Tags: antenatal classes

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.