Monday, April 04, 2011

Parent with a Penis? Can't Join the Golden Gate Mothers Group

I saw this in the New York Times today, and it struck me as, er, outrageous. And worthy of note, especially since Jeremy investigated just this kind of discrimination not too long ago. Here we have a mothers group that is 4,000 members strong, collects more than $300,000 in revenue annually, and formally discriminates against men. Surely the fine readers at Daddy Dialectic will have something to say about this organization -- competing for parenting space, as it does, in the very heartland of dialectical daddyhood.

The story profiles a married gay father of one. But it's not this fellow's sexual orientation that impedes his best efforts at parenting. It's the plain fact that he's a man.

This young banker, who didn’t want his name used because his employer has a strict no-news-media policy, would hardly seem the sketchy type that a well-meaning private club would bar.

But he and his husband are men. As such, they and their little boy are personae non gratae at the Golden Gate Mothers Group, which since its founding in 1996 has grown to an organization of 4,000. Members must live in San Francisco, have children younger than kindergarten age and be mothers — of the strict-constructionist female variety.

The group, which takes in revenue north of $300,000 annually, mostly from dues, is by far the dominant parenting organization in town. (The latest census data show only about 40,000 young children in the city.) G.G.M.G. offers three core benefits to members. It acts as an information exchange, where pediatrician recommendations, hiring of nannies and admission tips to private preschools are particularly popular topics. It negotiates discounts for members at local retailers and service providers.
So shortly after taking home his new son in February, the banker sought to join the group. “Everyone who knows about it talks about how great it is,” he said in an interview.
He was rebuffed. An e-mail signed by the G.G.M.G. Membership Committee informed him that “to be a member, you must be a woman.”
What's most sad about this, is that this man's son -- not the most disadvantaged little boy, it is true -- nonetheless is the one who will miss out on the the benefits of getting to drool and slobber around thousands of other infants and toddlers. His primary caretaker is a guy, so he won't get to hang with these kids. Which demonstrates that this organization is not about kids, it's about their mothers. Exclusively. And that is a problem.

I simply don't buy the premise that first-time mothers have such special needs that they need an organization that makes it a point to keep men -- the fathers of their children -- out. For the first five years of their childrens' lives. In fact, I think it's weird. Resonant of the convent in Cyrano de Bergerac. How many kids will grow up thinking it's normal for their moms to have all this stuff going on for them, without their fathers around? Admittedly there are a fair number of male barbarians in circulation, but I don't think this is the sort of affinity group they would be pressing to crash en masse.

But even if they were, it would probably be good for them. And everybody else, even the moms. Unless living in a heterosexual arrangement as a parent is something analogous to a the schizoid world of a certain Victorian anthropologist, famously amenable to his crew of south sea islanders by day, and  disparaging of them in his diary by night.  In fact, I'd think more male-female mixture is exactly what we need. Because everything about this group -- and there are smaller versions of it all over the place -- reinforces the idea that 'men just don't get it', that 'men are scary' or that they somehow mess up the vibe of parenting, especially in its early stages. When in reality, all it's really based on is that -- men usually just aren't around.

If men really do cramp your style, Golden Gate Mothers Group, if we all really still live in a world of separate spheres, then I suppose all that earlier bother about letting women into the evening club, or letting Tiger Woods onto the golf course, or gay couples into the courthouse, was really just a waste of time.


Unknown said...

Yet another reason to live in the East Bay.

Cassandra Miles said...

Wrt "men are scary" or "men just don't get it":

Well, duh. If there are men who you (addressing GGMG members here) find scary, then get to know them before making that judgement call--and don't pass that call on to your kids. Also, when "men don't get it," gee, you know what helps parents--male or female--"get it"? Practice. Something they can't get if they're being forcibly pushed out.

Michelle Nogales said...

That is a complete load of garbage and the GGMG need to change their policy. In the meantime if San Francisco dads want a great place where they and their kids are welcome, they should check out the Child Observation classes City College runs all over the City. It's mostly moms and nannies but when I used to take my son there were always dads there too, and the teachers are welcoming to all comers. No fundraising, no website, but a great place to let your kids roll around together while you get hooked into the parents' network.

Michelle Nogales said...

What a load of garbage. The GGMG need to change their policy.

In the meantime, if San Francisco dads want a good place to get plugged into the parents' network while letting their kids roll around with other kids, they should check out City College's Child Observation classes, held all over the City for free. Mostly moms and nannies, but when I used to take my son there were always some dads too, and the teachers were welcoming to all comers. No website, no fundraising, just a good place to feel not-alone.

Michelle Nogales said...

Whups, apologies for accidentally posting two versions of that...

chicago pop said...

No problem.

