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Investigative journalist talks about issues facing modern fathers

Josh Levs at the provost lecture. CHRISTOPHER CAMERON/THE STATESMAN
Josh Levs, above, speaks at Stony Brook University on Thursday, Oct. 8. Levs is a former reporter for CNN and an expert on family issues. CHRISTOPHER CAMERON/THE STATESMAN

Investigative journalist and family issues expert Josh Levs spoke at Stony Brook University on Thursday, Oct. 8 about the negative portrayal of fatherhood by the news media and its impact on gender politics.

Levs was a reporter for CNN when his third child was born. His newly born daughter was premature, and his wife had developed severe preeclampsia during her pregnancy. As a result, both Levs and his wife agreed that he would be needed at home for caregiving. But Levs was only granted two weeks of paid leave after the birth of his daughter.

“I was under this incredibly weird policy at CNN,” Levs said. “Under this policy, anyone could get 10 paid weeks to take care of their new child except a man who impregnated his own wife.”

Levs said he filed for an extension to his paid parental leave but was denied outright. He took legal action through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Time Warner, a topic that is the subject of his book “All In.” While his claim was successful, Levs said that his case was only a symptom of a much larger problem.

“The stigmas are more powerful than anything,” Lev said. “And the thing that drives me the most crazy about this, because this is my industry, is that the mainstream media is complicit.”

Levs argued that misleading statistics and narrow definitions of how much time fathers spend on their children has created a false image of men who are caretakers for their families.

“In these studies we have a lot of women who are working 30 hours professionally and men working 55 hours professionally,” Lev said. “So yes, the women are home for more hours. And more of what they are doing, to contribute to their family, is childcare. And that speaks to the sexism that’s pushing women to stay home.”

Another misconception spread by the media, Levs said, is the issue of fatherlessness in America. The New York Times published an op-ed claiming that there were 24 million children in the U.S. that are being raised without a father.

“Fatherlessness is a huge problem,” Levs said, but immediately clarified. “All of these statistics are wrong.”

The statistics counted an overbroad definition of children in a living arrangement without a  “biological father” that included adopted children, children with deceased fathers and children with divorced parents in that category, Levs said.

While Levs focused primarily on the stigma and misconceptions of fatherhood, he also brought up a solution to the issue. Levs proposed a national policy of paid family leave, an insurance fund much like social security that is deducted from an employee’s paycheck that insures them for six paid weeks of family leave.

The proposed policy would be self-sufficient to the employer, and Levs argues it would pay for itself in the long run as employee turnover due to familial responsibilities can cost up to 200 percent of an employee’s salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

In his lecture, Levs also distinguished “paid family leave” from “parental leave,” a policy that has already been adopted in some form in all but two countries—Papau New Guinea and the United States. While parental leave is a policy that applies specifically to new parents, family leave will be mandated time off that can apply to other personal circumstances, such as sickness or taking care of elderly family members.

Collaboration with other gender equality campaigns, such as HeForShe, was also mentioned by Levs during the lecture. Levs has plans to coordinate an event with HeForShe in November and spoke highly of the movement’s message and ability to break down the stigma surrounding the gender equality movement and translate that internationally.

“The first dream we had was to be held, and loved,” Levs said in the conclusion of his speech. “And ultimately standing for that, fighting for that, is the meaning of going all in.”

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