3 Sep 2006, Comments Off on Damned baby books, covered in Girl Germs.

Damned baby books, covered in Girl Germs.

Author: Helen

Image from http://www.lileks.com/institute/dorcus/dress.html

The dreadful consequences of reading Chick books when you’re a bloke

I’ve been meaning to post for a while on the way in which “feminism” is usually taken to mean “aspiring to do what men do”, while men still contemplate doing things which women do with distaste or outright horror. What does that mean for fatherhood in this supposedly egalitarian time?

Listen to this sensitive young Dad.

“[The birth of my first baby] ended up being the most stressful time in my life,” says the 31-year-old IT consultant.

“It turns out that it can be like that for a lot of new parents, but I think I felt a bit ripped off, because nobody had ever warned me it could be a bad time.

“There are all the baby books aimed at mothers, and even the antenatal classes my partner and I went to at the hospital talk a lot about the actual birth and how to breathe and how to change a nappy, but they donít talk that much about how to survive the pregnancy in the first place. I thought it was meant to be happy.”

Kelly, whose daughter, Ava, is now 13 months old, never had a chance to see Being Dad-the Baby DVD. If he had, maybe, just maybe, things could have been different. At least thatís what the two men behind Being Dad would like to think.

“The reason we made it is because thereís nothing out there for dads,” Sydney-based Sam Holt says of the DVD he and his business partner, friend and fellow new dad, Troy Jones, made for $10,000.

Oh, boo fuckin’ hoo. As just about everybody except him has noticed, the baby book market is huge. If anything, there’s too much of it out there.

Now you’ll be saying, “Oh, come on Helen, be fair. Remember your own babies – we all have that horrifying feeling that we should know it all but we’re so, so inexperienced. It’s terrible! and it’s such a good thing that Dads are getting more involved at the coalface. Can’t you just be a little empathetic!” OK, yes, his feelings are valid, but this feeling is an integral part of being at that coalface – and it will continue to be until we get improvements in childrens’ services and health that women have been begging for for generations. (But, of course, mothers are completely over-serviced, aren’t they.)

Really, nothing out there for Dads? Oh please. Two words. “Library”. “Google”. Here’s a few recommendations, for starters. (I’m only going to bother to link two, because I recommend them highly, but a quick Amazon search will find the others.)

The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth – Sheila Kitzinger (Obviously, a Bloody Sheila)
Babies! – Christopher Green (My favourite, and Australian)
Toddler Taming – Ditto, ditto
The Baby Book: Everything you need to know about your Baby from Birth to Age Two – William Sears, Martha Sears, etc (Don’t Australian books have much snappier titles?)
Gentle Baby Care: No cry, No fuss, No-Worry Essential Tips for Raising your Baby – Elizabeth Pantley, Harvey Karp
Caring for your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 – American Academy of Paediatrics (hell, that sounds important and masculine!)

I arrived at this list simply by citing the first 3 results from a search on “baby care” on Amazon plus three books I used myself. Imagine what spending a whole half-hour on research might throw up. Or even talking to your Mum.

Did you notice something? The word “mother” is absent in these titles. Many of them are written, or co-written, by men. So Sam Holt’s assertion that all the Baby-birth-and-child stuff out there is “…for women, by women” sounds at best, engagingly naive, but I do not buy it. I think Sam knows he’s talking shit. It is totally possible for you– Travis, Sam, and Troy– to read some of these books yourself. And many men have boldly gone that way before.

But that’s not the real reason, is it? The guys in the article stamp their feet, pout, and say they’re not going to read something that hasn’t been specifically written for men! Because, you know, they might be seen on the train reading something which looks like… ugh… chick’s stuff!

This goes to the heart of the matter to me. How we say we’re equal if women-doing (formerly) men’s-stuff is seen as a step up but men-doing-womens-stuff is seen as a step down? What’s so shameful about reading a few parenting books fer feck’s sake?

Now, you know articles like this one always have the obligatory paragraph about how men today are portrayed as dumbarses by the mass media and advertising. (Women, of course, are never so portrayed.)


One thing that men are still struggling with is that there is a bit of social discourse –especially in advertising- that says men are quite bumbling and incompetent as fathers.

Well, it might help if you didn’t say things like the gem I’m quoting below from Mr Holt, and just to make my point, I’m reversing the genders and making the topic “science”:


“There are lots of things out there for men, by men. Men really want to know absolutely everything. They want to go into the scientific enquiry thing like theyíre experts, whereas I think women want something different. They donít necessarily need to know all the different terms and all the different intricacies; they just want some anecdotal evidence from the girls.”

