Gender equity is a two-way street - And more dads need to speak up.
It's not every day that the Gendersphere gets up in arms about the institutional and social barriers faced by male parents, but thanks to Ashton Kutcher's totally justified expression of frustration at the fact that there are "NEVER any changing stations in mens (sic) public restrooms," that's exactly what happened.
And I was stoked. Not because Ashton couldn't find a changing station, but because he complained about it.
One of the reasons women have not made as many gains in the workplace as we would like is because men have not been enabled, nor have they felt particularly empowered, to take on more of the responsibilities at home (Happy Anniversary, Second Shift!) Anyone (parent or non-parent) knows that parenting is hard. Really hard. So when we structure everything around the assumption that women are the primary caregivers, like "NEVER" putting changing stations in public restrooms for men, for example, it happens by default. It won't matter that mom hasn't had two seconds to herself for two weeks and would relish the five minutes it would take dad to change the baby's diaper, the buildings say it's mom's job. And so on and so forth....
One of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes goes something like this:
We've begun to raise our daughters more like our sons...but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.
The general point being that we've created a society in which it's perfectly acceptable (thankfully) for girls and women to transcend gender stereotypes to do (and wear) things that have traditionally been associated with men. But we have failed to create a society in which boys and men feel equally entitled to and supported for doing (and wearing) things traditionally associated with women. Don't believe me? Think about the difference in people's reactions when they see or hear about a little girl who only wants to play with trucks, and a little boy who only wants to play with dolls.
Many like to argue that little girls naturally gravitate toward dolls (and some do) because females are natural caregivers or something along those lines. Setting aside the monetary benefits of marketing the same toy differently to boys and girls, if this is so, then why would we have a problem with little boys wanting to play with dolls? Are we afraid they're going to learn how to be good dads? I think I speak for a pretty healthy segment of the population (read everyone) when I say that we can never have too many good dads.
We've recognized the importance of telling girls that they can be feminine and strong, but where are the commercials and videos telling our boys that masculinity and emotion are not mutually exclusive? We've recognized the importance of encouraging girls to maintain their interests in STEM subjects, but where are the movements dedicated to encouraging things like empathy and caregiving in little boys? For the most part, they don't exist. At least not to so powerful and pervasive an extent to merit a Superbowl commercial.
Fast forward to adulthood where you've got millions of fathers and male caregivers like Kutcher trying to do what women have been doing in the workplace for years: take care of a family while tentatively maneuvering your way through a world that was not built with you in mind, and in some cases, just doesn't think you're worth the effort, despite all evidence to the contrary. Just as women have a right to fight for gender equity, so too do men. And women should (and DO) support them.
So thank you again, Mr. Kutcher, for calling out sexist design in public spaces.
The infrastructure and design of our public spaces sends a message. It's time to start sending the right one. Changing stations in men's restrooms is a really good start.