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The government reinforced gender stereotypes this week. So it’s up to us working dads to redefine our role
Silly Rishi. Presumably Chancellor Rishi Sunak thought he was being gracious this week when he offered his thanks to all the mums that ‘stepped up’ during lockdown to juggle work, childcare and homeschool.
Instead he looked like a daft sexist.
— Emma Barnett (@Emmabarnett) January 26, 2021
He managed to hack off the millions of mums who’d like more than just his thanks. They’d like things like job protection, a jobs support scheme that recognises maternity leave depresses a woman’s average income, and gender equality.
And, more pertinently for us at workingdads.co.uk, he managed to hack off the millions of dads who also ‘stepped up’ during each and every lockdown.
OK, so it was one of those stories that wound up a certain constituency on Twitter but probably didn’t bother the population at large. But it’s worrying for those of us who want gender equality to be baked in to building back better.
It betrays a narrow worldview in Downing Street. A fondness for out of date stereotypes. And if there was any doubt about that it was banished when the government released an infographic yesterday urging everyone to ‘Stay home. Save lives’ and featuring illustrations of women doing domestic chores.
A message from the Government to the nation’s women and girls!!
Turns out 1950s sexism is spreading fast too. pic.twitter.com/n6pHIz7cwu
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) January 28, 2021
The one man in the ad was lounging on the sofa. It was quickly withdrawn probably in part because it would’ve fallen foul of the Advertising Standards Agency’s guidelines on gender stereotypes.
Some dads are deadbeats who want to avoid their family. But their number is vanishingly small to the point of irrelevance. The vast majority want to be hands on, involved, parents. But they are prevented from doing so by social norms and economic pressures. Both factors are not easily changed. But neither is impossible to alter.
We know that the pressures of the pandemic fell disproportionately on women. But we must not fall into the trap of believing this is because men are inherently feckless and selfish. Men are beholden to powerful forces beyond their control. The trick is identifying what is within our control and what is not.
Recently, I caught a short video by Rachel Vecht on LinkedIn in which she spoke about ‘the circle of control’. Rachel Vecht’s Circle of Control sounds like the sort of two bit indie band they used to put on at the student’s union in the 90s. But it’s an excellent, simple tip for coping with lockdown. You draw a circle. Within it you write down the things you can control, and you write the things outwith your control on the outside. It’s an effective way to centre your thinking when it feels like things are spinning out of your command.
And it applies to the broader issue of men’s roles. We can’t unpick the gender pay gap alone. We can put the washing on.
And we can each do our bit to challenge those larger forces. Take paternity leave, work flexibly, think about how the pandemic has thrown your domestic set up into relief and talk to your partner about which bits you want to keep, which you want to bin, and what you both need to work harder at. (But have that conversation in a kind, empathetic and forgiving way).
And when you model the alternative you take a chip out of those social norms that constrict the definition of masculinity. The more of us do it, the sooner the chains come off and we’re free to be the man and the dad we want to be.