As COVID-19 ravaged lifestyles and businesses worldwide through most of 2020, parents, like the rest of us, were pushed indoors, as offices and workplaces executed policy to protect their workers from the global pandemic. Now that the vaccine and other targeted medications finally show a way back into open and public spaces of society, a thought frequently visits my imagination. When are we going to normalise the taboo-breaking stay-at-home dad?
I think it is high time that we do. Because that trope can offer a lot of potential progress around unlearning gender roles. The global landscape has changed much in the time COVID-19 confined us indoors – now, the USA has space for a ‘second gentleman’ instead of the historically constant ‘second lady’, in a change precipitated by the celebrated Vice President of South-Asian origin, Kamala Harris. However, in a country like India, women are almost always equated with mandatorily at-home entities. In a skewed metric of productivity, unpaid work like housework is almost always looked down upon as ‘wasting time’, while external work, mostly done by men, is rewarded in society with money and respect. If the concept of stay-at-home dad is normalised in India, and women, voluntarily, take up the role of the breadwinner working an external job, progress in terms of challenging gender dynamics could be ensured.
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By concentrating economic power in their hands, women will be vested with a lot more opportunities in society – in terms of making lifestyle choices, partner choices, or affording better lives for their children or family. Moreover, in a milieu where only paid work is looked upon with acceptance by society, this model will empower women as voices of agency, in which role they could also work to transfer recognition to hard domestic work, should they choose to.
This set-up proves beneficial for the children of women too. If they grow up seeing their mother vested with authority in the household and fathers as stay-at-home dads, boys will grow up being unintimidated or comfortable around women being more capable, intelligent or powerful than them. Girls will have more role models in the conventional professional arena to look up to, and will be encouraged to think of themselves in a role beyond being only pretty or presentable, in a role that envisions her being a professional powerhouse. In a set-up like this, the man concerned, the stay-at-home dad who is the partner of the working woman, will also be afforded greater mental health and productivity due to less strict gender-based stereotyping of roles, as has been documented in several research works and reports. Free from the shackles of suppressing emotions, or having to mandatorily work and be ‘the man of the house’ even if he doesn’t wish to, the stay-at-home dad will have a better physical and emotional life that will be reflected through the entire family.
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A normalisation of the trend of stay-at-home dads will encourage in its wake a host of others, primarily the one of working from home, which will provide relief to people with disabilities, or those living in war-torn zones, to name a few categories. As always, there will be evils to guard against, like the possibility of one being sandwiched at both home and office with an abuser, or the father in question being abusive – but, the greater idea of the stay-at-home dad is worth exploring in controlled, humane circumstances.
To conclude, it can be said that the idea of the stay-at-home dad can be explored as an important step for gender equality, moving forward. It is one that has potential to impact familial, parental and generational relationships apart from just gendered or sexual, and one can hope at this stage, that it grows to an important and benevolent catalyst.
Featured image source: Healthline