004/457 11 Mar 90 23:38:00
From:   Bob Hirschfeld
To:     All
Subj:   Deja Vu: Richard Haddad


I spent an evening recently at a business meeting of a nursery school
cooperative in which my daughter is enrolled, and left the meeting with a 
depressing thought. After 25 years of soul-searching, consciousness-raising, 
and legislating on issues of sexual equality, we still don't seem to understand 
the basic relationships between male and female gender roles in our society. 
The purpose of the meeting was to review school policies and the duties of the 
co-oping parents -- those who would take turns as teachers' aides; and I was 
relieved, after a busy day, to find that the evening's business was handled 
very efficiently. In fact, it was the professionalism of the meeting which 
initially helped me to deal with my discomfort over being the only male among 
the dozen or so parents in attendance.  And to forget the surprised comments of 
a couple of the women already present when I arrived. I live in a 
progressive-minded town filled with two-career couples.  So, while I was 
realistic enough to expect that even in a town like mine the women would 
outnumber the men at nursery school meetings, it hadn't occurred to me that a 
male presence at a function like this was still a rare occurrence.

     The shocker, though, came a little later as we read through the handout 
material and I spotted the first of a number of references to the "co-op Mom."  
Click, as "Ms. Magazine" would say. I felt a rushing sensation of 
not-belonging. Understand that I have five children and am of the breed called 
the "involved father." So my confidence in my child care abilities was not the 
issue for me that night. I was sure I had competently changed more diapers, 
wiped more runny noses, and kissed more hurts than many of the women at the 
meeting. The issue, rather, is that had it not been for my experience and 
commitment as an involved parent, I could very well have been discouraged from 
further participation in the school's activities by the environment at the 
meeting. Fifteen years ago, mostly because of the threat of government 
sanctions against businesses which did not cooperate, I was able to earn my 
living in part by correcting environmental factors which inhibited the 
integration of women into jobs traditionally filled by men. Such "affirmative 
action" meant, for example, not only hiring a woman to be a "Maintenance Man," 
but changing the title of the job to the gender neutral "Maintenance Worker" 
and ensuring that the male Workers didn't make the new hire feel unwelcome or 
unnecessarily uncomfortable in her new job. Seventies-style affirmative action 
programs for women were not as successful as the government hoped they would 
be. But the attention they focused on the employment environment did work to 
sensitize management to the extent that today the odds of a woman succeeding in 
a traditionally male occupation are dramatically improved. Unfortunately, our 
education on this subject seems to have been situation-specific. Change the 
setting, say, from a boiler room in an office building to a nursery school 
meeting in a suburban living room, change the gender of the participants, and 
we don't recognize the discouraging environment. We also seem to be missing 
something a lot more important than a sexual double standard which cuts against 
men. There's a sad irony in the juxtaposition of these two scenes -- the woman 
feeling a misfit in a traditionally male occupation, the man feeling a misfit 
at a nursery school meeting, in that they are representative illustrations of 
the same gender role bind as it operates on each of the sexes. Men are normally 
the providers; women normally tend to the children. That's the way traditional 
gender-role conditioning has been setting things up in our culture for a very 
long time. Balanced, if nothing else. Alter one side of the equation and you 
have to address the other side to maintain the balance.

     What I'm suggesting is simply the main reason women have not yet attained 
the status of men in the labor force is that men have not yet attained the 
status of women in the matter of child rearing. Nothing more profound than 
that. The commentator Edward R. Murrow once said something like "The obscure we 
see eventually; the completely apparent takes a little longer." If my 
experience at the co-op meeting the other night was typical, it's a good bet 
that we'll be involved in the struggle over gender equality for at least a 
little longer.

******* Richard Haddad is a member of the National Congress for Men. He has 
been speaking, organizing, writing and editing on gender role issues for over a 

--- D'Bridge 1.21
 * Origin: National Congress for Men(602)840-4752;Voice(202)FATHERS (1:114/74)