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gender roles

Dads Like This Shouldn't Be So Rare

Ruben Onsu showed Indonesians what it's like to take an equal role in parenting. Why the hell are so few fathers following his lead?
Photo via Instagram (ruben_onsu)

I want to believe there are thousands, even millions, of fathers out there who are happy to take an equal role in raising their children. There are even fathers who don't mind swapping conventional gender roles and being the "stay-at-home dad," while their wife works. I like to think we're past the point of thinking this is "women's work" or "not manly enough." I mean even David Beckham said he was proud to be a "house husband." Do the naysayers out there need any more proof that being a dad is plenty manly?


So then why were people so shocked to see Indonesian celebrity Ruben Onsu carrying his own daughter in a sling? Photos of Ruben with his two-year-old daughter Thalia went viral in Indonesia last week when the the popular TV presenter penned a response to all the people asking why his wife Sarwendah wasn't holding their child.

"Many have asked why is the father holding the baby instead of the mother? Isn't it counter-intuitive for men to carry a baby in public? I'd like you to know that what I did was nothing compared to what my wife does every single day. So I want to help out as much as I can when I'm around. And there's no shame in holding my own child in public, even with the baby sling. All I care about is my family being happy, not other people's comments. Thanks for those who read and understood this. Thanks all!"

His post received a lot of positive reaction online and in local media. Most people saluted Ruben for setting a positive example as a public figure and a father. I think the praise is well deserved here, but it's still hard to shake the feeling that something's off when a lot of Indonesians out there initially saw something wrong with a man, and not a woman, carrying a child.

"That kind of reaction is to be expected in our patriarchal society," said Syaldi Sahude, the co-founder of the New Men's Alliance (Aliansi Laki-Laki Baru). "Our society still believes that men belong in the public sphere, outside the house, while a woman's place is at home. So raising children is the duty of women."


In Indonesian culture, our machismo culture tells people that "real men," are masculine, tough guys who never cry and would never be seen carrying a child in a cukin (baby sling). Where do these ideas come from? Mostly from religious texts, Syaldi told me.

"Many describe masculinity with a sense of responsibility and leadership and they associate these traits exclusively with men," Syaldi told VICE. "But if you think about it, leadership has nothing to do with gender. People say men are firm and tough, but, guess what, so are women.

"This culture is toxic because it perpetuates the idea that only men can be masculine. The reality is that although women's participation in the public sphere is increasing, when they come back home they are still expected to do their 'responsibilities' i.e. do house work and attend to the children. It's a double burden."

But heaping praise on a father for doing something that should be a totally normal act isn't helping either. Women take care of their children every single day and no one is posting laudatory stories about moms online. When a woman does it, it's expected. When a man does the same exact thing, it's a thing to praise. That, my friends, is the patriarchy at work.

"We at the New Men's Alliance avoid such glorifications," Syaldi told VICE. "[Men] raising and carrying children shouldn't be so extraordinary. It's also the father's responsibility, not just the mother's. They're both parents."

So when the vast majority of Indonesian women swoon over how lucky Sarwendah is to have a husband like Ruben, they are right (who wouldn't want a great guy like him?) but they also need turn to their husbands, brothers, friends, and fathers and ask why the hell are his actions so rare? Why should Sarwendah be the only "lucky" one here?

"I think it's OK that people praise him so that more and more men follow his lead," Syaldi said. "But the reality is that more men mock him. There have to be people who break these walls that we built ages ago. It takes two to make a baby, so the responsibility of raising the child should fall on the mother and the father."