Relationships can feel pretty equal until a baby shows up, when suddenly even the most progressive couples are waylaid by the tyrannical demands of child-rearing. Women become baby-feeding machines, and men do what they can—some more than others. At least one such dude has admitted he was not, in fact, doing all he could.
Jonathan Mann, a ridiculously prolific musician known for writing a song a day—including this somewhat catchy one about breaking up with girlfriend Ivory, who didn’t want to have kids, while he did—is that man (Mann?). In a recent video called “Marriage & Feminism,” he admits to falling way short when it comes to being a feminist ally as a husband and father, something he’d thought he was pretty good at.
In the video, which is, I have to say, pretty validating—also, his sing-song jingle ‘Shitty, shitty feminist—oooh” will never, ever leave your brain—Mann explains the moment he realized he wasn’t pulling his weight around the house or with his son, Jupiter (I know, just go with it).
Jupiter was a few months old, and Mann, on his way back from a run, decided he felt like going to see a movie, so he called his wife Juliana to ask. In the horror movie version of this moment, women everywhere are like, For the love of God, put down the phone, go straight home, help that lady with the baby, but he didn’t.
Juliana did that thing we’ve all done, telling him it was cool with her when it really wasn’t. After he got back a few hours later, probably feeling pretty great from all that exercise and alone time, they fought.
Most of us have been there. The difference here is that Mann actually realized he was being kind of a louse, and then was willing to take that admission public in the hopes of starting a dialogue about how hard this stuff can be. So I talked to him about it.
Tell me about this project. How did it start?
The genesis of it all was really this incident that I talk about in the video: when I left my wife and our 3-month-old at home to go see a shitty movie. That event itself wasn’t the biggest deal in the world, but the fight we had about it afterwards was sort of an awakening for me. I started to clearly see how I was unconsciously falling into this lame stereotype of an inconsiderate, thoughtless buffoon of a father/husband. It didn’t feel good. So that’s when I started to try to be more conscious and thoughtful—something I still struggle with!
Anyway, I tweeted about it and the response surprised me. Many of my friends who were also new dads voiced their agreement—they recognized the pattern I was falling into as something they were struggling with, too. I wanted to make something that would help me work out my own issues and also resonate with those other dads.
Tell me a little bit about your feminist background. Did your wife take you down this path to enlightenment, or were you already on your way?
I’ve always wanted kids. I never really thought about what kind of father I would be, feminist or otherwise. I do recognize systemic racism and sexism, and am passionate about fighting both.
When my wife and I had that first mind-opening fight, she didn’t exactly lay it out as a “feminist issue.” She was just genuinely bummed out and I could see that. I took the time to understand why, and that made me want to do better. She did point out the irony of my writing all these songs criticizing Gamergate when the household management tasks were so unevenly distributed.
I think a lot of couples believe they have an equal parenting situation, but the woman is actually doing more. So how do you guys define equal parenting? How do you know whether it’s working or not?
One thing we’ve hit on that’s really worked for us is just to put everything out there. Even if she’s doing more, it’s incredibly helpful for both of us to have as clear a picture as possible about who is doing what. It’s never going to be exactly 50/50, and I think that’s okay. She used to show me her huge to-do list about once a month, but only when she was feeling incredibly overwhelmed.
As soon as she’d show me, I’d be like, “Holy shit! You have so much to do! Let me see if there’s anything on there that I can take care of.” Now we use the KanBan board.
I think it’s funny that you consider yourself a shitty feminist when your level of awareness and openness puts you ahead of a lot of men. Are you just being humble? Or are our standards just so low for dads that even I am trying to get you to give yourself a pat on the back for trying a little?
Please, give me an ally cookie! A feminist, as I understand it, isn’t so much something you are as something you do, right? And as I’ve become more aware of the kinds of privilege I have, that’s brought with it a lot of self-examination about not only the ways I benefit from the status-quo, but also the ways that I actively (usually unconsciously) contribute to and reinforce it. Another example: in my nuclear family it’s me, my brother, my dad and my mom. I’ve noticed recently that when we’re all together, the three of us guys are constantly interrupting my mom. It’s insane, and I’ve noticed how infuriating this can be for her.
