Life as a status symbol?

Towards the end of April I was contacted by a writer who was going to be doing an article on stay at home dads for Marie Claire magazine. Since I’m interested in doing whatever I can to paint stay at home dads in a positive light, I accepted the interview request.

About a week after I was interviewed they wanted to speak with my wife.  When that was over they told her to expect a call regarding a photo shoot soon, but that call never came. I figured I didn’t make the cut (read: wasn’t interesting enough) and kind of forgot about it until I got a “fact check” email at the beginning of July.

Well, the article made it into the September issue of the magazine with the title: “What’s the new status symbol for alpha women? …A Stay-at-home hubby” and the subtitle “She wears the pants; he wears the diaper bag”. The internet posting has the less offensive “Real Life Stay-at-Home-Husbands”. There even was a follow up piece on the article by the Today Show.

The title jumped out to me and struck a chord of fear for what lay ahead in the article. Obviously they chose this pandering title to appeal to their demographic, but by choosing “hubby” and “husband” over “dad” or “father” they chose to ignore the fact that we are home taking care of the children and managing a household. Instead, their title implies that we are just “kept men” who are obediently waiting the return of our alpha women like the loyal family pet.

What really killed me about the obnoxious title was the fact that I had agreed to change the wording of something I said to avoid even the slightest chance of offending a certain demographic. If that isn’t the definition of irony, I don’t know what is.

Stupid title aside, it was a decent article. However, there were a few things that I took issue with. The first, and biggest, was the one talking head that intimated that being a stay at home dad means that I lack ambition, which at some point could negatively impact my marriage.

“I can handle things! I’m smart!”

While this may be true in some instances, it is an overly broad stroke if you ask me. My wife is an extremely intelligent woman with a doctorate and 15 years of experience in her field. She loves the work she does, but she does not have major career ambitions beyond her present position as a clinical staff pharmacist at a teaching hospital.

Not only that, but I didn’t go from being Michael Corleone to Fredo the minute I exchanged my HP 12C for a diaper bag. While my children come first, I do have post at-home life career ambitions for myself.

The consulting work I have been fortunate enough to do, for instance, has been just one of the outlets I’ve had to keep my head in the game, if you will. My hope is that if the work I do continues to be successful that it will lead to a full time opportunity, especially one that enable me to work from home.

At some point my children will certainly not need me as much as they do now, but I still would prefer to be more accessible to them if such a need arises. Besides, getting married and having a family has changed my priorities and I no longer define myself by my career path or the amount of money I make.

As for the other two things, I am kind of irked that there wasn’t a picture of me or my family in the article. I was quoted a lot, but I must have been so hideous a sight that it would have ruined their “arm candy” theme.

Lastly, in the bit about what I send my wife off to work with, I put craisins in my tarragon chicken salad, not raisins. So much for fact checking :)

“I’m smart and I want respect!”

Had this article come out a year or so ago I might have been more sensitive and my protestations more amplified. Stupid things like this attention grabbing title really used to get to me – see my Don’t Father’s Matter Series that I wrote last year as exhibits A through D your honor .

Whether it is because I have developed thicker skin or because I’ve come to the realization that my wife’s opinion of me is the only thing that matters, these things, for the most part, don’t bother me that much anymore.

There has been a lot floating around the blogosphere about how dads deserve respect. For the most part I agree with that sentiment. As with anything in life, whether at home, in the work place or on the field, respect needs to be earned. There is no right to it, and there should be no expectation that it be given without merit.

The dads I have met from my online escapades, whether they are stay at home, work outside of the home, single, step, straight, gay or whatever, deserve respect because they take their role in their children’s lives seriously. Unfortunately, there are still many who don’t, which help perpetuate the stereotypes about dads and fatherhood that the media continually thrusts in our faces.

Also, it sounds rather hollow as a stay at home dad to sit around and whine about things like the editorial focus of “parenting” magazines or the marketing practices of baby product retailers when women have fought hard, and in many ways still do fight, for their equality.

