This isn’t anything great, just a changing table in a women’s bathroom. I took a picture of it today for one simple reason: the men’s bathroom didn’t have one. How do I know this? Because several months ago, my husband, the dedicated and involved father of my children, went to take then 18 month old Sugarbaby to the bathroom to change her diaper. But there wasn’t a changing area in the men’s room. There was, however, this one in the ladies’ room. He thought about going in there but just before Jeremy pushed open the door with the international symbol of a stick figure in a dress, a woman walked past him and went in. He then came and got me, explaining the situation.
Now, if he had been a “real” man, a man’s man, a renaissance man, Jeremy would have constructed a changing table out of duct tape and the newsprint available in the dinning area. Wait, no, that’s not right, if he was those things, he wouldn’t have been changing the diaper in the first place. He would have clearly made sure I knew my place and cleaning up our children’s refuse would be no doubt my job as a woman and mother.
Thankfully, my husband, while quite a man in every way, does not limit his masculinity nor define himself as one that doesn’t change diapers.
Unfortunately, much of society still does limit and define him this way. Our daughter needed a diaper change and though he is not only capable and skilled in doing so, but also believes it is important to share the responsibility of caring and connecting with our children in as many ways as possible, this simple yet glaring prejudice against dads spoke volumes. Our society claims to want dads to be involved but then excludes them from active parenting through situations like this. Leaving the shit to the moms. Literally. When a father can’t utilize the same parenting tools available to women, tools that aren’t limited by biology (i.e. pregnancy, giving birth, and breastfeeding), men experience a kind of prejudice against their involvement as parents.
But it’s even more than that. When my husband had to come get me to change our daughter’s diaper all our other children noticed. What? Why does mommy have to do it? Why isn’t there a changing table in the men’s bathroom, Dads can’t change diapers? Or is it just that dads aren’t as likely to change diapers? Why? That’s not fair! Men can change diapers too, they can be good parents too.
For our daughters, this is an accepted reality, their normal. Seeing the discrimination against their own daddy was infuriating and a good reminded to me that the push for equality in our world for women in the professional, entertainment, and societal environments begins, like most things, in the context of the family home. Including equality for men at the parenting table.
On one hand society tends to bemoan the lack of nurturing men in the lives of children today. Father figures depicted in media are often construed as absentee, buffoons, or uninterested and uninvolved beyond some sort of financial investment responsibility. Most seem frustrated there seems to be a shortage of male role models in general but fatherhood in particularly in society today so when a celebrity dad is spotted being an involved dad there is nothing short of a fanfare about how amazing this is. But I know many dads that are incredible, involved men of integrity that love and care for their children; Micah, Jonathan, Victor, Ben, Kevin, Micah, Charlie, Andy, Preston, David, Darren, Eric, the other Eric… all dads that rock, wear, change, cook for and feed, help with homework, hug, kiss, fix booboos, drive around, and otherwise equally invest as much as their female partner coparent does in the lives of their offspring. And I know several single dads that do it on their own or at least on their own part of the time. Then there are the two-dad families and the incredible uncles and grandpas that aren’t afraid of dirty diapers and spit up either. Whatever that looks like for that family, stay at home mom, stay at home dad, single income or double, work from home, etc., there are families that are making it work with balancing parenting as equally as possible, male and female, within their context.
I’m grateful for this and I know it’s not easy. After generations of messages as to what is a man’s role and what’s a woman’s role and one’s masculinity/femininity defined by how well those roles are fulfilled, going against the grain and looking for a changing table in the men’s room bucks against society biases. For men to step up as involved, equal partners in the care taking of children beyond providing a pay check could threaten not only what they were indoctrinated to believe about themselves but challenge others too. For women to step to the side to make space at the parenting table can still feel like a radical act of feminism even if that woman would never consider herself a feminist and can threaten how she even evaluates self worth and how well she is performing as a mother. In the end though it’s just parenting.
As much as it bothers me that so many people seem to want breastfeeding mothers to stay in their homes in a sort of forced seclusion because others don’t have to “see that” (meaning a mother feeding her baby), it bothers me just as much that men are not included and welcomed in society as an equal partner in the parenting responsibilities. At a time when women are being encouraged to lean in and pull up a chair at the table of life professionally, men are finding themselves not only without a seat when it comes to parenting but often without a table to pull up to in the first place. Even as more and more women are making room for their male partners at the table or parenting. Breastfeeding moms and involved dads shouldn’t be invisible in our society today, we need to see them for positive change to take place and they need to be seen, recognized, to help them understand their value. Seen and recognized, but not necessarily awkwardly celebrated. My husband isn’t a hero for changing diapers any more than I am, he would just like to have the same access and opportunity at the changing table.
Is it statistically more likely that women will be changing a baby’s diaper more frequently while out than a man? Yep, probably. Does that mean men should be shunned as a trustworthy and involved parent? I don’t think so. I also don’t think it’s always going to be such a large disparity as more men are trying to step up to the changing table. Competent dads change diapers and can handle the shitty side of parenting just as much as any competent mother.
*Side note deserving of a post all on it’s own: we don’t teach our children to fear men and we never will. Not wanting to prefer one sex over the other, we encourage our children to listen to their gut when it comes to people and how to spot suspicious behavior. In the case of us getting separated from our children, we have taught them to first look for an adult with children, male or female, then for an officer in uniform, then for another safe looking adult, then for a safe looking older child (one that would remind them of their older sisters). My husband has been the dad alone with kids at the park that has helped the injured or lost child find their caretaker safely. Prejudice against men only breeds fear and denies our children the opportunity to develop their own inner safety barometer in relating to others.
Are there bigger issues out there that deserve our time and energy? Yes, I think there are. But this is important to me too because the more men and women have an equal presence at the table of child care, the more the bigger issues, such as access to clean water for all children, have more voices that understand the importance of these values to better advocate.
It’s just a changing table, a courtesy really, offered by the place of business mindful of their customer base. Why complain? Just be glad there was one so the baby didn’t have to be changed on the floor. But what if I hadn’t been there? Would my husband have had to be rude and enter the women’s restroom to change our daughter? Or should he have left her in her own poop until he got to a suitable place? Or sucked it up and changed her on the floor? Or on the table in the restaurant? Or shlep all the kids out to the van and changed her there in the cold? Or found some duct tape and McGuivered it?
Or given up and not go out on his own with the kids?
Equality in parenting? Whatever that looks like and however that works for you, the truth is society is rather biased against dads being truly involved as parents. Loving, involved dads are treated as saints but ignored on the playground, eyed suspiciously at mommy and me dance classes (the very names of these programs excluding them), and left without a changing table in many public settings. The media loves to portray fathers as domineering, distant, detached, or dorky. Where are the good dads? They’re all around us, trying to juggle the demands of a society that at once idolizes them and ostracizes them. They deserve a place at the parenting table too and it’s time we make room for them practically and symbolically. Changing tables for all!
Maybe you know guys that would construct their own changing table and that’s awesome. But they shouldn’t have to. Our world needs active, involved, and present dads today and women are getting better about stepping aside to make room for them at the changing table or parenting. It would be awesome if there were some of those tables available to dads to step up to.