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.”