Despite the passage of the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act, few fathers are taking advantage of the mandated 12 or fewer weeks of unpaid parental leave offered by companies with more than 50 employees. While economics contributes to some of these cases, especially given the still-existing wage gap between men and women, fear plays a large part in fathers’ reluctance to trade work for full-time childcare.
The recent book “Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First” discusses cases of fathers who were refused or discouraged from taking advantage of available parental leave policies. Author Suzanne Braun Levine, a former editor of Ms. Magazine, shows that many supervisors are sending “the message that men who take leave are not very manly.” A 1997 work by sociologist Arlie Hoschchild, “The Time Bind,” also reveals a fear among working fathers to take paternal leave. Both works cite fear of discrimination from supervisors and co-workers, and often report that fathers who take leave are accused of being “fags.”
James M. Strass, a Manhattan lawyer, says he declined parental leave, fearing that “his co-workers would question his machismo.” He cited the sexist stereotype that women, and women only, must be the family caretakers. The American Civil Liberties Union has argued on behalf of fathers who were discouraged from or fired for requesting parental leave. In one case, a Maryland state trooper was told “‘God made women to breast-feed babies, and men can’t fulfill that role.'”