How deeply are our views on gender equity shaped by our fathers' everyday actions?

Opinion by Hilary Van Hoose, Special to the Star

Photo courtesy of @fabiansociety

Discussions about domestic equity often come in the form of sitcoms or joke calendars, like the above example tweeted by @fabiansociety. But sons and daughters seeing their fathers perform household duties might prove to be the key for each younger generation closing gender-based inequality gaps both at the office and at home — but we are not there yet.

A Gallup poll reports that women still take on the majority of household roles despite a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that women comprise the majority of the American workforce.

Recent research shows that fathers might hold the lynchpin that could turn these trends around. When little girls see their fathers doing an equal or greater amount of the housework compared with their mothers (such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare) they are more likely to take on and excel in traditionally male-dominated careers as adults (e.g., doctor, lawyer, CEO, scientist, movie director), according to a University of British Columbia study.

An egalitarian home life is not just better for daughters alone. Although fathers taking on more domestic tasks at home does not influence their sons’ career choices, it does act as a positive influence on their sons’ future relationships with their own wives and children, according to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Los Angeles based actor Gus Schlanbusch explained how growing up with an opera singer father — who took on a majority of the household’s duties to compensate for the heavy work schedule of his physician mother — influenced his worldview.

“Although everyone has implicit bias by dint of the society we live in, a lot of the stereotypes about women in the household did not occur to me explicitly until I was out of college and saw what other people’s perspectives were,” said Schlanbusch.

The science backs up Schlanbusch's experiences.

A study published in the American Sociological Review showed that "the relative amount a man's father contributed to the stereotypically female housework when the son was very young predicts the relative amount the son participates in the same type of work in adulthood."

Witnessing his father's ability to balance career and family roles in this way also influenced Schlanbusch to realize that working in the arts was a viable and legitimate career option. As an adult, he and his wife Ali Shields, an entertainment creative executive, make a conscious effort to take on about the same portion of household tasks.

“It never occurred to me that I should be going out and Ali should be staying home,” Schlanbusch said, explaining how his parents’ values shaped his view of gender roles in relationships.

Even more significantly, the ASR study showed that "sons' reports of their relative participation in housework are 15 percent greater than the daughters' reports of their husbands' relative housework performance." In other words, fathers doing housework influences daughters' careers more than sons, but it also influences sons' household roles more than daughters.

The numbers are improving with each generation. The Gallup poll also showed that, since 1996, women have become nine to 14 percent less likely to take on a majority of certain household roles.

Cat Senet, a California based sales operations and event manager, explained that her father taking on his share of housework and child-raising roles was part of his living a balanced life.

“My dad did a lot of different things,” said Senet. “He can learn piano by ear, he plays guitar, he can design costumes, he’s an engineer, he can cook. I feel like him being receptive to so many different types of skills encouraged me to pursue different skills. I’ve been a pastry chef, I’ve been a personal trainer. I’m able to apply all these past experiences that I’ve had.”

While the research shows it is impactful for kids to see their fathers doing housework, perhaps the kinds of fathers who are doing housework are also the kind who are actively living more well-rounded and multi-faceted lives. Perhaps doing their share of housework is an effect of this rather than a cause that influences and encourages kids to grow up that way themselves.

“I do feel like I lived in a home environment where it’s normal to like a bunch of different things,” Senet explained. “It’s normal to try a bunch of different things. Having those positive encouragements and role models around, I think it has had a big effect.”

What it all boils down to is that parents have to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk – and that kids need to observe this positive behavioral modeling starting at an early age. In short, parents need to lead by example.

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