So have we made it to gender equity? Ask the family

Until we raise boys and men who want to and know how to be full-time caregivers and parents – rather than mere aides and assistants – gender equity at home/work remains both a dream and a joke – in the form of women doing double duty.

By and large, while women parade their professional careers in the day-time, they remain full-time parents, and by and large, fathers remain relatively part-time parents. For childcare: women are organizers, researchers, supervisors and employers of any child-care arrangement that they can find. For most social classes, such childcare is poor to mediocre in the US if you happen to be one of the unfortunate multitudes who do not have grandparents, relatives, stay-at-home fathers/mothers, etc. that you can rely on. It entails the time-consuming labor that ensures such childcare is effective and nurturing (as a parent who used a few daycares, I know of what I speak). It entails, too, the edge-of-your-seat manuevers that are necessitated by sudden babysitter emergencies – the slack for which is usually picked up by mothers (women still make less money than men, overall, so it costs the family less when women lose wages or jobs.) By and large, the default parent in charge is still the mother. By and large, the individual who takes it for the team is still the mother. By and large, it is the mother who ensures that the home is clean and livable, that the children’s education is supervised, that laundry and dishes are done, and that children’s emotional needs are met.

This is why I say again: Until we raise boys and men who want to and know how to be full-time caregivers and parents – rather than mere aides and assistants – gender equity at home/work remains both a dream and a joke – in the form of women doing double duty.

Women do not need ‘help’ in the kitchen and with the children. Women need mature co-parents and domestic co-workers who can work unsupervised to ensure quality of life for the family. Women’s caregiving remains time-consuming in comparison to men’s. Women do not need someone who can microwave mac-and-cheese if she is not there: they need someone who can prepare healthy dinners, check if a bath is needed and administer that bath, while ensuring that homework is completed and garbage taken out.

Are you raising a boy to be that parent/husband? Or are you raising a part-time family member who is incapable of being centered around care for others? I do not say, one who can love. Wild animals can love and provide for their offspring. Caregiving is not love + paying bills. Caregiving is not buying gifts on amazon.com. Caregiving is time-consuming, sometimes draining, often boring.

Caregiving is a full-time job. Which brings us around to the capitalist economy which seeks to own the individual, whether parent or son/daughter, who has personal needs and relationships that work threatens more than ever to attack from their central positions. The American workplace as it is now threatens equity of any form (including gender), personal centeredness, and connectedness with others. There is an urgent need to contemplate the basis of our economy, and to reflect on the competitive urge that seeks to be bigger yet the expansion of the economy fails to benefit (I’ll say it) the 99%.

Where people in general are dehumanized to mere workers and spenders/buyers, happiness and harmony remain out of reach – for men AND women. And until men and women can all learn to nurture, give, and transcend the self, men and women remain in a tug-of-war that cannot conclude. You can bring the woman into the boardroom, but until you can bring the man into the diaper-changing bathroom – and the diaper-changing setup into the men’s bathroom – you will not truly succeed in achieving gender equity.

PS: This post refers to the majority of American families, not to exceptions for which anyone may provide anecdotal evidence.

Representing Muslims: ‘All-American Muslim’

After the first day, the new TLC show ‘All-American Muslim’ raised quite a few Muslim hackles in my social circle. Among other things, some were offended by its focus on liberal Arab Muslims. ‘What about the rest of us?’ some religious Muslims asked. ‘Why do we have to be assimilated, almost-Whites for us to be on TV? Why can’t our exemplary Muslim lives [er] be represented so we can show how we can be normal AND religious?’

Many Muslims’ desire to have good Muslims (not in Mahmood Mamdani’s sense of moderate, palatable, liberal Westerners who eat falafel) represented on TV was frustrated. Many like myself simply desired a diversity of images; in the case of minority groups, images are few and far between, and most such images are politicized.

Representation is fraught with complexity. Who represents? The bellydancer or the hijabi physician? The Pakistani college student or the Somali taxi-driver? The beer-drinking football fan or the mosque imam? And who is the audience? Liberal secular America, with its fears of all forms of religiosity? For such, their fears might be assuaged by Muslims who behave almost entirely like them.

Perhaps the audience is the right-wing person who donates to Church missions to Muslim lands, fervently believing that the presence of Muslims in America (rather than among the audience of international missions) is a cancer, an offense to the Christian character of the American nation. For such, neither positive nor neutral form of representation or visibility will be either acceptable or palatable. Representation of religious Muslims (whatever that is) will be infuriating, and representation of irreligious Muslims (whatever that is) will be perceived as an insidious attempt at normalizing Muslims.

Then the Facebook page calling for a boycott of TLC was born. And now, under pressure of such organizations as the Florida Family Association, Lowes has pulled its advertising from the show. “All-American Muslim is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values,” the Florida Family Association claimed, also saying “The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”

Essentializing, it appears, is a desire shared by both Islamophobes who want bad Muslims in the show and some religious Muslims who want only good, observant Muslims represented. Both sides wish to represent Muslims in a specific way. Since there is no such thing as ‘reality’ in Reality TV, the choices are important. The Florida Family Association would prefer TLC to feature Muslim hijackers in training, or Muslims on death row for rape and murder (preferably for honor killing) – extraordinary rather than ‘ordinary folks,’ Muslims who threaten American values of liberty. Perhaps the opposition of ‘All-American Muslim’ would like to feature a dark, bearded Muslim father with a strong accent, who mandates black veils for his wife (wives?) and daughters, and will not permit his family to drink or to date.

But I wonder where the right-wing Christian organizations would ally themselves on the issue of sexual freedom. Perhaps a Muslim father who forbade his wife from getting an abortion on her seventh pregnancy? Would that help or hinder the cause of representing really bad Muslims? Or would it unnecessarily complicate the picture and cause confusion?

Images are inherently confusing. They never really do what we want them to do.

The ubiquity of visual technologies and our ability to share images globally has rendered the gaze central to our religious and political lives and identities. How people are represented in entertainment media galvanizes individuals, organizations, churches, mosques, corporations, and large quantities of monies. At the heart of most religion, however, is the Divine – the human being alone with God. This aloneness is an uneasy bedfellow, embroiled in an unwilling orgy with our anxieties – indeed, our obsessions – with showing, representing, seeing, preventing-from-showing, adamantly-not-seeing or preventing-from-seeing in the media.