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Why Do We Always Specify the Gender of a Stay-at-Home Parent?

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I sigh when those lists of things I should love, hate, know, cook, learn, read, or purge come across my social media

feeds ("Eight Ways to get Your Picky Toddler to Eat Vegetables"). Often, they're ridiculously outdated, stereotypes, and genderized, if not misogynistic ("Five Men You Need To Date," "Twenty Things A Dad Needs to Tell His Daughter's Boyfriend" -- this is what the brave new world of the internet is bringing me?).

Huffington Post Living Canada's "Words Women Are Tired of Hearing" by Arti Patel caught my eye, though, because it attacks exactly the ridiculous, sexist words and phrases that get thrown around thoughtlessly, and that are of a piece with those lists. Patel's piece was was funny, insightful, and pithy (the "lady lumps" reference made me LOL). And one of those twenty-five words leapt out at me: female. Patel wrote:

For some reason, we tend to add the word male or female in front of certain occupations because we tend to confuse genders. No, just kidding. There really is no reason to be terms like female CEO or female editor when we refer to someone's position.

Right on, sister! (Patel also had "mompreneur" in the list, with reasoning in the same vein.)

Noting gender, when gender is irrelevant, happens even in the most progressive of milieus. The soundtrack of my current leave of absence has been my beloved CBC, and yet just this week, I heard a newscaster refer to Ontario's Premier Kathleen Wynne and another politician as "the two women." Really? How about "the two politicians," or "the politicians" or even just "the two"? What was important in that news snippet was that two politicians were discussing a particular key item, not that they are women.

It's important -- intrinsic, even -- to refer to male and female when we're discussing gender diversity issues, or profiles of a particular person, but gender must not be part of any conversation as a matter of fact (and ditto for religion, race, country of origin, etc.).

Sure, there's been progress. In my thirteen years of practice, I've never been called a "lady lawyer." My colleague, who acts and sings on the side, calls herself an actor, not an actress. I've noticed fewer funny women are referred to as comediennes - they get to be comedians now. Even "male nurse" is becoming extinct.

Parenting -- A Gender Divide

But for all that progress, one area remains glaring -- that of parenting. We nearly always refer to parents that stay at home to raise their children by their genders - stay-at-home-mom or -dad. It's rare to see the gender-neutral "stay-at-home-parent," even in parenting-focussed media.

And yet, stay-at-homes all do the same thing -- execute on the functions of parenting. The job description of the role are taking care of the kids and (in most cases), the home. If the content of the job is the same whether a man or woman is doing it, there's no principled reason to emphasize gender.

Is there anything a SAHD can do that a SAHM cannot, or vice versa? None of the quotidian tasks of child and home care -- laundry, meals, packing lunches, dentist appointments, kissing cuts and scrapes, reading out loud, grocery

shopping - are inherently better done by a man or a woman, or can only be done by a man or woman. And hey - male

and female SAHPs even have pay parity!

And since that's the case, we should not differentiate by gender when it comes to describing the role of a stay-athome-parent. Doing so is inherently damaging, because we fall back on social imagery of SAHMs and SAHDs. You may have your own internal images of a stay-at-home-mom. Is it different from the one for stay-at-home dad? Why?

What contributes to these images and the differences between them? I admit I have my own biases I struggle to banish, even though I've never met a SAHP remotely like these images I carry around. These perceptions are not legitimate, and they are deeply judgmental, based on gender and social stereotypes. The words we use encourage us to lean on these stereotypes, and to draw conclusions, both about individual SAHPs and the entire group, that are likely not to be authentic.

Why is this okay for parenting, when we've made progress, as a culture, about our perceptions of what gender lawyers, doctors, engineers, programmers, teachers, bankers, administrators, nurses, professors, and more, should be?

So, let's stop separating our images of the work by which parent does it. Let's end the genderizing and stereotyping of stay-at-home-parents.

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