Hofstra Law Review


Holning Lau


A growing number of men embrace childcare responsibilities traditionally associated with women. Yet fathers who wish to be caregivers often face impediments. Legal scholars have focused attention on one of these impediments, the lack of workplace paternity leave, by calling on the government to mandate leave for new fathers. In this Essay, I argue that the focus on workplace policies is much too narrow. In light of cultural norms in the United States, there will be difficulty passing national legislation mandating paternity leave. Moreover, men shoulder cultural pressure not to take paternity leave even when it is offered. This Essay contends that we must look beyond the workplace and address a broader set of elements in our cultural environment that perpetuate bias against fathers as caregivers. I call this an “ecological approach” to paternity policies. To jumpstart discussions about ecological reform, this Essay offers three examples of public policies that the government should pursue to modernize cultural expectations about fathers as caregivers: (1) regulation of men’s equal access to diaper changing facilities, (2) reframing government-funded “Mommy and Me” classes to be more inclusive of dads, and (3) recasting the image of men in the federal government’s Fatherhood Initiative. Each of these areas may seem like a very small target for reform, but addressing small targets collectively could profoundly reshape our cultural expectations about fatherhood. This Essay is based on remarks that I delivered at the 2015 Association of American Law Schools Midyear Meeting, Joint Plenary Session for the Workshop on Shifting Foundations in Family Law and the Workshop on Next Generation Issues of Sex, Gender, and the Law.

Included in

Law Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.