Graphic designer and mother-of-two Mary Catherine Starr recently posted a comic on Instagram about how differently society views moms versus dads. “I figured my friends would see it,” she told me. “But it went CRAZY. The comic was translated into more than 15 languages, and I’ve gotten thousands of messages from people around the world.” Here’s the full comic…
Here’s a Q&A with Mary Catherine:
Wow, your comic struck a chord. How are you feeling?
Amazed and overwhelmed. I knew this was a huge issue in the U.S., where our society applauds dads for handling the most basic parenting duties and expects nothing short of perfection from mothers. But I had no idea that these double standards are everywhere. People around the world are saying, yes, THIS. I didn’t realize that women in Botswana and Brazil and Russia and New Zealand and Norway would all feel this so deeply, too.
What made you sit down to draw this particular comic?
It all started with the fast food thing. I never get fast food because there’s this expectation of mothers giving healthy food to their kids. But during the pandemic, my husband started getting Five Guys. And my kids were like, ‘Yay, Daddy got Five Guys again!’ If I had done it, I would have felt really guilty, like a lazy mom, like a failure.
The expectations for dads vs. moms are night and day.
And to be clear, I’m not saying men suck and women are incredible. I’m saying, our society has created a structure that no matter what women do, it’s never enough. And if men do the bare minimum, they’re considered amazing.
I was recently talking to a female friend, who has three kids. One day, her husband took them to the grocery store, and multiple strangers came up and said, ‘You’re doing a great job’ and ‘Wow, Super Dad!’ And his wife had never gotten a single comment; it’s like her parenting was expected and she was invisible.
Yes! In the airport, if a dad is flying with his kids, it’s like, oh my gosh, look at you. And if a mom if flying with her kids, people are annoyed and giving her looks. Dads are praised and moms are judged.
Dads are also considered adorably incompetent. Like, if a dad puts his child’s shirt on backwards or does lopsided braids, it’s funny and charming. If a mom did that, it would be weird or even worrisome.
I heard from a single mom who lived in an apartment building, and a single dad lived in the building, as well. Neighbors would bring him dinner and run errands for him. But they looked at her like she was a pariah. Every woman has 1000 stories like this. Some people might think, that’s not true, maybe in the 1950s. But if you ask ANY WOMAN, they can go on and on. And men who are aware will get it. My husband saw my comic and said, ‘Oh my god, yes, that’s so true!’
It’s interesting because with the fast food example, you said how guilty you would feel. You weren’t saying a neighbor or your husband would criticize you, but instead that you would judge yourself, right?
It’s true. And lot of women messaged me, ‘I don’t hear these judgements from others, I hear them inside my own head.’ But I want to tell them, that’s not your fault. The reason you’re judging yourself is because of messaging that we’ve gotten our whole lives. The culture is telling us this. I asked my friend the other day, where are your kids? And she said, Um, with their dad. It’s in the consciousness, and it’s really hard to break free from that.
Absolutely, we have all internalized these expectations.
Frankly, it hurts men, too. Dads have their own stories saying, ‘These double standards suck. The expectations are so low of me, and I’m praised for taking my kids to the grocery store and that’s ridiculous.’
How do you think these expectations affect the actual day-to-day actions of dads vs. moms?
It’s funny because my husband and I had an egalitarian marriage before kids. Have you read, All the Rage by Darcy Lockman? I read that after my daughter was born. It talks about how women go into having kids thinking everything will be equal, and then they find that they’re angry all the time because they’re doing everything. In scientific studies, they observed families on weekends, and a lot of the time, the dad was in one room by himself and the mom and kids were in another room. Even with the best of intentions, after having kids, the mom still ends up doing so much more.
Oh my gosh, I tease my husband for lying on the sofa on the weekends. I call him ‘Man in Repose’!
And I don’t think that moms are trying to be martyrs. I think we’ve seen this from the day we were born in our own mothers, grandmothers and caretakers, that they didn’t sit down, there’s too much to do. But men see their dads watching sports, or their grandfather reading the newspaper with a cocktail. My grandfather still sits down and calls out ‘cocktail waitress!’
Have you heard from friends or readers in same-sex relationships?
Not specifically about this comic, but I know people can experience the same frustrations in same-sex partnerships, where the primary caregiver feels an imbalance of labor.
What surprised you about this experience?
The most interesting thing to me is how I’ve heard from men saying, my relationship is equal and this feels offensive. And I say, that is awesome, and I’m so happy for you and your partner for figuring this out, but this is about how our society labels moms and dads. Whether it’s being said out loud or subconsciously, this is what is happening. You and your wife could be doing the exact same thing, but the OUTSIDE world doesn’t see it that way.
This conversation feels so validating; I could talk forever. But my question is, what we do next?
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if anybody does. It’s powerful, it’s really powerful.