I think the idea of 'practice' for men who are parents is a good one. There's no way to get it (the hang of childcare) if no one gives you the ball once in a while, or keeps you off the courts. So to speak.

Anonymous said...

I disagree, I think women should be able to have a group without men.

chicago pop said...

Ah, the comment above touches on the core of the problem here.I actually agree, women should be able to have a group without men. No kids involved? Fine. Who cares? But that's not what this organization is about. Or, it is, it's just using an inappropriate pretext. It's a rather sizable infrastructure for delivering activities to varieties of moms to parent their children in the absence of fathers. That's different. What that's saying is, mothers should be able to socialize under the auspices of parenting without men or fathers around. Once you take that step, you're not just blocking men, you're blocking children who have stay-at-home dads, single dads, gay dads, or just straight married dads who want to join in. That reinforces all sorts of traditional gender norms for all parties. Maybe that's the idea here.

Anonymous said...

I still disagree. Women with children should be able have a group without men.

chicago pop said...

I'm not detecting an argument in that statement.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

From your moderator...

FYI: I allowed that "I still disagree" comment just because it was so funny, as I'm sure most will agree. However, in the future, anonymous, you're going to have to make an actual, preferably thoughtful, argument for a comment to appear in this space.

Michelle: Sorry, it's really my fault for letting both comments through; I just scanned them to make sure they weren't spam and then let them both through, without noticing they said something similar.

Ragweed said...

Chip, There is a lot to this issue. I think the more valid argument is the one that you make here – this is an organization that is controlling significant resources and excluding a significant number of families, especially single dads and gay dads. The size of the budget and the degree of resources that are involved probably pushes it into the realm where anti-discrimination laws should come into play. I also suspect that GGMG exclusion is more about maintaining traditional gender and class exclusions than it is about women’s empowerment (the comments about nannies and private preschools leads me to think there aren’t too many poor moms in this group. I also wonder how they deal with transgender).

But I am also troubled with the assumption that men are entitled to have access to female space, and that women are not allowed to organize without men. While the world of gender roles is changing rapidly, we are a long way from true gender equality. Men are still a long way (and I include myself) from eliminating behaviors that marginalize women in a group setting.

While you and I may not engage in subtle forms of sexual harassment, many men do and it is very hard for a women to effectively exclude men engaging in that behavior from those that don’t (too much “your misunderstanding what I said,” etc. etc.). Many men still have a tendency to dominate conversations and engage in subtle domineering behaviors. Maybe we as individuals shouldn’t, in an ideal world, be penalized for the actions of other men, but in a messy real world women have to act in response to the experiences they have had with other men. Being a father is not just about being a parent with a penis, it is about being a parent who is male, with all the social, economic and political baggage that goes along with that.

So I am troubled with fathers trying to “muscle in” to mothers groups, or decrying being excluded from the support networks that women have built. Yes, there should be more resources for fathers and more resources for parents of all genders, and any significant institutional resources (including, I think, the GGMG) need to be available to all parents. But sometimes I think we are better off trying to find or create organizations that include fathers, rather than expecting to have access to all women-centered social and organizational spaces. We need more resources for parents overall, and it’s better to build those resources than to fight over the existing ones.


[JAS - sorry if you got duplicates of this. I had some trouble with blogger login]

chicago pop said...

@ J Chapman: FYI, the author if this post is chicago pop. Now, I think we agree, based on the first paragraph of your comment, on the questionable merits of the male exclusion policy of the group in question. Beyond that, at the level of generalities, I think your comments may stem from a misunderstanding of my position, on the one hand, and a difference of principle, on the other.

My position: I don't want or claim entitlement or access or female space. Women can organize as much as they care to. So can men. I don't care. Personally it is not my mission to muscle into protected female space; I am also not that interested in creating alternative all-male spaces (which to me are not that interesting) as rivals to things like the GGMG until men have evolved sufficiently that they are worthy of participating in women's groups. My ideal support group is a snapshot of whoever happens to show up with their kid at the playground on a given day. Fortunately, that's kind of what I've been able to find where we live.

What I find a tad obnoxious is any particular group claiming exclusive possession of parenting space, as this group does. Women who are mothers empowering each other is fine; doing so with their children on the basis of playdates and structured activities I am critical of for the reasons stated, primarily because it distorts the diversity of parenting, forces it into one mold, and penalizes children from families whose make-up doesn't conform. So while it may provide the kind of empowerment you describe -- and we don't know if that's actually what's going on -- it simultaneously reinforces the kinds of gender segregation that may actually be at the root of the problem. This whole thing smacks of a socially orchestrated custody arrangement for a corporative divorce between mothers and fathers, with both parties trading time with the kid, but not together.