The DVD result is casual chats with 60 mums from across Australia…

….”We didnít think mums want to be told by experts,” Holt says. A little bit doesnít hurt, though, and interspersed through the true-life stories of Australian girls dealing with the pressures of learning science….there are some words of wisdom from a biologist and a physicist.

See how patronising this sounds? What Holt is really saying is he wants to present a dumbed-down version of the information that’s already out there. Childraising books aimed at Dads? Bring it ON– but don’t whine that there’s nothing for them. There’s just a lot of stuff the Travises, Troys and Sams are apparently too macho to read.

This quote from a Majikthise post came to mind. It’s about education, but the principle is the same:


When a gender gap…favors boys, the proposed solutions generally involve changing girls to meet the prevailing ideal. This is usually the most sensible way to approach the problem. Girls are underperforming in math and science? Well, then we should keep up the emphasis on math and science for everyone and push girls harder.

By contrast, when a gender gap favors females, people are more likely to address the discrepancy by challenging the evaluation criteria…

And, as she goes on to describe, changing the educational approach- for instance, by using comic books in the classroom. I completely agree with using different techniques for kids with different learning styles, but if girls had to use comic books to learn to read it would be seen by the usual suspects as proof of their inherent intellectual inferiority, while if the boys are falling behind, it’s a fault in the system (or the books are too girly). I remember my Dad sneering at one of the excesses of illiterate postmodern university – “Women’s maths!” he spluttered– (whatever the hell that was, and I never bothered to find out, but it was obviously a Bad Thing). If I told my employer I’d only want to read about relevant legislation or system administration if it was written specifically by women for women, it’d be feminism gorn too far.

Travis would be feeling even more ripped off now. Having refused to read Teh Girly parenting books, he won’t have realised the thirteen-month-old daughter still isn’t able to bring him the cooked breakfast and cute handmade card. Bummer! I hope the rest of you had a great day.

Comments (0)

  • TimT says:

    I read girly books, or at least two of them anyway – the Bridget Jones book and the sequel (they were good, too). Can’t say there’s anything too scary about them, but you occasionally try and hide the cover when you’re on the train or bus or wherever. Off topic a bit, but I reckon the pop girl magazines are usually more interesting and better written than the pop guy magazines (I’m thinking of Ralph and Men’s Health) – better sense of humour and better presentation.

    Also: I have once worn drag. Also: my brother is a bagpiper, and when he was training with the Swan Hill pipe band, he wore a kilt – (ie, a SKIRT!) – once a week! SHOCK! HORROR!

  • Lauren says:

    One of the doctors that wrote “Caring for your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5” lives down the street from my mother. Their family gave my sisters and I this book to each of us upon the births of our first child.

    Honestly, this book was amazing. I followed it to a T, not knowing what the hell I was doing with this baby I was charged with caring for. The best part is that it does not assume anything about the caregiver. Caregivers are genderless, the focus is on caring for the children. I’d highly recommend it to all parents, not just moms or just dads.

  • Helen says:

    Oooooh, tht things one learns about one’s blog readers. Yay Tim for subverting the dominant paradigm.

  • Laura says:

    Good post! Not that I know anything about babies or parenting literature. But journalists need to be pulled up when they’re as lazy as the one who wrote this seems to have been and they swallow whole whatever marketing line is spun in the press release. I guess they have lots of different stories to write, but again with those two words, ‘Library’ and ‘Google’…. one thing, though – I wondered if labelling the first man as Gen X/Y played into unhelpful stereotypes about generations – surely being a prat isn’t a function of his generation?

  • Laura says:

    And what is that incredible photograph?!?

  • Armagnac Esq says:

    Well I don’t think it’s about that- like Tim T I’m not afraid to be seen reading total chick-lit; I read all three sex in the city books, loved ’em.

    But I enjoyed ‘being dad’ and think it’s unhelpful for you to get so mad at the idea that men might need a slightly different perspective on these things. I suspect, and I know you might be pretty annoyed at this suggestion, that this issue may be a proxy for something wider or deeper. I can’t see why having texts or DVDs aimed at encouraging males to feel more a part of the experience is in itself bad.

    And yes, from my pov most of the articles that aren’t explicitly aimed at ‘dad’ perspectives come across to me as highly gendered and less than encouraging or relevant.

    In fact generally most of the literature seems to be aimed at putting you off as much as possible, I’m pretty much over it except for the purpose of learning specifics like how to change a nappy or theories about literacy and learning.

  • Helen says:

    Laura – absolutely right about the generational crap being crap; How did it pass my crap filter, especially when I’ve got a post in the works about it? Edited now from “Gen X/Y” to “young”. It’s great having an editor.

    Picture is from Lileks’ “Gallery of Official Cheer” – the Dorcus collection.

