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    Monday, June 19, 2006

    Fathers and Feminists

    This comes a day late, I know, but I think it's worth trangressing seasonal expectations. Neil Lyndon asks feminists and fathers to join forces. Let me be crystal clear: I do not endorse Lyndon's methods of argument. 90% of this article is so ridiculous that the man shoots himself in the foot. Anti-feminist rhetoric doesn't tend to endear the feminists, and "isn't this just like Plessy v. Ferguson?" doesn't tend to endear much of anybody. But I agree with the overall sentiment.

    To celebrate Father's Day, the Government has issued an advice pack for new fathers that addresses men in the condescending tones that are customary in this age - as barely civilised savages who might not manage to wipe their own bottoms, let alone a baby's.

    In reply, perhaps we could ask the Government a question: "What is it, exactly, that you have got against equality between the sexes?"

    It is still true today that, of the one in 10 divorcing fathers who makes an application to the court for an order for shared parenting, only half will succeed.

    Therefore, only 5 per cent of fathers emerge from contested divorces with rights of parenthood that are equal to the mother's. ...

    Women can never be fully equal at work and in the wider society if - at the same time as being expected to work on equal terms with men - they are also expected to be the parents who are chiefly responsible for children.

    The equation simply cannot be made to balance unless fathers are equal in the family.

    I think he's right and I find myself often very frustrated with the dismissal of these issues by feminists. I heard this speaker awhile back on "Work/Life Balance" and she talked about workplaces offering flexible work arrangements for women and how necessary that was. But when a woman in the audience said this was not an issue that applied just to women, and that we might actually benefit more from having these practices widespread and used equally by people of all genders, a couple of other women basically shut her down, saying that we had to do this for women "first".

    I think, actually, we need to pressure men into making use of Paternity Leave and other such programs because it sets up a cultural expectation of family-life equality that doesn't currently exist.

    I mean, just look at what Bob Schieffer had to say yesterday on Face the Nation when he gave advice to fathers:

    You new dads won't need [advice] -- the kids adore you and think you know everything and the truth is new moms do most of the work so just stay out of the way, stand by for directed assignments and pay the bills. It's easier on everyone.

    Is it easier on "everyone" if you "stay out of the way" of child-raising? I think maybe it's easier on you? (If sometimes painful, I don't know.) This paragraph of his monologue really stopped me in my tracks, when I was listening to it on my iPod on my way to work this morning. I mean, this isn't some crazy conservative on FOX News, this is Bob Schieffer! And I strongly doubt we'll see even a smidgen of public outcry - this is what we expect our old TV guys to say about fatherhood.

    Anyway, the reconsideration and reconstruction of fatherhood - our expectations of fathers and the rights and privileges afforded those who meet those expectations - seems to me of immediate importance. If we paid attention to the rights and duties of fathers, as a feminist issue, I think we'd find it less necessary to engage in conversations about the "Mommy Wars" and the "Opt-Out Revolution" (whether either of these is a "real" phenomenon) because there could truly be a notion of individual choice. Families could make their own decisions about how best to negotiate the demands of children, career/work, family. Courts could see divorced fathers as more than bank accounts to be drained and divorced mothers as obligated to uninterrupted self-sacrifice.


    Blogger Bella Sultane said...

    I *completely* agree that we need to reconceptualize fatherhood. It always bothers me to hear parenting by fathers referred to as "babysitting" (huh?). Also, the assumption that fathers won't take parental leave, but mothers will/should - very problematic to me. Both are examples of deeply-held assumptions about parenting...

    It seems very important to start talking about similarities in the responsibilities of mothers and fathers. Family flex/work arrangements affect all parents!

    Your point that paying more attention to fatherhood may ameliorate 'mommy wars' type issues is very interesting - I agree.

    10:22 PM  

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