Sticking to the facts of this particular group, the article says they reject an average of one gay male applicant a month. At that rate it would take quite some time for enough men to change the culture of the group through the introduction of domineering behaviors or sexual harassment. And among the small and self-selected population of gay, single, and stay-at-home fathers who would elect to join such a group in the first place, I'm not convinced this would be a problem.

On the level of principle, in a liberal democratic system, as I understand it, private groups have the right chose who may belong based on certain criteria. How this is reconciled with civil rights law I will not speculate. This does not, however, mean that such groups may not be disapproved of, or even publicly shamed.

Bottom line: form all the narrowly defined affinity groups you like. But don't do it on the basis of parenting, when the exclusion that founds the group cuts out what is commonly (though not always) half of the equation in the care of another person. I'd argue that this is as damaging as any hypothetical influx of uncontrolled testosterone into the ranks of the GGMG.

Rachel said...

I don't see why GGMG can't open its general membership to fathers and also have women-only gatherings, if part of its mission really is to provide support to mothers, rather than parents. I kind of don't buy that argument, but I'll grant it to the group for the sake of improving the quality of life for *all* parents and families in SF.

I was a member for one year but always felt icky about it, because of the discrimination. Now I just follow a bunch of neighborhood parenting Yahoo Groups, where much of the same info is shared.

Matt said...

Honestly, everytime I join a "Mom's group" I end up feeling so uncomfortable and unwanted that I just leave on my own anyway. Moms just don't want me in that space at all, which I understand.

I feel like I'm in a unique situation whereby I get a small taste of what gender discrimination feels like and that taste is very bitter. But, on the other hand, I just think of myself as being in the first or second wave of a coming revolution and sure, it's hard for ME, but our at-home grandchildren will not have these problems. I get to be Amelia Earhardt and they get to be a run-of-the-mill female commercial pilot.

So I let them ostracize me. Whatever. And I let them bar their daughters from play dates at my house. And I let them patronize and give me dumb advice as if I haven't been been here for years. They'll be on the wrong side of history one day.

Anonymous said...

It is fair to say this group is prejudiced. That cat is way out of the bag. And I don't have a problem with men complaining about its policies. Or, that it is getting public money (though J Chapman is right that it's kind of scabby) . There are legislative, and political avenues, to take public money away from them or any other group.

I am same anon poster as earlier, and wasn't trying to be funny. But you knew that. I'm glad it's a given (here) that women should be able to have groups without men. My second comment was trying to convey that women shouldn't lose the ability to have their own group because they have/are meeting about children. I don't understand how their activities or rhetoric--"claiming exclusivity"--is the business of men. Anyway, J Chapman said what I couldn't.

I don't want to be a pill about semantics, and I'm not a lawyer, but the discrimination charge strikes me as...inaccurate, below the belt, uncool. There are reasons men are not a protected class. Good ones. And I don't think being parents does or should make any difference. Gay men are not being excluded for being gay--which should be illegal everywhere, and is in enlightened jurisdictions--they're being excluded because it's a group for women.

It's simply not possible to discriminate against men because they are men. I'm OK with that. And I think you are too.

Adam said...

When two local "Mom Group" rejected me I chalked it up to them just wanting to have women so they can whine about their husbands (actually I know that's the reason one of them rejected me, they told my wife).

When a group this large, who provide mothers with the vast amount of resources it sounds like it does, ostracizes men, it's a bit ridiculous. They are essentially banning a stay at home dad's child from playing with a minimum of 10% of the children in the city. That's a large number and is probably even closer to 15-20%.

There hasn't been a single first time parent who has "gotten it", male or female, since the beginning of time. I'm fumbling through the learning process just like any mom is. Why can't we all fumble in a group?

To say that it's okay for them to marginalize men because men still marginalize women in some things is ludicrous. It's a circular argument that will never end in good.

So, who's putting together the march demanding that all "Mom Groups" be renamed "Parent Groups" in an effort to promote gender equality? We're going to need a good catchphrase.

chicago pop said...

@ anonymous: The first line of your comment admits that the GGMG is prejudiced; two paragraphs later you say it is inaccurate to say that the GGMG discriminates, and keeps men out, although this is, technically discrimination. Perhaps a semantic pill may be helpful here. Whatever your feelings towards men or fathers in general, when you form a group that formally excludes them you've just invented a way to discriminate them where one may not have existed before. And that's what is uncool, and it may also be illegal, whether you think they have 'business' being there or not.. J Chapman admits this, also, he just doesn't want it said too loudly.

Setting aside the problem of discriminating against fathers, what is most unappealing about this group is that it winds up discriminating against children based on the sex of their interested parent.

chicago pop said...

