Changin' in the Boys' Room

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Changin' in the Boys' Room

News article

By: Andrew Adam Newman

Date: February 5, 2006

Source: Newman, Andrew Adam. "Changin' in the Boys' Room." New York Times (February 5, 2006).

About the Author: Andrew Adam Newman is a writer for the New York Times covering contemporary American culture and society.


The role of fathers in the United States has come a long way from the 1950s archetype in the television series Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. The cardigan-wearing, all-wise father figure who came home from a long day at the office to a wife in a starched dress and heels, bearing a martini and slip-pers for her husband, while the children adoringly greeted dear old dad was, in fact, a media creation, but one that etched itself into the collective unconscious in American culture. In the 1950s, four percent of all children born in the U.S. were born to single mothers; in 2000 that figure stood at thirty-three percent. The average age of marriage for women in the 1950s was twenty; by 2000 the average age was twenty-five. Women's participation in the workforce, however, has had the greatest impact on men as fathers—in 2000 nearly eighty percent of all women of childbearing age were part of the workforce, and while only eleven percent of mothers with children under the age of six were part of the workforce in 1950, by 2002 that figure had risen to fifty-five percent.

While the late 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of a "new" woman, who could work, be a devoted partner and a loving mother, the "superwoman" image—stereotyped in a well-known 1970s television commercial for a perfume, in which a mother figure can "bring home the bacon/fry it up in a pan/and never let you forget you're a man/'cause I'm a woman," all with children happily vying for mom's attention—quickly fell apart under scrutiny. Women began to ask why they needed to be superwoman—in other words, where were the supermen?

A July 12, 1982 article in Time magazine asked "How Long Till Equality?" and examined women's political, economic, and social progress. Fatherhood and traditional two-parent nuclear families came into play: only twenty-eight percent of all families in 1982 were "traditional," and that number dropped to nine percent by 2000. The article noted the impact of staying at home on mothers' careers and examined the possibility of stay-at-home fathers: "There are not many executives who can appreciate or allow that the skill, say, of time management at home might be applied to office management, just as there are still very few corporations with personnel departments set up to accommodate the needs of the new work force and the flexible family." By 2000, "flex time" and "family friendly" were buzzwords, and fathers were expected to step up to the plate and work with their working wives to manage two careers, an average of 2.1 children, and to juggle home life, childrearing, and work expectations.


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By 1993, Time magazine's coverage of modern-day fatherhood had shifted to coverage of fathers who experience severe tension between home and work expectations. One reported poll showed that in 1979, just twelve percent of fathers reported feeling stress over work-life tensions, but by 1989 that figure had risen to seventy-two percent. The change in expectations for fathers was fast and clear.

The need for changing tables in men's rest-rooms—and the message that the lack of such tables sends to fathers and society in general—is a symbol of the mixed messages American society sent to fathers in the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. While fathers, like mothers, are expected to participate in housework, childrearing, and the workforce, at the same time more than thirty percent of all children were born to single mothers in the year 2000, and groups such as Single Mothers By Choice organized to support women—largely professional, well-educated women in urban centers with ticking biological clocks—who chose to have children without a participating father.

By 2003, the first year the census began recording such figures, there were 98,000 self-reported stay-at-home fathers, compared to 5.4 million mothers in the same role. Some researchers place this figure far higher; At Home Dad, a support and advocacy group for at-home fathers, claims that between two and three million fathers provide more than thirty hours per week of childcare for their own children. The changing table issue and fathers' demands for such equipment represent the widespread involvement of fathers in the drudgery of child care. Changing diapers, feeding infants and toddlers, managing naps and preschool schedules and doctors' visits, however, still remain largely in the hands of mothers. While fathers have increased their time spent with children from 1.8 hours per weekday to 2.7 hours between 1981 and 2006, mothers who work outside the home still do ten hours more of housework per week than do their comparably employed husbands.

In recent polls, forty-four percent of fathers say they would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children, and twenty-eight percent claim that work negatively affects their relationship with their children. Grassroots efforts for changing tables in men's restrooms—and retailers, restaurants, and other public facilities that meet the demand—represent a new phase in gender roles and parenting in American society.



Fatherhood: Research, Interventions, and Policies, edited by H. Elizabeth Peters and Gary W. Peterson. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Press, 2000.


Atkinson, Maxine and Stephen Blackwelder. "Fathering in the 20th Century." Journal of Marriage and the Family 55 (1993): 975-986.

Cocks, Jay. "How Long Till Equality?" Time (July 12, 1982).

Web sites

At Home Dad. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

National Fatherhood Initiative. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006). "Bring on the Daddy Wars." 〈,8599,1168125,00.html〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).