In my highly unscientific estimation we are another generation of fathers away from earning that respect.  As a result, it makes what the strides the fathers of this generation are making all that more important.

While I wish brands and companies would more sooner than later recognize the role of the modern father in their marketing efforts at least their frequent missteps provide great blog fodder.

That being said…

If the situation were reversed and a man wrote an article claiming that “Stay at home moms were the latest status symbol for the alpha male” they would be promptly castrated in the court of public opinion, if not literally castrated.

The fact that women make up the majority of the workforce for the first time ever means that there have been great strides in our society. By no means am I intimating that equality has been reached, but article titles like this do expose a nasty double standard.

Just as society wouldn’t tolerate something written by a man that demeans women, we shouldn’t accept something written by a woman that demeans men, especially fathers that are fulfilling an important role for their families regardless of whether it is by choice or circumstance.

Allowing the practice of making men easy targets because any defense of ourselves that we may choose to make can easily be thwarted with a claim that we are sexist runs counter to the quest for equality. It is as if the author of this title had a taste of the forbidden fruit and liked it. If we are to progress as a society we can’t have it both ways.

Clearly I think the Marie Claire article missed an opportunity to move past the standard script for the media when it comes to talking about stay at home dads.  It is disappointing that they chose the mundane rather than to rise above the fray.

The sooner that we get past the triviality of things like status symbols and recognize the role of the modern father and that parenting is a partnership everyone will be better off, especially our children.

One final note

After digesting the article I did take the time to peruse the rest of the magazine. Unequivocally my favorite part of this particular issue is the Chambord Vodka ad. It is scented like you would normally see with a perfume ad.

When I get around to starting my parenting magazine geared towards the modern parent all the alcohol ads will be required to be scented. I’m pretty sure a magazine wafting with the scent of single malt scotch will fly off the shelves.

First Ride on the Suburban Assault Vehicle?

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About PJ Mullen

PJ Mullen is a dad, husband, amateur chef and prolific air drummer blogging about his life as a dad and anything else that is on his mind. Occasionally he blogs about being a dad in the kitchen at peaches en risotto and is a contributor over at Digital Dads.

Facebook comments:

  • Anonymous

    It gets a bit ridicules with the spin, chatter and blogs taking shots at dads/stay at home dads. Your right a tough skin is needed. I got a bit caught up in the nonsense in the blog world. Partially because of that I took some time away to build up a tougher skin and to realize when it comes to that stuff my wife’s opinion is the one that counts. From begging to end you encapsulated it perfectly. We can hold are head up high knowing we’re doing the best for our family.

  • http://www.almightydad.com Keith Wilcox

    Those people are clearly world class idiots. In fact, I think they contacted me, and I even submitted something. I guess it wasn’t picked up. I think I’m sorta grateful now, after reading the hatchet job they did you you guys. But, we should know all those women magazines are the same. They all want to hear how “powerful” they are. They get their motivation not internally from their own self confidence; they get it by bashing men. I’m not surprised. I guess I know who to give the finger to when they come knocking again.

  • http://www.dcurbandad.com DCUrbanDad

    Okay that weak and inadequate line is really starting to bug me. Any involved Dad, stay at home, work, whatever is neither weak nor inadequate. Marie Claire should just stick to telling women what to wear this season. Dude you are a kick butt dad and I am sure a rockstar of a husband.

  • http://gopopgo.wordpress.com/ Pop

    Thanks for this post! I didn’t–and won’t–read that article, and even more than the words you wrote, I just got a sense of how much you love your wife and kids. Arguing with people, esp. on the internet, can be a colossal waste of time; I prefer to read inspiring bloggers like yourself who help me want to be a more invested father.

  • http://LifeofaNewDad otter321

    You definitely have calmed down. I remember a lot of angry posts about such things in the past. I always try to remember that other peoples perceptions don’t define who I am. Anyway, you are clearly ambitious and I have no doubt you will have some successful ventures in the near future. I always enjoy seeing Dads that I know getting some attention. You are doing good for all of us.