On matters or parenting, or anything else, I prefer inclusion, not exclusion; cosmopolitan openness, not provincial defensiveness; integration, not segregation; groups whose culture is confident enough to admit those who differ from the norm, not hold them apart as threats and enemies; diversity, rather than homogeneity; open borders, rather than border walls.

ND said...

Anonymous says:

"It's simply not possible to discriminate against men because they are men."

I wholeheartedly disagree with this. In fact, subconscious bias against boys in the mother-dominated space of the traditional home is thought to be the root of misogyny and discrimination against women in the public economy (men retaliate in adult life for the discrimination/abuse/disconnection in their childhoods).

This happens because women see sons as "other" and even threatening and do not relate to them and give them the nurturing or validation (sometimes called "narcissistic supply) needed in childhood to raise a healthy, relational adult. They may sometimes worship or overvalue their sons, further causing problems. Men are not involved enough in family life to give these to boys either, or to provide same-sex role models, which are also needed to raise healthy, relational adults.

And so the cycle of conflict, even war, between the sexes continues, and creates all kinds of other wars as well.

Patriarchy and traditional separate spheres marriage (where mother is primary contact with children and father is primary in public life) is indeed an institution of male privilege in nearly every aspect of life EXCEPT connection with children.

Any of us who thinks we are not capable of discrimination - even those of us who have studied these issues and try to be nondiscriminatory - is, by definition, likely a subconscious discriminator, I suspect.

chicago pop said...

A must-read critique of the daddy-ban from a philosophical perspective:

Banning Dads from Parent Groups: Some comments about philosophy

Anonymous said...

[Note - I'm a new anonymous...]

This is why I join mothers-only groups:
Yes, so I can complain about my husband and the gender inequities of housekeeping and child-rearing. But also so I can discuss my incontinence and Kegel exercises. Also so I can discuss the weird discharge from my breasts -- is it a yeast infection? And, for the C-section moms, how to prevent keloids. what is that weird puckering at the end of my scar and how do I prevent it from showing through my clothes. What is the reaction of male colleagues at work to pumping; have you ever "leaked" at work and how did you handle it.

Show some initiative and start your own group, co-ed or all male, like the first GGMG mothers did. I did not like the GGMG -- too big for my tastes -- but started my own mommy group with some friends, and joined a couple others I found for working moms. I love my daddy friends, but I need a group where I can openly discuss intimate issues that are unique to a woman's body and the changes after childbirth that continue for years.

Anonymous said...

To ND commenting on another Anonymous post re: "can't discriminate against men"

You are conflating legal discrimination versus the cognitive act of discrimination. Yes, we all discriminate cognitively. I discriminate against apples when I choose an orange because I prefer oranges. And, yes, when we cognitively discriminate against people, there are consequences.

But legally, men are not a protected class because they are still the dominant group in society. Thus excluding men is not legal discrimination if there is a legitimate reason (low bar to meet this) to do so.

chicago pop said...

But legally, men are not a protected class because they are still the dominant group in society. Thus excluding men is not legal discrimination if there is a legitimate reason (low bar to meet this) to do so.

I doubt that this is an accurate interpretation of anti-discrimination law. Sex is a protected class. Whether that means "man" or "woman" is not specified. If this is not the case, please show me the legal justification for this line of thinking.

Further, as has been stated repeatedly, the issue here is not discrimination against men joining the GGMG -- which is a separate issue -- but discrimination against fathers. I believe a strong case could be made that male parental caregivers, being in general a small number, would constitute a protected class in a civil rights discrimination case. It's not as simple as men vs. women/hegemonic vs. oppressed. There are many ways in which the code can be switched, as it often is in all sorts of ways, and this is one of them.

Even beyond this, the question remains of whether an outright ban is necessary to accomplish the goal of being comfortable and secure in discussions of female physiological issues. As Backpacking Dad lays out in his post, glossed on this blog but also available at Backpacking Dad, the most relevant passage of which is this:

[W]hat is the rule that is really being forwarded by this specific ban? Is it really to reduce male oppression? Then why not let unoppressing males in? Is it because it’s too hard to tell who they are? Why not have a probationary period? The blanket ban, at the least, seems like a nuclear solution to what might be a severe problem, but not one that cannot be addressed through less discriminatory policies. The Rule, whatever it is that is supposed to be doing the justifying of the ban, most likely does not work in the way it would need to in order to increase the good overall.

Within an open admission parenting group as large as GGMG, which may be constituted as a club that provides a public service and is therefore subject to civil rights legislation, I can conceive of sub-groups that would label their activities as being for the purposes of moms discussing physiological issues, or even the lazy husbands they have married, without entailing an outright formal ban on father participation in all aspects of the group. I'm pretty sure no fathers would crash the party. In fact, not that many seem to want to crash this party, which is why the ban seems somewhat ridiculous, as the goal of any parenting group should be to encourage involvement of any and all parents with their children.

ND said...

To the new "Anonymous"

Did you choose patriarchal marriage? Where you set up the marriage with the man as the primary earner and the mother as primary parent and/or primary connection with the children?

Then you reinforced a world that discriminates against women. You are making men into "apples" and women into "oranges" so that you can discriminate rather than learning to find common humanity and connection.

To form a group that sits around and complains about having to do more housework but yet sets up their marriages that way - I have no patience for this.

I would suggest that what you actually need to do is spend MORE time around more egalitarian men and less time reinforcing gender sterotyping.

If you need to talk about your female biology, form a subgroup of the parenting group, but don't exclude men - just be clear about the purpose. Who knows, maybe they have some changes in themselves with becoming parents that would be helpful for you to know about just as it would be helpful for them to understand how hard pregnancy, delivery and lactation can be on the female body.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

In my view, this is really an argument about the place of fathers in parenting. It's hard to get our heads around this seeming paradox: men are indeed the dominant group in society--but they're not the dominant group in the world of parenting. I'd like to submit the notion that those are two sides of the same coin: it follows that if we increase men's role in parenting we increase women's social power.

I think we all agree that there is a time and a place for biological mothers to get together and talk about the biological aspects of mothering, just as there should be a time and a place for all sorts of parents to get together and talk about the issues that face them in their particular circumstances, if they feel the need, especially those who are at the margins of the parenting world. I haven't heard anyone, for example, argue that it constitutes discrimination for gay dads to talk about the unique issues they face. Stay-at-home dads can and do start their own groups and there is no shortage of stuff for them to talk about--for example, they can talk about constantly being made to feel like second-class parents. The problems emerge when we scale up these structures; there is also the problem of the way our society has defined parenting as mother's work. We can complain about about "the gender inequities of housekeeping and child-rearing," as the new anonymous says--or we can actually take positive steps to challenge those inequities.

Here's the question I'd like to see us all ask: Do we want fathers, both the fathers in our lives and the fathers in our society, to be equal partners in parenting? Do we want to raise boys who will grow up believing that if they become parents, they will participate in much as possible in the caregiving dimensions of fathering?

If the answer is yes, then we have to ask: What's the best way to help that to happen? What steps can we take? What steps can large groups like GGMG take, if any? Does it involve opening their ranks to men while simultaneously facilitating small group discussions for biological mothers (as well as adoptive parents, parents of kids with disabilities, parents of color, etc.), as Rachel suggests--or something else?

If the answer is no--if we believe in the traditional roles assigned to us as men and women--then obviously the status quo is fine. Women and men don't have to do anything--the ladies can swap lactation tips while the guys make money and public policy.

And you know what? Most men are fine with that. The group that's speaking up in this forum is really a bunch of marginal, profeminist beta guys. We get shit from both the feminist and anti-feminist sides, and in the larger culture, few take us seriously.

But we still speak out about our lives and our numbers grow just a little bit every year and changes occur in increments. I have faith that we as a society will ultimately get to a place where we're comfortable with mothers and fathers playing equal roles in parenting--a situation that will require a totally different set of social structures--but as this discussion illustrates, we're not there yet.

Rachelle Galloway-Popotas said...

As much as it surprises me to say this, I have decided that I agree with the Original Anon poster who says in a nutshell - moms deserve their own group. Not that I agree with the GGMD's attitude(s) and they don't sound like a group of women parents that I would care to be associated with in general (caveat: that's a generalization only based on these threads since I don't know anything about the group or know any members), and yet, and yet... even though all of the legal, ethical and philosophical arguments are valid, I still have soul-searched and realize that I also don't think women should have to apologize for having their own moms group where it is women only. The argument (which seems mostly from men here) seems to be getting too esoteric and theoretical, instead of based in the real, daily slugging it out reality of what it's like to be a new mom/parent and needing someone to bounce around all the physical and emotional things that are exclusive to being a women.

ND said...


I am a woman and a supporter of shared parenting/shared earning.

I think a world in which a husband and wife, or even a broader discussion group of parents of both sexes, who cannot discuss between/among them what it is like to be a new parent, including how it may be affecting them differently, is not really a good environment for raising children.

I really think we have the potential to see a non-sexist public economy and childhood experience emerge here and become more widely available to people in the next 20-30 years. It does take effort to get there, though.

