01 August 2016

The emotional toll of masculinity

This personal essay published in the Washington Post's Parenting section, provides a lot of insight into the powerful norms and ideals of masculinity in (North) American society. In "The part I was not prepared for as a Stay at Home Dad" (June 2016), Billy Doidge Kilgore frankly discusses the emotional toll of his choice to become a stay-at-home dad while his wife took on the role of breadwinner for their household.

The emotional toll Kilgore refers to isn't the drain of taking care of a newborn child, but dealing with "the larger, often more subtle, cultural forces. These forces, gender roles, define a man’s worth not by their efforts within their families but by their productivity outside the home."

Instructors may find Kilgore's essay useful for classroom discussions of gender as something learned, and the power of cultural constructions in our everyday lives. He writes:
Despite the fact I am prioritizing my family’s needs and enduring the grueling work of childcare, this is not enough. In my mental fog, my notions of identity turn on their head. I am confused by the strange reality of performing demanding and difficult work, work I love, yet feeling inferior and unproductive. I find myself full of gnawing doubt and fear and insecurity.
No one confronted me directly about my decision to leave my job and care for my son, but they did not have to because the subtle contempt woven into questions, comments, assumptions, and body language did most of the work to undermine my self worth. I feel naive for thinking it possible to move against the rigid gender roles still entrenched in modern America.
The piece drives home how gender is such a powerful construct as he describes his internal, affective struggle to reconcile his choice to become the primary caregiver in his family with idea(l)s of what it means to be a man that he has internalized throughout his life -- even as he disagrees with these rigid norms on an intellectual level.

Further reading: