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So, in the land of html coding, where I’ve spent a small part of my professional life, there’s a great mechanism for adding comments to a web page’s code that only another code reader can see – they show up in the page’s source code, but not the visual page display most web surfers see. This post is just such a comment – a bit off topic from this blog’s general ramblings of an individual caregiver, but potentially of interest to those who follow the broader (and often political) issues of caregiving, in general. To use yet another Internet-popularized term, it’s a bit of a rant.

My jumping-off point is a recent post in one of my favorite blogs The New Old Age, by Jane Gross, the founding editor of that blog (now admirably managed by Paula Span) and author of the book A Bittersweet Season. In general, I’ve found Jane’s writings to be informative, entertaining and very truthful to the caregiving experience. This post lays out an argument for caregivers to gather up the cudgels of their varied experiences to batter down the doors of anyone playing a role in Medicare and Medicaid reform decisions. “O.k.,” I’m thinking, while reading Jane’s urgings, “this is a conversation in which I can play a part.”

Even more, she also spoke of the scariness many of us who care for parents feel – and run away from – in seeing our own possible fates in the lives of our fathers and mothers:

“No matter how awful their protracted deaths, we don’t look around the next corner and worry about what’s going to happen to us. “I’ll be playing tennis one day and dead the next,” we say. “Or I’ll shoot myself.” The first is unlikely, and the second glib.

I’ve even written about this one, myself, this past summer.

Then Jane completely lost me. Lost me, and any other man who happens also to be a caregiver.

Most mysterious is that this is a women’s issue. Boomer women changed the world for themselves and those who followed at each stage of life — and now they have fallen silent.

….Why did we fight so hard for sexual liberation, birth control and abortion rights, new models of childbirth, respect in the workplace and child care — only to become demure good girls in middle and old age? We’re caring for our parents, yes — but secretly, whispering behind our corporate cubicles to their doctors or pharmacists, cooing appreciation or hissing excoriation at people we’re paying to help take care of them.

So, apart from the demure little girl part, Jane is describing my current life. I work out of a home office instead of a corporate cubicle, but those conversations with doctors and pharmacists and home health aides and elder-law attorneys are eating up just as much of my daily work life as anyone else’s. And, as a self-employed writer, I don’t have any vacation or sick time to fall-back on for the days lost to ER visits and specialists’ appointments. But, apparently, this isn’t my issue to address.

Now, I’m not negating the overwhelming presence of women caregivers. In a 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving survey, 66% of caregivers were found to be women. But that remaining 34% – we’re men. And we need help just as much as the women whose cause Jane champions in her post. And to call this a “woman’s issue,” is to shut the door on any insights men might be able to add to discussions of ways to address the challenges ALL caregivers face.

Of course, I had to add my opinion to the comment section of Jane’s post, and I received a respectful response from Jane, in kind. However, one of the other commenter’s remarks were a truer reflection of what I see as the problems that come up when we try to turn this from a social/health policy issue into a strictly feminist issue (all punctuation and capitalization is quoted as it appears):

oh please! i am so sick of people citing EXCEPTIONS to the rule to “prove” the rule is meaningless…OBVIOUSLY most caregivers as well as most of those needing care are WOMEN…the fact that some (a minority, perhaps 15-30%) of the caregivers are men does not change the FACT that yes, this is a women’s issue, just as the fact that a small minority (less than 10%) of single-parent households are headed by men does not change the fact that single parenting is also overwhelmingly a women’s issue…your personal experience is interesting but irrelevant statistically…the numbers tell the tale…

Did you read that? My personal experience – and the experience of a third of all caregivers – is “irrelevant statistically.” In what other sociopolitical conversation in this country would it be acceptable to write off the experience of a third of the population as “irrelevant statistically”? Take, for example, this data point pulled from the 2010 census by the National Poverty Center: 35% of children living in poverty in the U.S. in 2010 were Hispanic. Would anyone, for one instant, suggest leaving Hispanics out of conversations discussing solutions to childhood poverty in this country?

I take up this issue not as a point of political correctness, but to emphasize that the experience of being male and a caregiver can be very different than it is for women in this country. How, for example, do you design outreach support for a population segment socialized toward self-reliance and emotional privacy? And how do you help those men learn the emotional translation skills they’re going to need to read past a parent’s surface assurances to understand the underlying cries for help? Proclaiming caregiving to be a “woman’s issue” shuts the door on these and other very real hindrances men can face when attempting to do the best they can for their own parents – about half of whom, by the way, are women.

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