Newsweek, January 31, 2000
Breaking Through the Estrogen Ceiling
As a stay-at-home dad and a writer on family issues, I'm tired of being
considered a parental also-ran
By Bruce Kluger
In her new book, Stiffed, author Susan Faludi struggles to define men in an era in
which, she says, they struggle to define themselves. "The ordinary man is no fool,"
she concludes. "He knows he can't be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nonetheless the
culture reshapes his most basic sense of manhood by telling him... that masculinity
is something to drape over the body, not draw from inner resources."
on Ms. Faludi's theory—I'm too
busy. Indeed, the only thing
draped over my body these days
is a Snuggli, the occupant of
which is my 11-month-old
daughter, Audrey. And she's got
No, this is not another of those
stay-at-home-dad diaries, a
charming collection of self-
honest, I'm not in a very charming mood these days.
Last year I left my job as a senior editor at Playboy to begin writing full time about
being a dad. I'd done this as a freelancer ever since the birth of my older daughter,
Bridgette, in 1995. I dreamed of landing a regular gig in the universe of family
journals, and my resume backed me up. In addition to editing for Playboy, I'd written
about sex and relationships for women's magazines and about pregnancy for a
family Web site and had been a contributor to a bride's magazine. Now, I ask you,
from the altar to the bedroom, do I sound like a well-rounded fellow or what?
Apparently not. After a solid year of turndowns, evasions and downright sexist
rejections, I began to fear that I'd no sooner make a living writing a daddy's column
than I would start for the Knicks this season. I had crashed into the estrogen ceiling.
Although my research is not as exhaustive as Ms. Faludi's, it's becoming clear that
men really aren't a very hot commodity when it comes to writing about parenting.
It wasn't just when I noticed that a leading parents' magazine hadn't one male editor
in its masthead; nor was it when an editor at a family Web site interrupted me—
midpitch—to announce, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but we're not interested in running
pieces from the male point of view at this time." It's the overall sense that it's not my
ideas that are getting the veto here (that I could take—I get rejected for a living). It's
me, the guy—the guy who writes about girl things—who's getting the boot.
To wit: for the thousands of words I'd submitted about being a husband and father
(everything from dealing with a spouse's postpartum depression to the mixed
emotions of expecting a second child), not one of these editors had ever
commented on the content of my proposals. Just no thanks and no sale.
Consequently, I've been forced to supplement our household income with more
male-appropriate assignments (an article on extreme sports for a TV magazine,
some interview editing for a political journal), while continuing to get body-blocked
by journalism's female gatekeepers.
So tell me, what does a guy have to do to be one of the girls around here?
When I complain about this—which is often—I hear myself sounding bitter and
delusional, as if I've fabricated some nefarious cabal of women bent on keeping me
and my fellow dads down on the back lawn. I now understand the frustration the
feminist pioneers must have felt at the outset: clam up and nothing changes; speak
up and they label you noisy and nuts. But at least the Steinems and Friedans could
get journalists to listen to—and publish—their list of beefs. I can't even get an editor
to print a piece about making Jell-O with my kid.
It's confounding, really. How are we supposed to explain a society that bends over
backward to ensure equality between the sexes in the workplace, but out here on
the street (and in the aisles of the grocery store and along the stroller paths in the
park) still considers dads perpetual parental also-rans? Even before I started this
quest in earnest, I could detect a potent XX-chromosome bias in the culture when it
came to parenting. I am frequently approached on the street by women (and, sorry,
it's always a woman), eager to tell me I'm holding my child improperly, or her socks
aren't on right, or watch out, she may choke on that toy she's playing with.
But the capper to all of this occurred on the way back from dropping Bridgette off at
school this morning. A passenger on the bus—a middle-aged woman—noticed
Audrey sleeping against my chest and commented, "She's so cute. Where's the
mother, at work?" When I said yes, the woman responded with a knowing smile: "Ah,
then you're playing Mommy today."
Oh, what I'd give to have been the real Arnold at that moment.