PTA Dads: You Can’t Win (In the Media)
PTA dads, you can, however, win just by helping schools. I won’t try to pass some contrived line like “in the end, it’s the children that are important,” because – no kidding. But I’m having a hard time running scenarios where PTA dads get to look like normal, involved parents using their talents or training for the good of a school.
I was reading feminist supersite Jezebel, as I usually do past midnight on a day early in the week, and saw an article about fathers joining the PTA. I read the piece, and of course, wanted to cry foul on grounds of the author, Doug Barry’s obvious man-hating. Then, I read the article that Barry was referencing, an NYT article by Kyle Spencer about those PTA dads. I began disliking the dads, just like Barry. What I was left with was the impression that fathers in the PTA have a lot of perception issues they’re up against.
So, remember that mancession that the media was so thrilled at itself for naming? Well, it led to more fathers in the PTA. And more fathers in the PTA meant not only another gender, but different perspectives on how to operate that Parent Teacher Association in a public school system that’s been in tumult for – well – ever.
So, the NYT article, in a nut shell (because we definitely use the shells of nuts as the measure for how much we can understand), is that PTA dads are here and awesome. The problem is, and you’ll have to read it on your own – go ahead, we’ll wait – is that the dads are described as man’s man guys who are putting an end to the knitting circle PTAs and operating a school in the black. And though one of the subjects of the article, a senior president of a Manhattan PTA named Jaun Brea, makes an intelligent statement in saying that the PTA is “like running a small business,” the article does him no justice (and does whatever the opposite of justice is) in saying that Brea is “a 43-year-old who favors football, blue blazers, Polo cologne and chopping wood in his Catskills backyard on weekends.” Then, the proud declaration that Brea “is part of the changing face of the PTA.”
Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like a threat, Kyle.
Jezebel‘s Barry gets that feeling too. Someone actually came to Brea’s rescue in Jezebel‘s comments section, saying to “please hate the reporter. I’m a parent at Juan Brea’s school and I can promise you that he is awesome.”
“In the cramped PTA room with the bright pink door at P.S. 75 on West End Avenue in Manhattan,” Kyle Spencer informs us, “Hector Rios, a co-president, said that being the lone man among eight board members has its downside: ‘Sometimes I feel like everybody’s husband.'” Holy f**k. Stop. Please stop. Jezebel‘s going to kill us all for this.
I feel like if everyone (including us at this point) would STFU about these PTA dads and just let them do their thing, maybe schools would make more money, maybe they wouldn’t, but it’d just pass on by. But here we are.
Now, in Spencer’s defense, he has a lot of great stats on the importance of fathers in education, and what this influx of fathers into the PTAs means. So, it’s not all bad.
Barry finishes his article, asking, “getting fathers involved in their kids’ education is great, but do schools really need a new class of PTA ‘visionaries’ trying to play business titan in the public school system?”
Yes. But here’s the problem: these dads aren’t playing “visionary” or “business titan” so much as using their previous job experience as a way to get schools more money. It’d be a shame for anyone with related business experience to not use it in service to the school.
But what do the formerly female-dominated PTAs have to lose? Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, they lose something that they “had.” With no fathers around, it was a woman-owned-and-operated business when women in the workforce were less common, and underpaid more than today’s 70-cents-to-the-dollar ratio. So in talking about men showing up in the PTA and taking on powerful positions like Brea’s senior presidency or Rios’ co-presidency, I understand a frustration that women could have – and it’s very much okay to feel it, as long as the emotion is placed correctly.
And on the same token, the men in the PTAs have got to integrate better. “You don’t see many male presidents with the cellophane and the curling ribbon working on the auction baskets,” said Bijou Miller in the NYT article. Miller touches on something that is important – the men need to do the things that they’re uncomfortable doing – not to build trust or save face – but because it’s the right thing to do. Before computers, when accounting was all done on that crappy graph paper, women treasurers were keeping their PTA budgets and still helping out with the auction baskets. So, it’s only logical that if an ex-CEO has found a new way to automate the budget, he’s got time to curl some ribbon. And yes, it’ll endear him to the women in the group too.
In the end, it’s the children that are important. Whoa, whoa, whoa! You almost got me!
The bottom line is that men and women are not equal, and there’s no need for them to be. Men and women parent differently and perform business tasks differently, and both genders have things to learn from each other. Fathers in the PTA, mothers in Fortune 500 businesses – this is all good news. Will they always be winners? Of course not. But especially in a school system – as long as more money is being made, or new equipment is being purchased, (and it’s all being done legally) there’s no need to complain or divide the genders. The media’s got to be a little more judicious too – we can’t be presenting men as corpo-douches and women as hens.
Let’s make it a point to check back in on this issue in 60 years and see if it’s silly that we’re taking time to talk about it. Mmmkay?