Good morning, dads. Sip your coffee, scroll Twitter, and try to make sense of this glorious salutation.
Happy Father’s Day! Let us all commit to expect fathers to be equal caregivers & just as competent in the home as mothers are in the office.
— Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) June 19, 2016
In essence: Happy Father’s Day, dads. You suck at doing all the things women do so well as moms and as employees. This tweet sums up everything wrong with sexist modern feminism and illustrates virtue signaling at its worst.
Slaughter is, of course, a former Princeton University professor whose 2012 piece in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” became a kind of guidepost for discussing how difficult work-life balance really is for working mothers to achieve, especially in advocating that working dads need to step up and do more household chores and parenting.
Slaughter’s tweet did not go over well, and not just because of the timing (is Father’s Day really the time to nag dads that they just don’t “do enough” around the house?). The premise was way off, and people caught that, too.
@SlaughterAM Thanks, but I already told my husband and kids’ dad I love and appreciate him unconditionally. It’s more my style.
— Erin Arlinghaus (@erinarlinghaus) June 19, 2016
@ThomasHCrown I’ll bet I’m as competent at caregiving and homemaking as my wife would be in my office.
— Adam R. Maxwell (@maxwellarm) June 20, 2016
— EverydayWoman (@FedUpAmerican5) June 19, 2016
— Kah Zuhl List (@kazoolist) June 19, 2016
Slaughter fought back:
— Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) June 19, 2016
Breaking It Down
You’ve got to hand it to Slaughter for packing so much virtue-signaling in 140 characters—that’s no easy feat. Besides its sanctimonious tone, her tweet’s assumptions are not only false, it’s also entirely unfounded statistically. The first half reads: “Let’s all commit to expect fathers to be equal caregivers…” Except that Slaughter hasn’t.
Slaughter’s husband, Andrew Moravcsik, is their family’s “lead parent,” her term for the parent who takes the lion’s share of responsibilities at home and with the children. He admitted to such proudly in his own essay in The Atlantic, “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First.” Yet, as both pieces clearly state, her husband wasn’t just the equal caregiver, but the “lead” caregiver, since she chose to pursue her career first (a decision she reversed when her children were in their teens).
She also assumes every mom (and dad, I suppose) wants her children’s father to be an equal caregiver, and this is simply not the case. A 2014 Pew Research study found more moms are choosing to stay at home in recent years—around 30 percent do—and 60 percent say it’s best for kids if at least one parent is at home focusing on raising the kids. A 2015 Gallup poll found a majority of mothers would prefer to stay home with their kids. Slaughter admits this in her 2012 essay, yet contradicts this in her Sunday tweet:
Deep down, I wanted to go home. I wanted to be able to spend time with my children in the last few years that they are likely to live at home, crucial years for their development into responsible, productive, happy, and caring adults. But also irreplaceable years for me to enjoy the simple pleasures of parenting—baseball games, piano recitals, waffle breakfasts, family trips, and goofy rituals.
The simple fact of the matter is that people are better at things when they specialize in it, and specialization provides a comparative advantage in efficiency, as Slaughter and her husband obviously recognized in practice, if not in words. A few rare families can juggle careers and kids equally, perhaps, but the level of communication and coordination this requires is so high throughout history families have found it most efficient and suitable for each parent to specialize in one particular domain.
The second part of Slaughter’s tweet reads: “And just as competent in the home as mothers are in the office.” This assumes fathers aren’t competent at home, while mothers are quite competent in the office (and at home). While statistics support this in part—no research shows, for example, that in homes where both mom and dad work they typically divide housework equally—dads actually seem quite “competent” in the home. Furthermore, they tend to handle the kinds of household chores that don’t get counted in such surveys, such as car and yard maintenance as opposed to laundry and dishes.
Yet while I’m sure moms are “competent” in the office—and research in fact suggests that motherhood makes women better, smarter employees—they certainly don’t make as much money as men. While research shows this is because of women’s different life choices, it still suggests, if anything, that men are comparatively more competent in the working world.
Two years ago a Pew study found that mom and dad’s roles at home were “converging,” although there were still gaps. In 2011, dads spent seven hours on childcare, and moms spent 14. Dads also spent 10 hours on housework versus moms’ 18. That might sound unequal, yet the same graph also shows dads spent 37 hours on paid work to moms’ 21.
A Pew study last year found the gap had decreased even more. “In homes with two full-time working parents, most parents say chores, discipline and quality time with kids are shared equally, but scheduling and sick days fall more on mom.” Yet “When both parents in a household work full time, most say neither’s career takes priority, but half say dad makes more money.” In both studies, both mom and dad said life-work balance was a priority, yet difficult.
Time to Woman Up
Slaughter at times makes great suggestions regarding work-life balance. In an interview just a couple months ago, she suggested moms and dads must simply communicate more about who does what, a piece of advice surely anyone could use:
You literally sit down and say, ‘How are we going to divide this up? What are you going to take? And what am I going to take?’ Let’s just stick to birthdays and holidays. Who is the lead? That’s why I use the term ‘lead parent.’ Because let’s assume you’re both going to do both in lots of ways, but the lead is the parent whose job it is to nag the other.
Yet much of Slaughter’s writing, including that Father’s Day tweet, reeks of statistically unsupported sexism. Some women have never wanted high-powered career that demands a partner who would commit to equal caregiving. Slaughter certainly didn’t, from what she and her husband have written. Many men, as statistics show, are quite helpful at home while earning the lion’s share of the family’s income. Not to mention that Slaughter and her husband speak from such a narrow vantage point that it’s hard to imagine many in America face her work-life difficulties, let alone have their career opportunities.
Either way, Father’s Day is a day to honor fathers, not backhandedly chide them for their supposed failures. Can you imagine the response if a man tweeted: “Happy Mother’s Day! Let’s all commit to expect mothers to invent products, build companies, and to be as competent as presidents, CEO’s, and world leaders as we are at home changing diapers.” Achieving a work-life balance is an admirable goal, but doing so while backhandedly bashing one’s supporting partner doesn’t seem like the best route.