Resources I've found helpful: Jeremy's book, "Equally Shared Parenting" by Marc & Amy Vachon, "Getting to 50/50" by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober, The Good Men Project online magazine, and the Third Path Institutes programs and counseling.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

I thought it would be amusing to reveal, as a sidenote, that I'm Rachelle's former boss as well as her friend, and that we went through parenting classes together and became parents at roughly the same time--and I profile Rachelle and her ex-husband Ed in the second chapter of my book. So she knows all about it, ND! But thanks for the recommendation.

chicago pop said...

@ Rachelle, Jeremy's quote seems quite a propos given your observation that this argument is being driven by a person with a penis -- me:

The group that's speaking up in this forum is really a bunch of marginal, profeminist beta guys. We get shit from both the feminist and anti-feminist sides, and in the larger culture, few take us seriously.

So in this space, I really don't think the fact that men are making some conversation discounts what's being said in any way. If you've followed this blog, you know that I've spent 4 years writing about things like cleaning shit out from under my fingernails and wiping vomit off my face. Not detached and theoretical, although in this case I think the subject warrants that. Makes me very sympathetic to what lots of mothers deal with, actually.

I think ND makes wonderfully reasonable arguments for the anti-discrimination position. And we should try to be clear, again, the difference between letting women get together voluntarily to talk about touchy subjects, and letting mothers get together in an organization that involves lots of children's activities and which bans men. Those are two different things, and I think the first is legitimate and the second unethical and perhaps illegal.

chicago pop said...

Another very worhwhile comment on these tricky issues from

Backpacking Dad

in the discussion thread on this same topic. I re-post the comment in full:

It's called a mothers group, but it's not a circle of conversations about
post-partum issues. It's playdates, parenting resources, professional
recommendations. Although you might only join a group like this for the
conversations about incontinence, there are a ton of other reasons to join.
If you wouldn't join a group like this that permitted men to join because
you don't want to talk about biology in front of them, that's
understandable, but it's not a nail-in-the-coffin argument against letting
men join.

If I call my group the "Whitey McWhiterson White Persons Only Let's Talk
About White People Group" but then hold functions, activities, and provide
resources for members that have no logical relationship to their
whiteness, but instead use whiteness as a reason to exclude non-white
members for so that the white people don't feel uncomfortable talking about
their whiteness, I'm using an unethical standard of exclusion from the *
resources*, even if at the end of the day everyone decides it might be okay
to have a group that just sits around talking about whiteness and white
people issues.

Anonymous said...

GGMG is not the universalist egalitarian parent's group that we may like to be, so asking them to accept men may be too much. I was once asked to join a group for gay dads (I didn't join - I'm not gay), which I would assume does not accept hetero women.

When our first son was born, my wife looked into joining GGMG - she was appalled at the dynamic and did not go to further meetings.

I think Marx (Groucho) sums up the situation best: "I would not join any club that would have someone like me as a member."

Rachel said...

Me again.

I think there's a big difference between GGMG, a massive membership-based organization that in many ways dominates the info-and-resource-sharing aspects of parenting in SF, and smaller moms' groups that primarily function as support groups for new mothers struggling with the physical, emotional, and logistical challenges of parenting. I wholeheartedly support the right of the latter to exist.

But if we want to improve conditions for children, families, and all parents in this city -- not to mention this country! -- we need parenting organizations that advocate on behalf of all parents and all kinds of families.

Here in the Bay Area, the vast majority of my friends have gone through stints where dad has taken a turn as primary caregiver -- and to hear them tell it, it can be an unfriendly scene out there. An organization like GGMG could be on the front lines of change by acknowledging and embracing this reality. Instead, they cling to outdated ideas of who parents are and what their roles should be, and that is a big bummer. Especially when all you really want is access to a huge range of info and resources about daycare, nanny shares, preschool, rummage sales, and play groups.

Anonymous said...

Hello again from first Anonymous,

The explanation from other anon re cognitive vs. legal discrimination is helpful. There's a difference legally, and I think ethically, between discrimination an prejudice. Discrimination is prejudice plus power.

It's not accurate to say a person of color who doesn't want to be around white people discriminates against them. But it's fair to say he or she is prejudiced. Same deal with this women's group. I don't agree that being a parent trumps being a woman.

I'm going to look for a 101 on discrimination, the concept of a protected class, and will post link here if I find it (and that's OK). Because it really isn't possible to discriminate (legally) against men for being men. Honest. I'm kind of surprised you guys wouldn't know that, or would have a problem with it.

ND said...

Anonymouses (or should that be Anonymousae?):

I am a female corporate lawyer. I have spent 20 years arguing and negotiating and even verbally fighting with wealthy and powerful men. I know that coping with sex difference in that space can be done in an inclusive way so I find it hard to believe that it can't be done in the context of parenting.

