Donna Reed is dead. Her pearls and aprons haven’t graced America’s screens for decades. And what’s more, her character’s lifestyle is more or less dead, too.
Women have been free to expand beyond the sphere of domesticity for a couple of generations now. The hoop-skirted, perfectly made-up, coiffed housewife waiting lovingly for her husband at the door armed with a casserole and winning smile feels, in this day and age, like a sepia-toned relic of the past.
Stay-at-home moms still exist, of course, and are generally respected. But the image of the ideal woman has drastically shifted. The domestic queen has been replaced by the hardworking, stylish, dynamic, career mom. She’s the woman that has it all: an impressive career; a functional, loving family; and, somehow, the time to keep in great shape.
In the span of only about 30 years, the cultural norm for women has flip-flopped. America’s perfect woman has traded in her pearls and apron for a briefcase, and the rest of the country seems onboard.
However, the same cannot be said for men. The husbands of Donna Reed’s era were first and foremost the breadwinners. They went to work all day, returning in jovial spirits to enjoy a home-cooked meal, a newspaper and maybe some baseball in the yard with Junior. This brand of dad was expected to put work first and parenting second. Their most important function was as a financial supporter.
This stereotype, for the most part, has endured.
Men who choose to stay at home, however, to play the role of primary caregiver and homemaker, are often stigmatized. Neighbors whisper about their possible inability to get a “real” job, as if being a dad wasn’t enough.
These men are often reduced to stereotypes, seen as inadequate or feminine when compared to working fathers.
Not only is this perception ridiculous, but it is also riddled with sexism. The idea that being a parent is good enough for a woman but not for a man reveals a consistent belief that women are lesser than men and should hold roles of less importance and responsibility. Furthermore, it throws a damning light on the patriotic tripe that raising the next generation is of upmost importance to the survival of our precious virtues and values.
Unfortunately, this stigma has had an undeniable effect. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 176,000 men stayed home purposely to care for their children in 2011 (this does not include the heightened numbers of unemployed men forced to stay at home because of the economic difficulties of late).
While this number has grown exponentially since Donna Reed’s era, it is still relatively small when compared to the number of working fathers. This statistic lends force to the notion that negative perceptions of stay-at-home dads dissuade many men from choosing that familial role.
When we were kids, dads were our first superheroes. It’s about time society sees them the same way.