There seems to be a growing willingness to challenge sexist assumption about men’s ability to parent and it’s coming from lots of different angles, some of which we highlight below.
Does all this dad-friendly discourse constitute a movement or are the people speaking out too disparate and disconnected to have a shared voice?
The Third National Conference for Men and Boys is a unique opportunity for people who think differently about dads to get together and find out what they have in common and how they can push together in the same direction in future.
If you care about fatherhood, or any other issues facing men and boys, then why not join us at the National Conference for Men and Boys—you can buy your ticket online today.
And to whet your appetite, here we present some of the key themes that the nation’s “Dadvocates” are talking about.
1. Challenging sexist assumptions that “mum knows best”
The Fatherhood Institute recently sparked a social media debate about casual sexism towards dads after one father said he was referred to as “Mr Mummy” when he dropped his children off at school.
In his blog post about the debate —“He needs mummy: keeping dads in their place” —Jeremy Davies of the Fatherhood Institute said:
“Within families, men and women are finding new ways to share the breadwinning and caring – throwing away decades of social expectation in the process….but no matter how much more involved fathers become, the world around them seems insistent on keeping them in their place: playing a supporting role to a more present, more competent, more loving mother.”
According to Burrows: “All around us, we are fed the idea that parenting is a woman’s job. Mums alone have a special bond with their babies and children that fathers just seem to lack. It’s no wonder we’ve all convinced ourselves that women make naturally better parents. This drip-drip-drip of the special mother-baby relationship allows us all to assume childcare is none of men’s business.”
2. Challenging sexist media portrayals of dads
There is a growing willingness to challenge sexist portrayal of dads in the media. Last Christmas the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received more than 600 complaints about Asda’s “behind every great Christmas there’s a mum” campaign—helped in part by Fathers 4 Justice mobilising supporters. On this occasion, the campaign was unsuccessful with ASA ruling in January that the advert was within its guidelines.
In June, netmums added its voice to the “stop sexism against dads” movement with a survey revealing that nine out of ten parents claim children’s shows don’t represent real-life dads and three out of ten say the way dads are portrayed in the media is a “subtle form of discrimination” according . “The type of jokes aimed at dads would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups” says Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard.
Over in the States, Daddy Blogger Chris Routly has demonstrated the power of the effective lone crusader causing two leading brands to pull ads that were sexist against dads. Chris led a successful campaign against a sexist Huggies nappy ad last year.
Proving he isn’t a one hit wonder, Chris scored a second success last month and persuade the Clorox bleach brand to pull a sexist ad that said:
“Saying ‘No-no’ is not just for baby. Like dogs or other house pets, new Dads are filled with good intentions but lacking the judgment and fine motor skills to execute well. Here are a few dangerous no-nos new Dads might make, and some training tips…..”
3. Challenging sexism against separated fathers
Fathers 4 Justice has been making national headlines again recently with high profile stunts targetting national works of art like the Haywain, but is sexism against separated fathers being acknowledged elsewhere?
When the best-selling author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernier—patron of the charity Families Need Fathers—spoke out on Fathers’ Day. He highlighted the “general mythologising of fathers as irrelevant and feckless abusers” and slammed the family courts for treating “fathers heartlessly as mere sperm donors and bankers”.
Ally Fogg in The Guardian made a similar point, saying “sweeping generalisations are made about “deadbeat dads”; separated fathers are portrayed as probable abusers”. And Karen Woodall at the Centre for Separated Families says in her blog post on dignity, equality and respecting the difference between us that “Dads are discriminated against in family separation policy, that is why they are disaffected, disappearing and desperate. There is nothing more, nothing less to say about it.”
4. Challenging sexist laws and policies
Continuing the theme of sexist laws and policies, the way separated fathers are treated isn’t the only area of law and social policy where dads are discriminated against.
The laws of parental responsibility—which give automatic parental rights to all mothers but place conditions on which fathers can be given automatic rights —have been indirectly flagged up by David Lammy MP on the left and the Centre for Social Justice on the right, who both propose ensuring all dads’ have their names are put on the birth certificates (an act which grants all dads automatic parental rights).
As the former Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) commissioner Duncan Fisher said, when a Welsh dad whose partner died in childbirth was legally prevented from leaving hospital with his new born child:
“In UK law, a father can only be a father if the mother approves him. She can do this in two ways – marry him or invite him to sign the birth certificate. If neither of these happens, he is not the father until the family court approves him. A man has to be vetted by the mother or the state before he is allowed to be a father.”
A similar principle applies in UK parental leave law introduced by New Labour in 2006 which Fisher described as “one of the most unequal parenting leave entitlement regimes in the world”.
In 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised to reform this system saying the laws on parental leave marginalise dads and deny them the chance to play a hands-on role.
Ultimately, while the Coalition reforms are more flexible than before, they still discriminate against fathers. According to Ben Moxham at the TUC “the incentives in place for fathers are so poor that even the government estimates that only 2 to 8 per cent of dads are likely to take this leave” adding that “unions will need to step up bargaining with employers to strengthen what will be fairly minimal shared parental leave entitlements”
Duncan Fisher’s analysis of this issue is that reform didn’t happen because:
“A business lobby, keen to ensure men do not bow to domestic responsibilities as women have to, and the maternal lobby, keen for mothers to remain in charge in the home, combined forces in an unholy alliance, and this Government, like its predecessors, was no match for the pincer movement from both sides.”
5. Challenging our sexist society
Many commentators are also pointing to sexism in our social and economic structures which conspire to discriminate against fathers.
Traditionalists like Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail talk of a “national experiment in fatherlessness” caused by what the Centre for Social Justice describes as a “tsunami” of family breakdown that creates “man deserts”. In a similar vein, the Education Minister, Michael Gove, spoke out about the impact of fatherlessness on children saying “more children are growing up in homes where the male authority figure will be fleeting or absent”.
Interestingly, Nelson Fraser, editor of the right-wing Spectator magazine is none too complimentary about some of the hands-on fathers in his neighbourhood, saying in his “work is becoming a woman’s world” comment piece:
“Where I live, in Twickenham, cafés are full of kept men buying breakfast because they could not be bothered to make it – sometimes pushing prams with one hand and holding toast in the other. Teenagers are not the only ones responsible for record pre-order sales of PlayStation.”
Meanwhile, Professor Lynda Gratton from the London Business School speaks more highly of a new generation of men are leading the charge for a change on fatherhood and says that it is our attitudes to work and parenthood that need to change and “specifically the assumption that parenthood should be practised in a singular and specific way by women.”
Pointing the finger at the corporate world, Gratton says: “Organisations need to adapt out-of-touch policies, many of which are still shaped by social and working conditions that are no longer the norm. Organisations need to let go of outmoded thinking about gender roles and realise that fathers are increasingly as likely as mothers to be active in parenting.”
SO WHO IS BEHIND ALL THIS SEXISM AGAINST DADS?
So who is to blame for sexism against dads? Is it men or women? Is it left-wingers or right-wingers? Is it capitalism? Is it the patriarchy? Is it feminism and the women’s movements? Is it different fathers’ groups going about tackling the problem in the wrong way?
Maybe there’s some truth in all the perspectives listed above—afterall, none of us is smart enough to be wrong all the time. And if you want to deepen your understanding of issues like these then the place to come is the Third National Conference for Men and Boys.