Although I am not a Constitutional lawyer, I think it is arguable, if not established, that men are a protected class. Even our original, unamended Constitution very deliberately uses the word "person" instead of man - something Justices Scalia and Thomas fight hard on the grounds that only men are "persons," but that most other Justices have interpreted to include both men and women.

Justice Ginsburg brought a number of discrimination cases on behalf of male parents, mostly in the context of employment discrimination, I believe, before she became a Supreme Court Justice.

chicago pop said...

@ anonymous dad who (finally someone!) used the Groucho Marx line: I think it's great that the gay dad group asked you, even if you declined, and I'd hope they also wouldn't be closed to sympathetic parents of other varieties. Make allies where you can!

@ Rachel: very well put, we're on the same page.

@ "First Anonymous" (!!): the idea of "men not being a protected class because they are the dominant group in society" sounds like feminist theory, not protected class according to US civil rights law. "Women" are not a protected class, but "sex" is. Unless I am mistaken, this would include men. Some state laws go further and offer protection for categories that include marital status or family relationship (see Oregon's "Overview of Protected Classes"), and this could conceivable include "parental or familial status" as it is understood to apply in Fair Housing law.

So, if you think there's a argument that discrimination based on "sex" applies only to females (and not to men, or fathers, or transgendered individuals who identify as males and/or are fathers) based Federal or state civil rights statutes, we'll be hear to learn from it.

Ed said...

I wish I had seen this much earlier. Most everything seems to have been said.

@Rachel, I agree with Chicago Pop... well put.

I was a stay at home dad and I agree that support is difficult to find. Having now migrated into the realm of single dad I can attest that resources are even more scarce.

GGMG is obviously a great resource for some parents. My boy's age now puts us a little past this group's age range, but it would have been great to have had access it resources a few years ago. I'm sure the members are totally nice. They probably do their best to help one another and welcome new members with open arms. Its a shame that my child would have been excluded simply because of my gender.

Not sure if anyone noticed but GGMG's membership criteria are not limited to excluding men. Apparently you must also be a San Francisco resident. That doesn't seem very welcoming to me. I wonder how SF is defined? Does it include Bayview and some of the other less affluent neighborhoods? said...

Why do I always get to these things late??

I am suspicious of the fundamental logic of this argument, but on a more practical level The GGMG is plainly discriminatory. I looked at the web site and right there is the point that this is a group that is only for females (mothers) and offers significant financial incentives to only one gender. Males need not apply and are denied access to the services and benefits of the group based solely on their gender. So lesbian couples can have two members and gay male couples are totally excluded. Sweet. There are lots of ways to remedy this. Has anyone actually contacted this group with a link to this article and any others and asked nicely for them to come up with a solution? Or are we just ranting here uselessly?

My suspicion is that simply switching the roles of genders does little or nothing. As a stay at home dad for nineteen years I've never thought of myself as a wimpy beta type. I like to think of myself as a solid alpha type who looked at the situation I was in and made the best decision possible for my family. I've always believed that honor derives from duty and my duty is to do the best I can for my family first. Ignoring the all important fact that parenting is firmly based on the economics and technology of a time, and focusing instead on the existence or lack of a penis is the same old error that we are supposed to be remedying. 

Think of it this way. If women do three quarters of the work raising children and keeping house then a fair fifty fifty balance only reduces her work by twenty five percent. So if you are a mother who's husband/partner is raising the offspring in SF why aren't you part of this group doing research and passing the info to your other half? Why aren't the wives/partners of stay at home dads in SF joining his group and agitating for change from the inside? The "alpha male" thing to do when you see something that needs doing is to do it. As a rule the "alpha females" I know act the same way. That tends to be the meaning of "Alpha" in these terms. So where are these females? Fair parenting doesn’t mean you get out to doing anything. Where are the cooperative solutions?

I mean, really, why do we have 36 posts of hand wringing and not one has suggested a solution. Why has a guy from Chicago pointed this out? I’d like to know how many of the parents reading this blog would let their kids whine this long?

Hunter Cutting said...

Nothing like the fury of the privileged when they get cut out of something.

Apologies for the snark, but even conceding the original posters argument, we all got bigger fish to fry.

Full disclosure: I'm on of those dads how expressly negotiated a LESS than half-time share of the parenting duties prior to establishing the partnership with the mother of my children. So, I ain't got no skin in the game.

ND said...

I just wanted to mention that my comments about how this may be a type of discrimination that rises to the level of illegality are not intended to say that would be the only way to solve the problem.

I'm wondering if several good quality dads, who have good parenting skills, were to ask GGMG for inclusion, if this would get received by GGMG and the organization could be integrated.

