Drop by any of the coffee houses on Montana Avenue and you can generally see parents grabbing a mid-afternoon caffeine hit before they pick up the kids from school and head home to make dinner for their families. These days, more and more of those parents are dads. Living in Santa Monica we have a skewed view of the world, thanks to the number of artists and performers who live here. Their alternate schedules lead to different lifestyles where people’s roles in life are not the “traditional family roles” of most of America, or the world for that matter.
The creatives in our midst set new standards and expectations, and we’re lucky to have these trailblazers show us a new way of living. A more equal way, because there is an age old conflict between the wage earner and the homemaker; the division of labor that goes into making a family, and on a larger scale a village, then a city, state, and eventually the country is fraught with assumptions and prejudices. For any composition of people to work effectively there must be a division of labor. This an ever present issue, from before the time of Plato, to today’s modern world of shifting expectations for men and women.
Men and women are acculturated with gender roles and expectations, and we accept them until someone says, “Wait, why is that?” We learn to operate under the system as we perceive it to be, with little examination. The messages are omnipresent in movies and television, and in the way that celebrities, politicians and professional athletes are portrayed.
This week a professional baseball player was making headlines just as the season is starting up. Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox took a short stint of paternity leave to be with his wife and first child. Rather than being mocked, or ridiculed, Eaton’s leave is covered in a five-paragraph story on ESPN.GO.Com as nonchalantly as saying the sky is blue and water is wet. This is the changing face of society.
It’s not just in America either; this weekend I saw a Hindi movie called “Ki and Ka.” It’s a romantic comedy about a young man who rejects his father’s millions and a hard charging business life in favor of being a homemaker for his wife, who is the work obsessed breadwinner. I enjoyed the movie greatly for what it is, a fun love story that is telling a tale with a strong dose of social commentary. It accomplishes the extremely difficult task of shining a light on assumptions of gender roles, without being preachy, angry, argumentative, demeaning or insulting.
The plotline is basic boy meets girl, but the gender role reversal allows for the exploration of not just what it means to be a man or a woman today, but also how hard it is to go against the expectations of what being a man or a woman means. Confronting our internalized messages of what we value, and what society values is tricky, but this movie handled it beautifully. The male character of Kabir is clear on what he wants from life, to build a home and a family, his wife Kia is clear on her goals in business, but conflicted when she has to explain their unusual family arrangement to co-workers. The conflict is not unlike that of many people today in America.
Women have become the majority of college attendees, there are more single mothers today than ever in our history, and the rates of marriage keep falling. The opportunities that await women are boundless, and the same goes for more and more men, who are choosing to form their own families with surrogates and adoptions. What we know of as the traditional family structure, and gender norms is rapidly changing. The military will soon put women in combat positions, and more men are staying home to “bake cookies,” as Hillary dismissively put it, each day.
I think the challenge remains in how to value the contributions of each party. We tend to value the breadwinner more, because it is easier to quantify the contribution. How does one put a value on a warm and loving home? The answer really is that we cannot put a dollar amount to it because it requires a conscious decision to value love and support of each other, above money or possessions, to value the happiness of each, as the highest good of the relationship.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.