Men as Suspicious Day Care Teachers and Moms-in-Chief

By Barbara J. Risman, Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago

There is no debate about the remarkable lack of men as child care workers.  This occurrence of apparent gender stereotypes driving one man away from the profession illustrates some core issues in the continuing saga of a somewhat stalled gender revolution.   Another illustration of the state of current gender politics is a Stanford educated lawyer, once her husband’s mentor in a law firm, describing herself as the mom-in-chief.

These two narratives are opposite sides of the same coin.   By the end of the 20th Century, American women had proven that they were quite capable at getting into and graduating from prestigious colleges, with  graduate degrees.  White collar women began doing well, if not as well as men, in the labor force, even in jobs that had heretofore been male jobs.   Some of those jobs even flipped and became predominantly female jobs, for example, veterinarians and pharmacists.  Cecilia Ridgeway shows that over the course of the late twentieth century,   women continue to be presumed to be nurturing and empathetic, but there was some movement to also presume, and accept, they can be agentic and effective.   But there has been no real movement, in social psychological cognitive findings, towards men being seen as nurturing or empathetic.   Cognitive bias research suggests men are still presumed to be agentic, effective but not empathetic caretakers.

So caretaking continues to be the linchpin of gender inequality.  If men have to run the world, moms have to be chief parent.  Michelle Obama starred in that story line at the Democratic convention .  Sure, she might be smart, hardworking, and her family’s previous breadwinner, but when all is said and done, she’s a mom, he’s a president.      And while we there is much writing about the “new father,” very few men describe fatherhood as a profession even when they take time out of the labor force to be primary parent to support a higher earning wife.   When a man chooses to take care of children for a profession, he’s immediately under suspicion as a pedophile. According Lata Murti,   Adam’s every action was watched, and the parents presumed him guilty with little evidence.  In a world with such stereotypes, why would a man choose child care as a profession?   And if you cannot hold an entry level job, there can be no glass elevator to ride.

The social problem here is the cognitive stereotypes that push women toward full responsibility for children and men away from nearly any hands-on responsibility.  In my view, until we realize that men too can not only be caretakers, but have as much moral responsibility to do so as do women, we are going to be left with a world where mothers, if not women, are never equal to men.   And children are deprived of relationships with the men in their lives, and any other men as well.

  1. Well said, Dr.Risman!
    If teaching is so important, then where are the men? For anyone interested in the insiders’ point of view regarding men who work directly with young children, take a look at the 2011 “On Our Minds” column from the Men in Education Network (M.E.N.) Interest Forum of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) at:

    Click to access On%20Our%20Minds_Online_0911.pdf

    I also recommend the good works of the international Working Forum on Men in Early Care and Education at:

    Don Piburn

  2. The above cited article goes into some detail in response to your question, however I have a couple of related thoughts on what may be appropriate next steps:
    Women and girls face significant global gender discrimination amplified by race, poverty, minority, disability, and social status. There is longstanding international support for widening male caregiving responsibilities from as far back as the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child of 1924 through current international efforts to promote the roles of men and boys as allies and agents of change in achieving gender equality for women and girls. UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame), made moving remarks on this very topic just this week on September 20, 2014 during the “HeForShe” Special Event at United Nations Headquarter in New York. (
    While international strategies to increase male nurturing, responsibility for children, and reductions in violence have typically focused on youth or adults, a much more effective strategy is to intervene during the formation of gender identity in the early years. Gender identify is firmly established as early as the age of two years old. Institutional tracking of women-only into narrow early childhood teaching career paths violates principals of self-determination, equal opportunity, and social justice. It restricts equal education and employment opportunities for both boys and girls. That very young children often see only women in early caregiving and education has been cited as a key aspect of global gender inequality because it reinforces young children’s stereotypic assumptions about their respective gender roles.
    Men who work as early educators exemplify nonviolence, emotional literacy; compassion; and caregiving responsibilities that are appropriate and necessary alternative adult masculinities. We need to normalize men as teachers of young children. Anyone who might say this puts children in jeopardy does not understand that the primary directive in early care and education is child safety. We know how to keep children safe above everything else we do. Actions, not myths, stereotypes, or unfounded suspicion keeps children safe. What those actions are is another discussion, however male teachers are in a globally unique position to promote the prevention of violence against women and children from the very earliest ages. In this period of the most fluid societal gender role expectations in the whole of human history, there is clearly an opportunity to connect gender equality for women and girls and a gender balanced workforce in Early Care and Education.
    Anyone interested in furthering the discussion might consider joining and posting to our World Forum on Early Care and Education (WF) Men in ECE (MECE) Working Group social networking platform. This link is actually the link to join the conversations on any of the World Forum on early care and education working groups that might be of interest to you, but ours is the most interesting. And yes, I am completely unashamedly biased in that statement. It’s free (for now as they try to generate interest), and since it doesn’t involve any PII, it’s quite safe. Join up and perhaps we can generate some serious interest, support, and maybe even a few new champions.

    Donald E. Piburn, M.S.Ed.
    A 30 year (male) early educator

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