  • http://LifeofaNewDad otter321

    You definitely have calmed down. I remember a lot of angry posts about such things in the past. I always try to remember that other peoples perceptions don’t define who I am. Anyway, you are clearly ambitious and I have no doubt you will have some successful ventures in the near future. I always enjoy seeing Dads that I know getting some attention. You are doing good for all of us.

  • http://twitter.com/BloggerFather BloggerFather

    I’m not my mom 20 years ago, so an article in Marie Claire matters to me as much as an article in Whale Hunting Monthly, but unfortunately, this article has made it to MSNBC.com, proving that the only thing that sells is controversy, no matter how correct the premise is. It reminds me of the Onion joke, Man Who Plays Devil’s Advocate Really Just Wants To Be Asshole. Does ANY woman consider her husband a status symbol? It doesn’t matter–it’s controversial enough to get publicity.

    As someone who wrote an anti-Pampers/Babies’r'Us/1800-Flowers/Playtex post, I still understand what you’re saying about baby products. When I wrote my post I made sure to say not buying their stuff was my own decision and not a call for action. Pampers is offensive, but its offense is harmless, really. It’s off-putting for me as a man to buy from these companies, but Pampers didn’t damage me or my family–it only made me choose a different brand.

    By the way, did you say anything to anyone at Marie Claire? I wonder how they would feel about reading this post. Like I said on Twitter, most of the article wasn’t horrible, and this has been a real missed opportunity on their part.

  • http://clarkkentslunchbox.blogspot.com/ R_Mattocks

    Reading this has me so fired up right now, I’m seething. The comment about SAHD’s lacking ambition–hold on a minute while I cuss out loud. They just don’t get it, and to some extent I think main stream media as a whole chooses to ignore the positive images of today’s father because negativity sells better. Laughing at a caricature of a man is easier than putting forth the effort in aspiring to be an authentic one. That a double standard exists when it comes to women only exacerbates the issue that much more.

    I totally feel your pain, PJ. Working Mother Magazine TROUNCED me, portraying me as lost and full of self-pity in my SAHD role. They completely ignored the 30 minutes I spent explaining how as men we are conditioned to base our masculinity on external factors like income and job performance when we should derive our self confidence from understanding the importance of our roles as fathers and the impact we have on our families. Completely left that part out.

    The positive in all of this, small as it may be is that dads like you are getting into the spotlight and hopefully that attracts people will come see for themselves what a real man driving a minivan is all about.

  • http://clarkkentslunchbox.blogspot.com/ R_Mattocks

    Oh, and for what it’s worth I think you’re a good looking man. I mean that in a strictly platonic sense. =-)

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    It really does, I used to get really upset at it when I first got going too. I noticed you had a little blogging void and wondered where you had gone. I haven’t been as active as I would have liked either, but a newborn will do that to you :)

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Don’t hold back on me now, Keith :)

    To me it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I figured I might as well as least get my voice heard. Unless it is on the pages of my own blog I have no way on controlling exactly what is said. If you took out the two talking heads and the ridiculous title it would have been fine, but for the reasons you point out that never would have happened.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Thanks, man. Yes, that line from that talking head was what really set me off. I guess I should have known better participating in the article.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Thanks, man, I appreciate it. When you’re given a chance in life to start from scratch with your wife and kids you do what you’ve got to do. It is sad that the traditional media would rather spin obnoxious headlines or focus on the negative rather than building a positive picture of the modern father.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Thank you, man. And you are definitely doing good for us dads out there as well.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    I have not as of yet, I’ve actually been having a conversation with Steely Dad (Todd) privately to see what he is going to do. He mentioned writing a letter to the editor because I talked to him about how I agreed to edit my quote so that it wouldn’t offend and then when the headline came out, he was more pissed than I was.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Unfortunately if you look at anything in the main stream media that gets any attention all you see is negativity and divisive rhetoric. The double standard that exists when it comes to women talking down about men is what kills me the most.

