Ashton Kutcher has a challenge for American bathrooms: Install changing tables in men’s rooms. He took to Facebook both to complain and to offer a carrot, writing:
As of recent, I know a strangely large amount about the history of changing tables, after doing research on their advent for a separate article about ways that companies have helped families while turning a profit. The omnipresent Koala Kare changing table was invented in the 80s as a response to women leaving home with their children more often and dual-income parents wanting to spend more time with their kids, thus taking them to places like restaurants rather than leaving them home with a sitter. The founder of Koala Kare is, interestingly, a man. But even in the third millennium, the perception that changing a diaper is a woman’s job persists.
To convince companies to buy his product, Koala Kare founder, Jeff Hilger, first tried sending stores pictures of women holding their babies. It flopped. He then took a different tack, sending photos of women changing their babies on filthy bathroom floors. His product became an overnight success. In his words, “We changed the public restroom. We got the babies off the floor.”
Well, partially. The same changing tides in society that resulted in more women in the workplace have also resulted in more men being hands-on with their children. The amount of time fathers spend with their children has tripled since the 60s and the amount of time fathers spend doing chores has doubled in that same period. Today’s fathers are more likely to be found doing things like reading to their kid a story, giving their child a bath, or changing a diaper, than ever before in modern recorded history.
I can see the effects of this in my neighborhood, where dads pushing strollers, wearing baby carriers, and grocery shopping with a nagging toddler in the shopping cart seat can be seen everywhere. But one thing I never see, because I never go in men’s bathrooms, are dads looking for a place to change their babies.
And yet it only makes sense that they would be, given the rise of the hands-on father. The irony is that men out with children now face the bathroom experience of women in Gloria Steinem’s day. Ashton Kutcher’s bathroom challenge demonstrates that when men become fathers, they become more empathetic and aware of the difficulties faced by other parents, especially women. Men becoming dads are acutely aware of what mothers are dealing with, and become a lot more likely to advocate for them. Because a man looking for a changing table is helping the mother of his child and sharing in the duties of parenting.
Plenty of celebrity causes are annoying or divisive. But Kutcher’s pro-father contest is something we should all be able to get behind. Here’s hoping that he helps to get some more babies off of bathroom floors.