Social media is a powerful tool and can be used to organize movements, and if you look at posts tagged #yearofthemother you can see an important movement of mothers growing.
Motherly has joined mamas around the world in declaring 2020 the #yearofthemother and demanding change, but this movement won't just help moms—dads need the #yearofthemother, too.
We talk a lot about how gender inequality is hurting mothers but evidence suggests it is also harming fathers. While at first glance it seems like dads have a good deal—they get the fun parts of parenting, fewer household chores, more professional opportunities—gender inequality is hurting fathers' mental and physical health.
The demands being made in the #yearofthemother posts aren't just demands for society to support mothers, but to support families through policies that will target gender inequality and help all parents thrive.
#yearofthemother could help dads live longer
As Liz Plank, author of the new book, For the Love of Men: A Vision for Mindful Masculinity recently explained in The Washington Post, gender equality helps men live longer, happier lives. She points out that Iceland is both a leader in gender equality and male life expectancy.
Plank writes: "According to research by Norwegian sociologist and men's studies expert Oystein Gullvag Holter, there is a direct correlation between the state of gender equality in a country and male well-being, as measured by factors such as welfare, mental health, fertility and suicide. Men (and women) in more gender-equal countries in Europe are less likely to get divorced, be depressed or die as a result of violence."
#yearofthemother aims to reduce dads' stress levels
A recent survey of men from the U.K., Australia, Canada and the U.S. found 70% of fathers say their stress levels increased when they became a parent for the first time—and it's really no wonder. New dads are in an impossible position: They desperately want to spend time with their new babies but feel they can't miss work (even when they have parental leave) due to financial pressures and the stigma that follows men who take parental leave. Fatherhood is a massive identity and lifestyle shift, but many men are expected to walk back into work just a few days after becoming dads and act like nothing has happened.
As Motherly has reported countless times, the United States is the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that has not implemented paid leave on a national basis. The U.S. has an amazing opportunity to act on this non-partisan issue with the advantage of decades of data from other countries.
That data proves that paid leave policies work best when the stigma against dads taking their leave is removed by the schemes that offer "use-it-or-lose-it" leave just for fathers. Paid leave can't target gender inequality when fathers feel like they are taking leave from the mother or when government or company policies force families to designate a primary caregiver. Such designations make fathers the secondary parent and that is not fair to fathers, mothers or children.
#yearofthemother could help fathers be the parents they want to be
Today's dads are more involved parents than fathers of previous generations but there are still a lot of factors holding them back from being the parents—and partners—they want to be.
As Claire Cain Miller recently reported for The New York Times, today's young men embrace the idea of gender equality but still don't embrace care work at home. "A new survey from Gallup found that among opposite-sex couples, those ages 18 to 34 were no more likely than older couples to divide most household chores equitably. And a sociology study published last month found that when high school seniors were asked about their ideal family arrangement with young children, almost a quarter said it was for the man to work full time and the woman to stay home, a larger share than desired any other arrangement," Cain Miller writes.
Women spend more time on household chores and more time on childcare despite increasing being the breadwinners for their families. As Dr. Darcy Lockman, author of All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership, wrote for the New York Times, "Division of labor in the home is one of the most important gender-equity issues of our time. Yet at the current rate of change, MenCare, a group that promotes equal involvement in caregiving, estimates that it will be about 75 more years before men worldwide assume half of the unpaid work that domesticity requires."
But it doesn't have to take 75 years. It could happen tomorrow. Research suggests that if dads take up just under an hour of unpaid work per day, women could cut their unpaid labor time by the same amount.
So what's stopping dads from finding those 50 minutes to vacuum the living room or bathe their kids? The same cultural expectations that contribute to maternal stress. Inflexible workplaces and schedules, a lack of paid leave and unaffordable childcare are absolutely a factor, as Lockman points out, "the amount of child care men performed rose throughout the 1980s and '90s, but then began to level off without ever reaching parity."
It didn't reach parity because our culture never got around to supporting working parents even long after women entered the workforce. "Fathers repeatedly tell researchers they want to be more involved parents, yet public policy and social institutions often prevent them from being the dads they want to be–hurting moms, dads and children alike," Kevin Shafer an Associate Professor of Sociology; Faculty Affiliate in Social Work, Brigham Young University writes for The Conversation.
The exact same things mothers are demanding in the #yearofthemother hashtag are the things that will finally let fathers destress and thrive at home. As Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister of Iceland, wrote in 2019, "The key topics here are universal childcare and shared parental leave. If applied properly, these policies have the potential to change the makeup—and the rules of the game—of both the public and the private spheres. Why? Because they enable women to participate in the labor market and public decision-making, while making space for men to share domestic responsibilities."