    I remember that garbage Working Mother Mangazine article, it was quite ridiculous. It makes me sad that no one seems to want to have at the very least a balance discussion about these things.

    All we can do is keep fighting and doing what we do. Like I said, I think it will take at least another generation of fathers like us for it to happen, but we need to continue laying the groundwork.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    LOL, why thank you. And I, you, in a totally platonic sense. :)

  • Anonymous

    I’m a woman and I don’t read Marie Claire. I am disappointed that they made it sound like (yes I read this article on the Internet after hearing you and other bloggers I read were quoted in it) SAHDs were a “status symbol.” Funny, I was never a symbol of anything when I was a SAHM. I, however, faced some of your frustrations. If I was patted on the head, figuratively, and treated like I was an imbecile one more time because I stayed at home instead of strapping on five inch heels and a business suit, I would have kicked someone in the knees. (I’m short, that’s as far up as I can get.)

    And why is a woman, or man, “alpha,” just because they work outside the home and earn a paycheck?

    When I stayed home I was told by some I wasn’t “contributing” to the household? Excuse me? I guess by their standards unless I brought home some of the bacon, I wasn’t an equal partner to my husband and didn’t contribute enough to the family.

    I’m sorry that the media refuses to see SAHDs as they truly are, loving, responsible parents, raising their children full time. I guess that’s not sexy enough for the media. If it’s not sexy or scandalous, I guess it doesn’t sell and it is all about the bottom line, not about the truth.

    I could go on, but I’ll stop now.

  • Kevin W. Grossman

    Living on either coast (I’m on the West coast) we neglect to acknowledge where the rest of the U.S. stands. That’s who part of the pandering is for.

    Trust me, I do believe the landscape is changing, but I also agree with you that we’re still a generation away.

    But we are on the cusp of many a-change: who we marry, how we parent, how we work.

    Amen to that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000325173297 Craig Lawrey

    You state the complete truth! Thanks!!

    “If the situation were reversed and a man wrote an article claiming that “Stay at home moms were the latest status symbol for the alpha male” they would be promptly castrated in the court of public opinion, if not literally castrated.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000325173297 Craig Lawrey

    Complete truth here! Thanks!!
    “If the situation were reversed and a man wrote an article claiming that “Stay at home moms were the latest status symbol for the alpha male” they would be promptly castrated in the court of public opinion, if not literally castrated.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000325173297 Craig Lawrey

    “And why is a woman, or man, “alpha,” just because they work outside the home and earn a paycheck?”
    Yea, no kidding! I guess it’s because the media would like us all to believe that someONE has to be incharge. To us, decisions are not always final when made by the one that makes more money. That would be more like Communism, wouldn’t it?

  • SeattleDad

    Spot on post PJ.

    I somehow missed that you were a part of this. Congrats on interview, even if it didn’t hit all the marks.

  • http://twitter.com/TheUncertainMan The Uncertain Man

    Like you alluded to, and others have mentioned, this is really no surprise given the demographic they’re pandering to. Your comment about how everything that gets attention these days is negative and divisive hits it RIGHT on the head. The reason we’re seeing so much divisiveness in the media/online, etc. is that it’s what sells papers, gets hits, registers Nielsen eyeballs.

    I’ll stick to the bloggers that make me think, that make me question myself, even while still pointing out the ways we are similar and fostering unity. We’re all parents. Whether you’re a stay-at-home dad, working dad, stay-at-home mom, or both working parents. The challenges in raising your kids, in spite of all of the obstacles society puts in our way is what it’s all about.

