Monday, August 5, 2013

Tom Stocky & American Dads

I've spent several weeks trying to figure out just what it is I wanted to add to Tom Stocky's Facebook post on why dads should do their part and take advantage of family leave, which has been floating around Facebook & Twitter for a while at this point. First things first. If you haven't taken twenty minutes to read Stocky's full post, you should do so now.

Now that you've had a chance to read it, I think the biggest things to observe here are that Stocky's ability to take significant paid paternity leave with only a modest career impact is highly unusual by American standards; that public policy changes are necessary to give more fathers the same opportunity Stocky had; and that while formal workplace and family leave equality is nice, if we want to achieve something closer to equity in housework we have to upend the social expectations that say to dads over and over again that parenting isn't really their job.

The U.S. has the stingiest family leave policy in the industrialized world. While some of the countries with
extremely generous leave rules have poor levels of gender equality in the workforce, increasing leave to the levels
seen in the Netherlands, Belgium, or Finland is totally compatible with high levels of gender equality
The first two points are well covered in liberal politics and policy circles. America is the only industrialized country without some form of universal paid parental leave (PDF, the report from 2008 shows Australia as offering only unpaid leave, but that changed in 2011). The fact that as a country we can't bring ourselves to adopt even Dutch or Belgian levels of family leave is a tremendous drag on both women's ability to advance their careers and men's ability to take a more active role in their children's lives. This is wrong and we can surely do much better.

'70s-era Swedish PR campaigns featured a famous weightlifter
encouraging fathers to do the job of "maternity dad", or something
that probably makes more sense in Swedish.
The third point is much more subtle. Stocky's experience as a stay-at-home-dad showed him just how low our expectations are for fathers' role in their children's lives. Paid family leave won't change those expectations. Nor will passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Nor will a broader ability for workers to bring employment discrimination claims. If not just formal legal equality but practical equity in the workplace and the home, it's going to take a change in culture. And changing the culture is ... hard. Some of the European countries with the most generous family leave policies (France, Germany, Spain) have the lowest level of employment among married women. But while making a cultural shift is difficult, it's not impossible! The Scandinavian countries have had the most success promoting a more active role for fathers. These campaigns have included both policy changes and significant PR geared towards getting dads to do their part. I tend to be a skeptic of public awareness campaigns, but something has to be done to push the boundary of what's culturally acceptable.

So, two cheers to Mr. Stocky for broadening his horizons by spending a good chunk of time with his daughter during her first year of life. We have a long way to go before every dad has the chance do what he did.

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