I imagine if you are a good dad this is an infuriating policy that GGMG has. Managing this type of anger is something women have had to do for a long time as well in analogous situations. But if you can do that and ask for inclusion, especially in the activities that don't involve female biology, maybe you will get it?

If they continue to deny you, though, I think you could then resort to legal action.

I don't life in the SF area and I am not a mother so I don't have the credibility, other than as someone who wants to see better quality connection between children and fathers, more men doing half the unpaid work of family life, less prima donna and oppressive mothering and less sexism in the public economy, or I would help you more with this.

Paxton said...

I wanted to dispel the notion that men are not legally a protected class, as indicated by one of the Anonymous posters. This is incorrect, and men are in fact, a protected class in the state of California, as well as the vast majority of other states. See the link below. Sex (whether male or female) is a protected class in most states.

I recently went through discrimination/harassment training where I work (in California), and it was made very clear that both genders are protected classes.

Regarding a solution for GGMG, it's been suggested on other sites that GGMG could meet constraints of being more all-inclusive and opening up to fathers, but still meet the objective of allowing a "safe" environment for women to discuss more intimate issues like breastfeeding, etc by creating a secure link within the GGMG site where such topics would be discussed and where access would be given only to female members. This would enable all parents (and children) to benefit from the resources of GGMG. However, it remains to be seen whether GGMG would entertain such a compromise.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1 again:
I'm absolutely mortified by my ignorance in re gender discrimination. Thanks for the schooling. I still think women should be able to meet, about whatever, with or without children, and exclude men. But my personal opinion is irrelevant when the activity meets the definition of discrimination. Thanks for the info, I'll visit again when I'm out of my shame spiral.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Another note from your moderator...

I'm a bit uncomfortable with the tone the discussion is taking. So, FYI, from here on out I'll only be approving comments that I think carry the discussion forward and try to reconcile different points of view.

Anonymous said...

Late comment from a Different anonymous:

First off, I'm a SAHD.

I'm shocked at how being a member of the "dominant group" means that people don't have to be polite or sensitive to you.

I also have to add that the resources available to the GGMG don't end at age 5. While I don't live in CA I have experienced first hand that moms with a lot of connections from playgroups and such have the upper hand when it comes to things like getting the right teachers and getting children into field trip groups with friends or a lead in a first grade play. As a SAHD you can't engineer your child's social interactions nearly as effectively as the moms.

Ultimately these type of moms see the world as a zero-sum game. Like any group that discriminates it's about getting an advantage. In 15 years that SAHDs kid could take my kids spot at Stanford!

The women's plumbing argument just seems like a reversal of when men at the office used to say they didn't feel comfortable with women around because they don't like to talk about sports. The men sucked-it-up and did the right thing. Now the GGMG needs to do the right thing.

Getting back to my opening statement about politeness, here's how it works: you're a dad talking to a mom that you know really well about school or whatever. after 10 minutes another mom arrives. Without a word being said they just know what to do. As soon as mom no. 2 arrives and says hello to mom no. 1 they both casually stroll 50 feet away and then stand and talk. They don't even have to SAY anything to each other - they just know. Oh and they don't have to be polite because you're in the "dominant group".

So why not let dads into the GGMG for the larger events and more enlightened playgroups? Moms could have special topic meetings about the embarrassing stuff. Well... because that guys kid could take my spot at Harvard.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful disucssion. Thank you for the dialogue. I have found myself feeling a little defensive on behalf of the mother's group - an emotional response from a rape victim. I simply fear strange men. I am not alone in this, and I am certain that not all men are rapists. Probably most men have never done anything to cause a woman to feel uncomfortable, but that has not been my personal experience so I cannot state that with any conviction. I simply feel uncomfortable in the presence of strange men. Is there a context in which women should be able to get together with children and just say, "I don't want to deal with those feelings." Many women, including myself, are in dire need of connection with other females and we cannot leave our children alone while we do that, we cannot afford babysitters, we might be baby-wearing, breastfeeding, attached at the hip moms. So are we saying that because this is discriminatory (it is, plainly), women just cannot be allowed to socialize in a way that makes us feel comfortable? That seems kind of crazy to me.

There are many women in this still patriarchal society whose husbands would not allow them to join a mixed-gendered gathering. There are others whose religions would not allow it, and others like me who just really don't want to deal with the stress. And Anon2 mentioned the Kegels, stretch marks, etc, that many women would not be able to discuss in mixed company. So what are their rights when it comes to creating gatherings? Do they not have any? Can we not pick our community?

I understand that there are a lot of resources and information channels at stake here, but I also understand that this has taken years to build up because women really want/ need this type of community. Does it make it fair to men? No. Can't someone start another, more incusive organization and build it up, in parallel to this one? There are many exlusionary men's clubs that have women's auxillary chapters.