How much compromise is too much when moving towards equal parenting? Are dads that step up just doing what they should or are they heroes?
We know that men want to spend more time with their families.
And we know that many men are doing exactly that. Whether that be adopting flexible working or going part time or just engaging with their family at the end of the working day in a way previous generations did not.
Does that make them heroes?
There’s two good reasons to say no. Firstly they are doing something they want. Surely it’s in the nature of being a hero that you do what must be done rather a little of what you fancy? And secondly they are only doing what women have done for decades. It remains the case that the vast majority of domestic labour – housework and childcare – is done by women.
So it seems a little over the top to describe men essentially doing their fair share as heroes.
I should know. Author Rebecca Asher interviewed me and my partner as part of her research for her book Man Up. The book looked at masculinity and how it’s changing. She spoke to us about our @GenderDiary project that looked at the way boys and girls are treated differently from birth. And in the course of our chat we spoke about how I had recently gone part time to become primary carer for our kids.
When the book was published obviously the first thing I did was check the index for my name, and there it was, twice. Flicking to the page number listed I found one of those namechecks in close proximity to a description of dads like me as heroes. My partner, who’d done seven years as the primary carer before I took over, looked in vain for any mention of her as a hero for doing so much more of the same thing.
I wear the title of hero lightly.
But I’m content to describe others as such.
Because if calling men heroes gets them to change more nappies then that’s fine by me. My approach can be summed up as ‘whatever it takes’.
Interestingly I got involved with a conversation with a former Prime Minister and one of the nation’s leading podcasters this week. (I’m not going to drop names. But one of the other people in the room did mention that when she met Hillary Clinton recently the resulting selfie was no good. Undoubtedly the biggest name drop I’ve heard in my lifetime.) It was a feminist conversation. And the topic of compromise came up.
The former PM said that as long as society was making progress, moving in the right direction, they were essentially comfortable with almost any level of compromise. (Part of the problem with our ugly electoral landscape right now is that too many have lost sight of the fundamental maxim that politics is the art of compromise). Successful people like that inspire me. They are heroes. So if calling men doing just a little more of the right thing heroes makes more men do the same I can live with that. But I understand the frustration others might feel about it and the discomfort it might instil.
But for now my message to dads is inspired inevitably by David Bowie: we can be heroes.