The Sunday New York Times had this article on the trend of providing diaper changing stations in both male and female restrooms. The story follows a man named Greg Allen who is "compiling a list of public men's rooms in New York equipped with changing tables and using Google maps to pinpoint their locations on his blog, daddytypes.com." It also mentions a lawsuit brought in 1994 on behalf of a diaper-clad child who was shopping with his father in a Lord & Taylor in Manhattan whose men's bathrooms did not have a diaper changing station (the women's bathroom did have one). The failure to provide equal facilities for men and women was alleged to be a form of sex discrimination. (Lord & Taylor settled the suit by providing changing stations in both the men's and women's bathrooms so that the issue of sex discrimination was never decided.)
A student of mine brought this article to my attention yesterday after our constitutional law class. (We are in the middle of our unit on sex discrimination, having just discussed Frontiero v. Richardson and United States v. Virginia.) To him, I gather, this article was evidence of change in our culture and, specifically, in society's expectations for men as child care providers (changes wrought by or reflected in civil rights litigation?). In a later discussion with another student in the same class, the subject of a type of male ennui arose: fathers stuck in competitive and time-restrictive jobs who are encouraged much less (if at all) than their female counterparts to take time off to care for their children. Indeed, anecdotal evidence of law firm life suggests that men who work part-time to help care for their young children are penalized in the partnership race, whereas women who do the same are praised for agilely juggling work and family. (Indeed, law firms that advertise as family-friendly tout the fact that they have promoted women to partner who have been working part-time to care for their children. I have seen no such self-promotion on the part of these same law firms with regard to male partners. Have I missed it?)
The diaper changing stations may be proliferating in men's bathrooms in Manhattan, but (call me a cynic) I am unconvinced that this material change reflects changes in our "deeply rooted traditions" of who cares for children and who financially supports them. Case on point: Next week we study Nguyen v. INS, 533 U.S. 53 (2001) in which the Supreme Court upholds as constitutional an INS regulation that imposes greater procedural hurdles on a US-citizen father whose child is born overseas and seeks US citizenship than on a similarly situated US-citizen mother. The differential treatment is justified, says the Court, because of the "significant difference between [the mother's and father's] respective relationship to the [child] at birth" (i.e., the biological difference of giving birth and not giving birth) that can prevent, in the father's case, the "opportunity or potential to develop ... a relationship ... that consists of the real, everyday ties that provide a connection bewteen child and citizen parent." Have we come that far when the Supreme Court says the "opportunity for a meaningful relationship between citizen mother and child inheres in the very event of birth," whereas the "meaningfulness" of the father-child relationship requires more work, is less, oh, natural?