Here’s to

A very minor, very broadsheet-type stooshie blew up over the weekend. Hit The Independent. Caught my eye.

There’s Mumsnet. And now, fighting the ‘gender equality in parenting’ corner, there’s Mumsanddadsnet…

I’m all for gender equality. Been fighting for ‘equality’ since I was in Nursery and was redirected from the sandpit with the immortal words ‘all good girls like the home corner’. So Mumsanddadsnet sounds alright to me. And it is. Alright that is. The few articles authored so far sound imminently sensible and well-reasoned. Decent. Honourable. Measured. All in all its creator, Duncan Fisher, presents well with his very civilised endeavour to address a serious issue: the inherent sexism of our culture and society – a sexism that identifies the ‘real’ parent as ‘the Mother’ – and which ghettoises women and condemns men to the parenting fringe in the process.

So, why am I apprehensive? Why should I be anxious? Surely any effort to redress imbalance should be welcomed?

Probably because experience tells me that sites that set themselves up as flag bearers for parenting equality are invariably hi-jacked by the women-haters and mother-bashers. By those who think they win equality for Fathers/Men by attacking Mothers/Women. The binary thought processes lead to well-trod battle-lines: women use residency/contact to punish men; men and women are mentally and emotionally inherently and qualitatively different; it’s all a feminist plot to take over the world; it’s not about ‘parents’, it’s about Mothers and Fathers; the attack on ‘father’s rights’ is a result of the feminist attack on ‘family values’; families without fathers are an abomination before God (ah dear, never mind what this implies about same sex couples who parent together)… and before you know it, reasonable discussion about a serious subject becomes impossible.

As soon as the discourse of the ‘Comments’ become peppered with references to ‘the innate differences between men and women’ I am off. And – for what it’s worth – for every sexist conclusion neuroscience (neurosexism) allegedly encourages us to make there’s another* neuroscientific study that ‘proves’ there’s no such thing as the male/female brain – that what minute difference can be observed can be explained  by the impact of the socialisation process which attributes gender to everything (pink lego anyone?).

What is it that all those who cannot bear the descriptor ‘parent’ fear?

‘Parent’, the great semantic leveller, emphasising what He and I have in common when we’ve done our fertile best and reproduced.

I mean, there we are, my fellow Parent and I, besotted with the little blighter and doing our best to deliver he/she safely to independent adulthood. Do we get hung up on gender roles when deciding who does what, subjecting every task to gender-interrogation? Is changing the nappy a Mother or Father duty? Should He iron the babygro, whilst I change the hoover plug? Or should He be principal breadwinner, come home to his dinner on the table and the kids in bed?

Get a grip.

Having brought the kids into this world, we have a joint responsibility and common interest in seeing them safely to independence. The enterprise is more secure if we parent together (whether in the same household or not). Success is more likely if we co-operate and help one another. Success is an even greater certainty if we have the support of a network of extended family or friends or a loving community. ‘He and I’ are yer ‘traditional married heteros’. But the above holds equally true for all those parents who are living apart, those single parents, same sex parents, adoptive parents or foster parents who are lovingly working together – either with each other and/or others in their extended family or friendship groups – to nurture the children in their care.

I suppose I’ve never understood the desperation of those who feel compelled to define themselves as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ – who are determined to view the world as binary. Does my vagina really make me more suited to the colour pink or to flower-arranging? Does it really mean I’m ruled by the moon? Or that I am innately nurturing and emotional? Does His penis mean emotional distance, power-tools and play-fighting? Or that he is ‘the boss’, the main breadwinner, the head of Me?

There is the stench of desperation and of the protection and exercise of power in the attacks perpetrated by some of those commenting in the early posts of Mumsanddadsnet.

But maybe that was inevitable – and is ultimately an essential part of establishing a message. For if you are good enough to attract their approbation – you may just have a meaningful message and an effective vehicle.

So, here’s to – to parenting and to hope.

* Thanks must go to Prof Gina Rippon (Professor of Cognitive Neuroimaging at Aston University) who debunks the neurotrash theories of ‘men are from Mars; women from Venus’…

12 thoughts on “Here’s to

  1. Line 6 Word 7: should it contain a 't' or is that superfluous?

    “and before you know it, reasonable discussion about a serious subject becomes impossible.” This seems to be the case on almost every serious subject. I was going to add 'these days' but I suspect 'twas ever thus. I was once 'accused' most vehemently of 'being too reasonable'. I was never quite sure whether that implied that I was too uncommitted to the cause or just plain and simple reasonable. The one thing I am reasonably certain of though, is that few arguments are effectively won by being unreasonable. Verbal battles may be won and points scored but rarely if ever are true wars of words won by virtue of shouting loudest without reason to back up the argument. On the other hand one could argue…… Well perhaps not.

  2. It's a curse, isn't it? 'Being reasonable'. Always attracts suspicion that our hearts are just not in it… War and blood-letting being required as evidence of commitment. Give me calm reasoned discourse anytime. Mind you…there are times when I get so bloody angry…!

  3. I don't like reading political blogs so see your point of view. But I get fed up with mums who take the view that men are useless. It's something you always notice when babies are involved. Some primitive animal instinct, perhaps.

  4. It's the old 'nature or nurture' stuff Jenny. Do women take the view that men are useless because we're programmed to take that view – or (and to be honest this is the one I prefer) because society defines childcare as 'women's work'. That then leaves me stuck with the 'chicken and egg' argument – which comes first: women give birth and breastfeed therefore are the natural primary childcarer therefore this is what caused society's general view that women are best at caring for baby OR a male-dominated society depends upon men being free to develop their power therefore the myth is born that women must be primary carers… I suppose that even if biology makes a woman more naturally the primary carer in the early months it doesn't mean that caring for children should have such a lowly status. Look at any job involving 'caring' (nursery and primary teaching; social work (primarily child protection and care of the elderly); nursing and certain of the medical specialisms like paediatrics; customer service type roles) and you'll see a predominantly female workforce and lower wages…
    And now I've depressed myself some more…
    We've surely evolved sufficiently to share parenting…

  5. I fought a crude battle against what I thought of as biological determinism when a very new parent. As a result Meg was brought up in dungarees; had 'boy' lego (no pink bricks for her) and unisex everything. I was on a fundamentalist trip. It's a hard fight, Glen – and I've found (like you) it's not just a fight against external societal forces but also a fight against my own programming… Ana (11yrs) is a footballing, 'male' clothes-wearing, wannabe-boy. She beats her brothers at fighting and at football (she'll play international one – I feel sure of it!). She has no girl friends – all her pals are boys. I sometimes find myself wanting to see her in a 'pretty dress'. There are times when I want to hear another female in the house. I feel guilty about that – because of what it says about me and about the society I have imbibed. The truth (as I – frail and prey to every prejudice I've been nurtured with) – see it is that Ana is just Ana. She hates pink. Has no fondness for dolls (aside from Sylvanian Families strangely – but so does her male cousin). She is herself. Though she is also 'political' in that I know she very well knows what she's rejecting when she rejects being fed 'pink' just because she's female – she's told me she doesn't want to be put in a box called 'girl' or 'boy'. Just as Louis loved his toy buggy and baby. Just as Evan nursed his red teddy bear and kissed all dolls. Just as Jamie is quiet but deadly with sarcastic humour. They are themselves. And Brendan will be too. Mostly, despite us!

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