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Mark Zuckerberg might’ve gotten kudos for pledging to donate his fortune earlier this month, but it could soon be eclipsed by the roar of approval he’s received since posting a Facebook photo of himself (seen above) doing something apparently wondrous: changing the diaper of his newborn daughter, Maxima Chan.
The image, which the Facebook founder and CEO captioned “One more down, thousands to go,” has been shared more than 21,000 times and liked (including by Sheryl Sandberg) more than 1.9 million times since being posted on Friday. In addition to a slew of suggestions that the dad switch to cloth diapers, as well as compliments for the framed world map in the photo and queries about its origins (it’s by artist Michael Tompsett and available here), the 43,000-plus comments have deemed the new dad’s efforts “very impressive,” a “good example,” and “a miracle.” In the swirl of subsequent media coverage, Zuckerberg’s act has been dubbed “the most liked diaper change ever,” prompted publications to say that he is setting “a bold example,” and had stories naming him “most adorable dad” and even “dad of the year.”
Hold up, hold up — dad of the year? I’m all in when it comes to praising good parents, and Zuckerberg definitely seems to fill that bill (I mean, just the way he’s smiling so sweetly while bellied up to that changing table is enough to win me over). But let’s just play a little what-if game here: What would happen if a famous mom posted a photo of herself in the same position? Would anyone care at all?
“A mother would absolutely not get this kind of praise,” clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo Parenting. “There is no doubt that he’s getting so much attention for this simply because he’s a male — while we expect women to really embrace parenthood and do anything for their child.”
In fact, the only recent example I could find of a mom getting lavished with attention over something as drab as diaper duty was when Jimmy Kimmel challenged Kim Kardashian to a diaper-change contest — a gimmick that was mired in a whole other type of parenting sexism. (“Ever wondered if Kim Kardashian can actually change a diaper?” asked one cheekily insulting write-up. “Well, she can!”) That’s more akin to what we see over and over again through the public criticism of moms — a blood sport that’s typically at its worst when mothers are caught breastfeeding their babies in public.
But the stereotyping on hand now — about how dads are assumed to be bumbling and must be praised like toddlers taking their first steps for doing any basic parenting task that a mom would do (and be expected to do) without a second thought — is also an old and hard-to-crack chestnut.
“Why are people still so impressed when a dude changes a diaper?” asks Scary Mommy regarding the Zuckerberg photo. “Must we always commend fathers for just doing basic parenting jobs? I admit that it’s nice to see someone who could afford to employ all of the world’s nannies going for the less savory parenting tasks. But how many likes would Priscilla earn with the exact same post but with her smiling face hovering above her baby’s butt? She’d probably earn a collective yawn.”
True, notes John Pacini, co-founder of the Dad 2.0 Summit, aimed at changing the public perception of modern fatherhood. “Hopefully within the next five to 10 years, we can get to a place where a picture of a dad changing a diaper — as well as a dad doing his daughter’s hair, which we saw go viral not that long ago with the photos of Doyin Richards — is not sensational,” Pacini tells Yahoo Parenting. “But we’re not going to get to that point without having this conversation.”
So as tiring as it is “when a dad does something expected of him as a dad, and he’s considered father of the year,” Pacini says, he does see a positive shift occurring with the continuing Zuckerberg narrative.
“The difference is that he is becoming the standard bearer, and really emblematic of what today’s dad needs to be,” he explains. Between Facebook’s progressive paternal-leave policies — which were presented at last year’s Dad 2.0 Summit — and the CEO’s continued public embrace of fatherhood, “his actions validate the message we’ve been working so hard to promote.” It also provides a blueprint for millennial dads, who yearn to be more involved with their children, Pacini notes.
“Is it frustrating that people still get excited when they see a dad changing a diaper as if they’ve just seen a purple cow? Absolutely,” he says. “Would I be more upset if no one were talking about the importance of fatherhood? You bet.” So touché — reluctantly — to that.