    Armanac, you’ve fallen into the trap of the entitled mindset. Women are quite used to having to read books on many subjects that don’t “speak to them” – men are the default gender. The baby book genre, on the other hand, is one of the exceptions where women are the default gender, and the young men described in the article don’t like it at all! But instead of thinking, “Hmm, this sucks, this must be what it’s like for women all the time when they’re reading IT or law books”, they go “Wah! Cater for my needs!” whereas a woman with a nerdy boy-language IT manual will just suffer through it. Sure, one written by a woman (like one of my Web design texts) may be just the ticket, the point is we don’t feel so entitled to demand that!

    My other point was that if women demanded the same thing it’d be seen as “dumbing down” – a perception thing – and yet another point was, the genre is so vast, I don’t think it’s possible to say there’s nothing out there a man can’t understand. Pick and choose from a few.

  • Helen says:

    I have to say I’m gobsmacked about having two intelligent men say they read chicklit. I’m always lecturing my 14 year old about rotting her brain reading such things, but TimT and Armaniac seem to have survived OK. Should I re-think? I’m going to be doing some heavy spying on the book readers on the train in the next few days.

  • Armagnac Esq says:

    On the gendered thing- I agree, and if I was a woman I’d make a point of seeking out options that weren’t so gendered if at all possible. I’m not as a man going to self-flagelate for the point.

    Now, chick lit… well, let me say the following about Candace Bushnell’s writing:
    * She writes well, that’s always a healthy start.
    * Who even among lefties doesn’t like a little glamour from time to time?
    * The books, as opposed to the show, have hints of a darker, lonelier undercurrent. I don’t think they are intentional but it’s hard to be certain. However for me what I read was a more complex reading of the mid 30+ career woman’s quandrary. There is darkness and lonelyness, and sometimes the stupidities really look like stupidities.

    The TV show (which I liked as well!) was much more ‘yay, we chase men with money and big schlongs and give them all the flick and buy expensive shoes and yay its all so great’. Until near the end, anyway.

  • Luke says:

    I’m still stunned silly by that idiotic quote from Mr. Holt….but props on a very informative post.

    I was just at the local bookseller giant store today and I saw what you just described. 8-20 dollar Babybooks in every direction with stands and displays and charts and posters all with titles like “what your baby NEEDS to know (at X age).”

  • Ron says:

    Hopefully you will get this in time (my papershop sold out early this morning), Helen: The Oz’s AusLitReview is out today (first Wed of each month).

  • Helen says:

    “what your baby NEEDS to know (at X age).”

    This is the sort of thing which sends chills down my spine. Hothoused kids – blech. Must post on this sometime.

  • Fred says:

    You make a very valid point, pity about the bitchy female top-spin you imparted.
    I read a couple of Parenting books and armfuls of pamphlets about what WE were facing as new parents…It never ocurred to me that I could avoid all of this by being a “dumb bloke” and whining about how it was all written by and for women….silly me, I could have left it all to my wife to be the parent while I could have gone down the pub or played golf
    But I suppose I’m different to the stereotypical male that you decry in that I wanted to be a father and look forward to the experience.

  • Helen says:

    Feel better, Fred? Want a cup of tea?

    I can’t explain feminism 101 to every commenter who comes in here conflating patriarchy-blaming with man-hating. It’s just too exhausting.

  • jellyfish says:

    Another great post (whee, lookee me Ma, I’m on a commenting rampage!). I reminded me of how sickening I find the whole aggressive parenting book/paraphenalia racket . It preys on people’s (understandable) anxieties about messing up their kids. Disappointing to read an article like this – pretty much just a jazzed up PR release – that plays right along.

    I think the idea of parenting DVDS is really good, as they cater for parents who might not be comfortable or confident readers. But I agree with you, I think they’ve overdone the whole ‘nobody cares about the dads’ line x100.

  • tigtog says:

    I See A Great Need for an ‘urban myths of feminism’ site a la snopes.com for commenters like Fred.

  • Dan says:

    But instead of thinking, “Hmm, this sucks, this must be what it’s like for women all the time when they’re reading IT or law books”, they go “Wah! Cater for my needs!” whereas a woman with a nerdy boy-language IT manual will just suffer through it. Sure, one written by a woman (like one of my Web design texts) may be just the ticket, the point is we don’t feel so entitled to demand that!

    Perhaps you should feel entitled, and should start demanding, if it’s really important. Your post seems to say that men who feel excluded from the discourse on childrearing should shut up and take it because women have to shut up and take it whenever they feel excluded from other discourses which are male-dominated. Isn’t it possible to believe that baby literature should be inclusive, and that literature in other fields should be inclusive, too?

