Friday, October 25, 2013

Dear Daily Mail, if a man is left in charge of his own child, he is parenting, not babysitting

One of my most re-tweeted comments ever. Must have struck a nerve. Or maybe Mitch Benn retweeting it helped:

In the hour since I posted it, my phone has gone a bit mad, beeping every few seconds, with retweets from men and women. Nobody would ever suggest a woman looking over her own child was babysitting, but for some reason parenting can be viewed as an opt-in, part-time occupation for men.

Why does this idea that women do the parenting and men help out when they feel like it persist in the second decade of the 21st century? I know so many families where Dad swans in and out when he pleases, continues with his own interests unfettered by childcare duties. The only exception to this seems to be when the mother is going out to work, although she will normally prepare meals, do the housework and otherwise make sure life is comfortable for everyone before she goes out. Dad, on the other hand, if he fancies going to some sporting event or participating, just gets on with it and the family has to reorganise their lives around him, however inconvenient it may be. Mum's interests, if she has time to pursue any, conversely, have to fit in with everyone else.

Caroline Page responded to my tweet by making this very valid point too.

The Daily Fail has form on promoting the idea that men can just pass on responsibility for looking after their children. In July 2011, Quentin Letts wrote an article entitled:
Hen-pecked Cleggy should tell his wife that running the country matters more than the school run
 And, no, I'm not going to link to such utter rubbish.

It makes me wonder. Nick Clegg and Jo Swinson have long championed and are now implementing changes to parental leave which enable couples to decide for themselves how they split parental, not maternity, leave between them. That will make it much more of a level playing field for women at work and maybe at home as well, driving cultural change as well as giving parents more choice. It will only make sense, though, where women earn more than men. What about those who don't. We need to think more about how we make sure that equality isn't just linked to economic contribution.

There has, of course, been progress since my childhood where my mum worked full time and my dad did very little in the way of either childcare or housework, but we're nowhere near where we need to be. Women's lives are still lacking many of the freedoms that men take for granted, even here, a top 20 nation for gender equality. We need to look at what we can learn from those above us in the list.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How do you square this with your oft-stated position that all ways of arranging families are equally valid and we shouldn't judge them?

You seem to be suggesting that absent fathers, for example, ought to be more involved in their children's lives than just visiting once a week or month. But surely 'single mother / mother and step-father with absent father who visits once a month' is just one of the many ways of arranging a family nowadays and we should not pass moral judgement on people who choose to live like that.


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