    Glad to see you’re growing into your role as a stay-at-home dad. I admire you for it. I’ve been home WITH my wife & kids since May when I lost my job, and I can’t imagine being home alone with them every day! (4yo girl, and 1yo boy)

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    That’s exactly it, society at large only seems to be buying if the news is bad, sexy or scandalous, which is very sad.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Absolutely, and I view many of these changes as a good thing. I’ve barely had time to do anything with my blog due to sleep deprivation, so I’m way behind on my reading, but you all must be close to your daughters arrival. I hope all is going well.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Thank you. It was a little disappointing that they couldn’t stick to the positive message that dads like us want to be involved in our children’s lives, but it’s all good. We just have to keep doing what we do.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    The at-home life isn’t for everybody and it has surely been a major adjustment for me to make. What sealed the deal for me is that I hated what I did for a living and was miserable. Had circumstances been different, I’m not sure I could have done this for as long as I have.

    I hope that things work out for you soon on the job front.

  • http://johncaveosborne.com/ john cave osborne

    WOW. this was simply fantastic. i, too, cringed at the title. then, when i read the article, i was reasonably okay with it, though i totally agree that they missed a chance to take the SAHH (wtf??), er SAHD angle past the traditional ones media has pursued thus far. but they don’t wanna do that. they want hits/sales. so they do what they do and write a reasonable article, but not a thought-provoking one.

    then you follow up w/ this masterpiece. while i agreed with virtually (if not literally) everything in it, there is one thing that rang particularly true for me: the part about we’re a generation away from changing stereotypes. i’ve always said that, and even took issue w/ caleb gardner (who i totally respect) after he wrote a piece which (IMHO) kinda sounded whiny. if a person or a group of people (in this case dads) want respect, the last way to get it is by pounding angrily on the table and demanding it. the first way to get it is by silently doing your thing, showing everyone who witnesses that you’re on to something different. something cool.

    stereotypes take generations to change. see racism, or for that matter, sexism, as you point out. in many ways, women are still fighting for equality regardless of what percentage of the workforce they make up.

    so kudos all the way around on this one, PJ. one final note: anyone who has ever read any of your fine blogs, or had the good fortune of knowing you, even virtually, would never, EVER come away thinking you weren’t clever, enterprising, ambitious, and TALENTED. not that you need a pep-talk from me. but you were one of the first guys i found online, and suffice it to say that i have uncommon respect for men like you.

    keep up the good work, my friend. on all fronts.

  • http://daddysmymommy.com/ Scott

    I might be partially to blame for this, as I enjoy self-degrading my parenting skills for comedic effect. But then I self-degrade all my skills. Like, for instance, my inability to post constructive comments.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Thank you John, you humble me.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dennis-Pombier-III/100000110273257 Dennis Pombier III

    I am a stay-at-home dad myself, and find it offensive that the magazine painted it in a negative light. What does it matter weather your a man or woman when you take care of your children? I do sometimes feel like I do not contribute as much as my wife does, but when the kids are screaming and the house needs cleaning, I know I am contributing to our family. Maybe not in the monetary way, but in ways just as important. I have my own blog about staying at home. check it out if you have the time please. http://sydanddensdad.blogspot.com/
    Dennis

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    No controversy, no attention, no sales. Regrettably the way of the world. It definitely is a tough balance to be the at home parent, especially when you are used to bringing home a paycheck. I struggled with it a lot and still do from time to time, like when my wife had to go back to work after our daughter was born. There are days I wished I had the job outside of the home so she could spend more time with the kids. At the end of the day as long as the kids are happy and healthy that is really all that matters.

  • Housegod93

    I was a SAHD starting in 1993. I didn’t have all the resources that are available today, and yet both of my kids grew strong and healthy to become contributing members of society. One has graduated college and the other will graduate next year. When I read your blog it really ticked me off. Because I chose to stay at home and raise my children instead of putting them in child care and warehouse them after school to say I’m anything less than a man is ridiculous. I chose to be there for them, and my wife was able to bring home the bacon enough for me to cook it up and take care of everything else that needed to be done at home. When are people going to learn that both men and woman are equal partners in a marriage? Shame on you Marie Claire for not rising to the occasion. I am proud that I raised my kids and they are too so ppthhpt!

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Good for you for doing what your family needed from you most. That’s what real men do. Screw Marie Claire and those of their ilk that write this drivel to sell magazines.

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