    Also, I think there’s gendered and there’s gendered. I haven’t read any baby books, but if it’s the case that they, like most of the baby-oriented advertising I see, make the base assumption that the primary caregiver of any child will be the mother, and make that assumption explicit in the language and the imagery, then they’re gendered in a much more obvious way than any IT or law book that I’ve read (not counting case judgments, which, especially but not exclusively the older ones, are often sexist). Many contemporary law texts explicitly deal with the problem of the law’s patriarchal origins. I’ve never read one that suggests, openly or implicitly, that a lawyer will always be a man. Unless there’s something gendered about programming code, it’s hard for me to understand the problem with most IT books, either. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

  • Helen says:

    Absolutely, Dan, women should start demanding their needs be met rather than saying that men shouldn’t. But some of these young guys’ perspective on baby books is a bit OTT. Yes, IT / Law / engineering texts don’t specifically mention men as a rule, but male is the default gender still, to a large extent. What got my interest was that these guys thought they couldn’t learn anything from a female-centric body of work, while women may sometimes feel a bit un-default but they don’t make that assumption. (Well, except for lad mags but we’re drifting off the topic a bit here). For instance, the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that the young dad experienced, and the feeling that it should be all roses but it isn’t: He doesn’t acknowledge that many, many mothers feel that way, and he may not even want to know that, since a book like “the Mask of Motherhood” or similar obviously won’t be on his recommended reading list. Is our experience, and our attempts or suggestions to mitigate it (bring back more support for Maternal and Child Health, which has been gutted in Victoria; Share experiences and solutions; Improve child care systems; and so on…) just to be brushed aside?

    If nothing else, it’s what systems guys would call “reinventing the wheel”. And I don’t think we’re SO different that that’s really necessary.

  • Sam Holt says:

    (sorry hit submit by accident – this version has been edited)

    Dear Helen,
    I have just been forwarded your blog by a friend and i must say it was interesting reading. I am Mr Holt, please call me Sam. I trust that you haven’t seen the DVD we produced but have managed to draw your opinions on us and the DVD from a couple of quotes that made it into the press. I don’t take offence to your spray but i would encourage you to watch the DVD (I’ll happily send you a copy) so that perhaps you can draw your opinions from a more balanced perspective.
    The DVD was not made because we are saying guys don’t read the books that are out there. I read the majority of pregnancy and birth books and found them to be comprehensive in their advice and medical information. I would encourage all of my mates to pick up a copy of Up the Duff or Baby Love because they will give you plenty of info that our DVD won’t.
    The premise of the DVD was two fold. 1. Not everyone likes reading books or finds them to be their preferred medium through which to learn. 2 we thought that many guys would appreciate listening to the stories and experiences of other men who are talking honestly about their feelings and emotions and not trying to macho it up or make it a try hard comedy act.
    Whilst you may have taken 5 seconds to google some book titles i suggest you try reading some of them (which i have) that are targeted at men and get back to me with your honest opinion as to there readability. Even the odd good one still comes from the viewpoint of one individual or expert, we wanted to demonstrate the diversity of experiences that pregnancy and birth provides by showing lots of different people.
    I would also encourage you to have a look at the feedback section on our site. You will see that there is a great deal of positive feedback from women who have also found the DVD to be a more preferable format to books and many who have said that it gave them another perspective on their pregnancy and birth.
    We didn’t make the DVD to make a fortune, we both have our own businesses that we are focused on. We believed, and still do, that this DVD would provide a different perspective on the millions of parenting publications that are out there. Perhaps if you were not so keen to try and make this a man v woman issue or one where you are seeking to criticise men, or women for that matter, for creating a differentiated product that others may wish to watch or read you may be able to see that.
    If you are suggesting that we should have just accepted the material in the marketplace as opposed to creating something which we believed was missing from existing titles then perhaps you should stop blogging and just let people read rants from others that were doing it before you. Why reinvent the rant wheel?
    I commend your blog, and all blogs, and respect the fact that it allows you to have your spray. Do me a favour though and take the time to watch the DVD and, if you hate it, spray it. You should know better than to read a few lines quoted by a journalist and form an opinion on people and products without taking the time to see for yourself.
    As a parting note i would like to say that your insinuation that we are wanting to ‘dumb’ the experience down for dads is quite insulting. I strongly believe that the DVD actually improves the birth and pregnancy for mums and dads due to the diversity of people in and experiences it shows.
    All the best with your blog and let me know if you’d like a copy of the DVD. Even if you get it and break it in two it might help…sounds like it might be therapeutic and relieve some of your pent up emotions.
    Lots of Love,
    Sam, Troy and all the people who have purchased and enjoyed Being Dad (www.beingdad.com.au)
    PS we are shooting Being Dad 2, looking forward to your feedback on that one as well. XX

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