointing out every time he did the dishes, watered the plants, vacuumed, mopped the floor, or folded the laundry.

I was irritated to hear him announce all his household contributions suggesting I should do more.  And in the most mature way I said back to him “Oh, you want to keep score now?  Wanna know what I ALWAYS do?” I then proceeded to list all the chores I’ve done that day and the day before that and all the things I do that he never notices.  Mature right?

Well this continued for months and I grew more pissed.  Not because he was doing so much less than me (in fact we share housework quite equally) but because he wanted acknowledgment for things we both do (and even for things I do most of the time, like putting away the dishes).  He felt like he was doing more without realizing it just seems like that because I don’t announce every time I clean.

After enough bickering, we had an honest talk about where his score keeping was coming from.  He admitted not being proud of his tit-for-tat-ness and said he never had to be responsible for anyone but himself.  He was looking for encouragement and support for a challenging transition out of bachelorhood into cohabitation.  I love him for being so honest.

I don’t blame my fiancé for this struggle.  It seems as though our egalitarian intentions haven’t quite caught up with reality.  From a young age, my girlfriends and me were socialized to play house, play with baby dolls, and take care of others.  My fiancé and his buddies likely were not.  Also, we’ve observed our moms doing most of the cooking, cleaning, and diaper changing.

Between my generation to my mother’s there have been huge changes in women’s societal roles.  Educated women today have more career options outside of teaching, nursing, or being a secretary.  We are also expected to be significant income contributors.  On the flip side, it’s becoming more common for men to be stay-at-home dads and to significantly help with housework and raising children.  But it’s not as well supported or expected.  My past post on the need for more fathers’ day goes into it a bit more.

While I can appreciate that many good liberal men struggle with how they were brought up (watching women clean and change diapers) and how quickly gender roles have evolved, I just can’t bring myself to award “gold stickers” for every dish that’s cleaned or t-shirt that’s folded.

So when I read the bumper sticker “Men who change diapers, change the world” the second time around I cringed and thought that this was the ultimate ego stroking.  Encouragement is one thing but insisting that men who share child raising responsibilities are somehow extraordinary seems counter productive to the sticker’s intention.  Men who change diapers are great parents.  And so are the moms who change them as well.

If we keep our expectations about diaper changing and doing dishes low, won’t dads just live down to them?  Besides, I’ve yet to see a bumper sticker that says “Women who bring home the bacon save the universe from utter destruction.”

6 thoughts on “Men Who Change Diapers DO NOT Change the World. They Change Diapers.

  1. Your posts seem to remind me of sayings! 🙂 This time, it’s that “boys will be boys,” which I’ve found is used to justify all kinds of behavior that we wouldn’t give the same leeway to girls. Girls are raised (to some extent) to expect housework–I’ve noticed that in situations I do tend to get up to take dishes back to the kitchen faster before any male jumps to the task–while boys will be boys…I don’t like this expression and hope to remove it from my vocab!

    1. I like your point Dana. Helping to set up, take down, and clean at social functions and parties seem to be dominated by women in my surrounding too. It seems like it’s getting better though. At least guys are gesturing to help whereas growing up I don’t recall my dad ever getting up to help.

  2. I think you are misinterpreting this saying. It is in reference to young men who say that they want to change the world, but have no follow through. Men in my generation (30 and under) always want to complain about what we think needs to change, but have little interest in raising a family. There is a growing group of men out there that believe that we leave our mark on the world through raising our children to be constructive and productive members of society. I think the stickers you saw were in reference to this.

  3. Wow…I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’ve got to agree with Jman. When you asked me about the bumper sticker, I thought it was going to be a positive take on it (Yikes!)

    I worked at the organization which created that bumper sticker. And I think you totally missed “the message” of the bumper sticker. The intent of was/is to encourage young & old fathers to have some (even a tiny bit) of involvement in the lives of their babies: whether it’s helping change diapers, feeding, reading, pay for childcare, buying diapers, or contributing “time” helps their babies lives and those raising the child.

    I give 110% to my kids. If and when the father contributes (money, time or knowledge) toward his kids, it doesn’t take anything away from me (as a single mom) because it all benefits the kids in the end. So the bumper sticker is to “encouraging fathers” to contribute to child rearing.

  4. Thanks Jman and SingleMama for your perspectives on this bumper sticker. I guess the “angle” in which you view these same words carried a different meaning to you than me. I still conclude that there’s too much room for (mis)interpretation for it to be an effective bumper sticker. But I’m open to understanding its true message ’cause I seemed to have taken it the wrong way. I know that the sticker was created by a non-profit called Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies which I whole heartily support so I can trust a good intention was meant to be behind the message.

    I completely agree with the two of you in that there are many men out there who want to make a change and be positive aspects of their children’s lives. These dads are wonderful and amazing, and should be supported. My post (hopefully) didn’t suggest that men who contribute to child raising take away from the mom. I completely agree with SingleMama that anything the father (and the mom) can contribute is to the benefit of the child and has no canceling effects.

    My argument was that our standards for what we should expect from men are too low. Like Jman says, there are men out there who feel raising children would be their way to leave a positive legacy. This sentiment is beautiful and I think many men feel similarly. My point about the sticker’s message is that the message works if we buy into the fact that the state of men’s involvement in child raising is so bad that we have to make a big fuss over the men who get around to changing their kid’s diapers. I think (and hope) we’re in a more egalitarian state of parenting that all parents (men and women) have mutual respect and appreciation that changing diapers suck and whoever does it is a champ.

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