S got his Father’s Day card and gift from E this morning before we (well, mainly me) cooked him breakfast. I’ve been pondering gender roles quite a bit this week, so how timely to have an excuse to talk about dads.
It’s been the first week in a while that I’ve worked all five days – what with bank holidays, leave and being ill, I’d had a few four day weeks. It seemed an extra long week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and I’d been so busy that by Saturday morning when I woke up, I did have to double check to make sure it was the weekend. The decision on my request to work compacted hours has been delayed for a while so on I go. Five days does seem hard work!
I’m not really complaining. But because S works part time he gets two and a half extra days with E. I also noticed this week that he’s started doing more around the house. (I should clarify, we have always shared household tasks and I wouldn’t say that he’s a shirker on things but there’s always been a sense to me that I’ve done a bit more, just because I tidy things up more, put the washing away, clean the bathroom, empty the bins, generally do the ticking over tasks. Everything else is 50/50.)
Obviously, he’s not got any more free time since his time away from work is spent looking after E. But nevertheless this has meant that I’ve started to feel guilty about not doing my share. Despite working full time and therefore bringing the main household wage in, despite dropping everything as soon as I walk in the door and playing with E till bedtime, despite taking her swimming at the weekends and making sure her little dresses are ironed, it still feels like I should help more. I know this is silly.
Did men in days of yore feel like this too? The breadwinners at the office with a wife at home? I’ve read surveys that say that the main regret of people on their deathbed is that they worked too hard. I don’t know if men felt or feel guilty about not doing more around the house though or if this is just a bad product of some hideous feminine conditioning. Perhaps all women feel guilty. (Earlier this week research was published to tell us working mums that our children won’t grow up damaged by going to nursery – thanks for the validation. Actually I don’t feel guilty about this, especially now E has settled in so much that she doesn’t cry when I leave and reaches out to get to the breakfast table instead.)
The TUC today published a report that said that the majority of men who are entitled to take up to 26 weeks paternity leave do not do so because they cannot afford to – that paternity pay is too little. I would suggest that it will also take a long time to get the culture shift that’s also needed to make more men feel confident asking their bosses for paternity leave. We’re getting there but it’s not going to happen overnight.
Yesterday DadBlogUK sent me a link to this piece on the Huffington Post. I’ve not been able to sit down and craft a response to it till now but my initial thoughts were: oh dear oh dear oh dear. The annoying thing is that she’s not wrong in many things. There is still terrible violence against women, degradation or patronising treatment of women in public life (this week’s stories about Julia Gillard have horrified me) and there are a lot of bad fathers out there. But what purpose does this article serve? This is feminist rhetoric of years ago – when things could be couched in black and white (and still be inaccurate, mind). It’s ultimately the kind of rhetoric that did the feminist movement so much damage. Wonder why so many women today don’t think feminism is relevant and distance themselves from it? Anti-men nonsense like this.
Today’s feminist movement, I mean organised campaigns and groups, are more nuanced. This last fortnight has seen the launch of a campaign against selling lads mags in supermarkets and other shops that call themselves family friendly. There is a legal argument that they constitute sexual harassment and shops that sell them are open to being sued by staff and customers who find them degrading. The campaign is by UK Feminista and has attracted a lot of support already, from women and men – mums who’ve had their fill of being heckled in the street, dads who worry about their daughter’s safety. This is what we can do today – this is what today’s feminist movement can look like.
In practically every aspect of modern life the main argument is that we should work together to solve our problems. Worried about rape? Don’t just talk to your daughters about personal safety, talk to your sons about what constitutes rape and about no meaning no. Struggling with childcare? Examine both your responsibilities and try and work something out together. I know loads of dads who are doing the best for their children by making time, sharing the load as much as they can. We’re all trying to get through, none of us need to be yelled at.
And even when you’ve worked something out and are both doing all you can to pull together, it turns out you’ll still feel guilty for not doing more. Stop stressing and paint your toenails, that’s what I’m going to do.
Oh, and Happy Father’s Day dads!