Father's Day is a good time to honor dads of all backgrounds, particularly those who tirelessly advocate for their kids and their families. But it also offers a moment to reflect on the positive role men can play in women's lives and the crucial opportunity they have to protect women from violence, to ensure that all women are fairly compensated for their work, and to help open doors of possibility equally for our daughters and sons.
The landscape for gender roles in the U.S. has drastically changed over the past half century. A record 40% of women are now primary breadwinners, up from only 11% in 1960. More women than men hold bachelor's degrees and they make up nearly half of the workforce. Among all households with children younger than 18, the share of married mothers who out-earn their husbands has quadrupled since 1960, and the share of families led by single mothers has more than tripled during the same period.
More men are doing their fair share, too: Thirty-two percent of dads now stay at home to care for young children, up from 26% in 2002. According to a 2010 study by Princeton University and the Brookings Institute, an increasing proportion of fathers are highly involved in their children's lives even if no longer romantically involved with their mother. A high proportion of unmarried fathers say they want to be involved in raising their child, and more women than ever want their involvement.
But on the issues that still plague millions of women in the 21st century — violence, pay inequity, unequal opportunity - the continued silence and in some cases blatant obstructionism of men is striking.
Nowhere was this inadequacy more publicly on display than at last week's Congressional hearing on sexual assaults in the military, where a nearly all-male panel of military leaders essentially defended the status quo, arguing that "maintaining the central role of the commander in our military justice system is absolutely critical." The harsh reality is that sexual assaults in the military continue to rise, up from an estimated 19,000 instances in Fiscal Year 2011 to 26,000 in 2012. Of those, only 3,374 were reported in 2012 — a 6% increase from the previous year, but still far short of the number of actual instances. In 2012, one out of four women reported unwanted sexual contact by another member of the military.
This is precisely why Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) sought to give experienced military prosecutors — rather than commanders — the ability to prosecute violent crimes like rape and murder. And yet one of her male colleagues, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), removed her amendment from the underlying legislation. That Levin would oppose 27 of his colleagues who co-sponsored the bill - including members of both parties and genders — in favor of retaining a system that harms both men and women was deeply troubling.
The issue of pay equity has faced similar obfuscation. Fifty years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women still earn only 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men. African-American and Latina women earn even less — respectively 64 and 55 cents for every dollar non-Hispanic white men earn on average. Even millennial women earn 82 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.
Less pay for women means families have fewer resources to afford housing, food, education, and health care, realities that affect Americans of all backgrounds. And yet House Republicans continue to oppose the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide more effective enforcement of existing laws and offer remedies for victims of wage discrimination.
Of course, whether pay inequity or violence, none of the issues that impede women's progress in the 21st century exist in a vacuum. Both men and women have stood in the way of equality and opportunity for women, and both men and women have a duty to speak up. But men — and in particular fathers — have a special obligation to support women and all of our families. It's time to heed that call, not only because it's the right thing to do, but because we will always fall short as a people if the circumstances of our birth continue to determine our future.