Breaking down patriarchal stereotypes starts with paternity leave

Calla McBride

“I’m pregnant!”

As a father-to-be gets the news that he is welcoming a child within a year, his first thoughts may not be exclusive to the joys ahead of him. Instead, he could begin to worry: How will he connect with his newborn without paid leave? How will he help care for his wife and newborn if he’s at work? How will his wife recover and return to work without his additional at-home support? Will taking paternity leave hurt his career? Or cause others to view him as weak? These questions and concerns are only a fraction of the negative implications a paternal leave stigma has created.

Illustration by Calla McBride

 The fight for improving parental leave has been going on for decades. While women continue to fight for better maternity leave options, an equally important and often underrepresented side of the fight is for fathers to also receive paid leave. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. is the only country out of all 41 nations in the OECD that does not mandate any paid absence for n

ew parents. Countries within the OECD must be “democratic societies committed to rule of law and protection of human rights.” Moreover, the minimum paid leave required in any of the other 40 n


ations is around two months. A recent study conducted by asset management company Mercer found that only 40 percent of U.S. companies offer paid parental leave for both parents, meaning 60 percent of companies don’t offer any kind of paid paternity leave. 

Clearly, paternity leave is in dire need of reform in the U.S. as a whole, but it often gets overlooked as an important issue, typically because of patriarchal biases. There is a common misconception dating back centuries, that the father should be the breadwinner, while the mother should be the homemaker, taking care of the baby. These stereotypes perpetuate sexist ideals and the belief that men should prioritize work over family. However, this is a false and outdated belief that can be diminished by normalizing paternity leave. Implementing paternity leave within the workplace shatters the enforced ideas of who should be caring for the child and who should be working.

There is a long way to go to break down this stereotype surrounding paternity leave. As Thekla Morgenroth, a researcher of Social and Organizational Psychology at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom explained in a BBC article, “Men who take parental leave can … face backlash and be seen as weak, lacking work commitment and so on, which can result in consequences at work such as being demoted or not taken seriously.” 

Despite these statistics and stereotypes, paternity leave is improving in many parts of the U.S. In California, due to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees usually receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid paternity leave during their child’s first year after birth, adoption, or foster placement. While the act still does not mandate paid paternity leave, it is better than nothing.

While stronger options are still needed, these improvements in parental leave, no matter how small, make a difference in the outcomes for children. A study conducted by the United States Department of Labor found that paternity leave, especially longer absences of several weeks or months, can promote parent-child bonding and improve relationships. 

Take, for example, Nathaniel Popper, a writer for the New York Times who highlighted how his paternity leave benefitted several aspects of his life. Popper was working at the New York Times in 2012 when his first son was born. He only received a week off of stored vacation time. By the time he and his wife had their second son, the New York Times granted him 10 fully-paid weeks to spend time with his new baby. Popper explained this additional time made a big difference, expressing there were fewer fights and less resentment with his wife, while also allowing the couple to split their duties as parents equally. 

Within our own community, this paid leave is not valued. Even with individual companies like the New York Times recognizing the importance of paternity leave, Redwood has yet to implement sufficient paid leave for new parents. Redwood does have a “Maternity and Paternity Q&A” linked within their resources, but the Q&A fails to mention anything about their paid paternity leave policies. As a result of these insufficient policies, most teachers within Redwood are forced to accumulate and use vacation time to spend time with their newborns. If they do not have saved vacation time, they are only subject to the FMLA unpaid leave. 

For the sake of breaking down outdated ideas, as well as the immense amount of benefits paternity leave has for the father, the baby and the mother, we need to do better. If Redwood improves their paid paternity leave options, it will create change by helping family dynamics, working towards breaking down long-standing patriarchal biases and smashing the stigma around gender roles in and out of the workplace.