So, I mean, I guess I’m doing a good job by noticing this stuff, but at the same time the more I see, the more I see and the more I see. I don’t think people deserve a pat on the back for simply being a decent human being. But I do like cookies.
Give us a picture of your typical allocation of tasks. How did you and your wife go about deciding who would do what?
I should preface by saying that we are incredibly lucky because Juliana has a full-time job that allows her to work from home 3 days a week, and I freelance from home.We bring in just enough money to have a nanny for 18 hours a week and a cleaning lady that comes every 2 weeks. I still worry about money all the time, and it’s a balance with the nanny, and soon daycare. It’s been really tricky. Anyway, that’s my caveat.
She still does way, way more than me. She’s in charge of things like scheduling doctors and dentist appointments and keeping track of all that stuff. She was the one that found our nanny and is researching daycare. She does the grocery shopping and most of the cooking.
I do the laundry and I clean the kitchen. I make sure the living room is tidy and vacuumed. I’m in charge of bath time for our son, I make sure to brush his teeth. I do handy things around the house like installing gates and AC units and new curtains and stuff. I carry all the groceries.
As I said, I don’t think it will ever be “even.” When it comes to running the household, she’s very much in charge, and that just comes with more responsibility. But now we have a framework both for me to know exactly what she needs to get done in a given week and for me to be able to take on some of those tasks, if appropriate.
The story of you asking to go see a movie while your wife was at home attached to an infant really resonates. Every mom has a million stories like these, including me. Why is this stuff so hard for dudes to get?
Exactly! It’s just ignorance. I don’t think there’s any other explanation. So I think the best thing is just to let the dude in your life know what’s up before it becomes a huge resentment.
Do you find that there’s also an issue of getting your wife to take time for herself that she deserves—do you think men also just feel more entitled to take “me time”?
Yes. This is so totally true in our relationship.
In the video you talk about how your wife is better at a lot of the care stuff. How hard was it for you to see that this was about conditioning more than a natural ability?
Pretty easy, I’d say. Once you start seeing the ways in which our culture reinforces gender, you start seeing it everywhere.
What advice would you give other dudes on how to go about equal parenting without being such schmos all the time?
I don’t think I’m an expert by any means! I think I am pretty good at taking criticism to heart. I guess that’s the thing—if your partner says that they need more help, it’s pretty natural to feel defensive at first. At least it was for me. The only advice I can give is to try to get through that defensiveness and just listen.
What would you tell women who have well-intentioned partners who just don’t seem to get the issue the way you have?
This is a tough one, because I got a lot of feedback on the video, on Facebook especially, from moms who’d say, “I want to share this with my husband, but we fight about it all the time and I feel like this will just be picking another fight.” I don’t really know what to do about that. At that point, it feels like a couple’s counseling thing to me.
How do you feel about some of the theories that the more equal the parenting, the shittier the sex life?
A more recent study suggests that couples with more equal split of the housework have the most sex. I think it’s kind of silly to try to pin down how much sex a couple is having against just one, seemingly arbitrary variable. Sex in long term couplings is a really complicated thing. To be completely honest, I’ve never been had a better sex life than I do right now, and I think it has very little to do with how we split the housework. Things I would put ahead of splitting housework in the hierarchy of what makes a good sex life: 1. Chemistry 2. Good communication 3. Trust.
What has the reaction been like to your video?
But the response by friends and friends of friends has been tremendous. A lot of folks seem like they can relate. I’ve heard from people that the video was a way in for husbands who had struggled to really “get it” before.
What will you do instead the next time you feel like going to see a movie?
The funny thing is that now what I do is I wait until I’m traveling for work. Then I see like 5 movies that I’ve been waiting to see.
Check out Jonathan Mann’s podcast discussing these issues here.