If you feel pressure challenging stereotypes to get the work life balance you want, spare a thought for Virat Kohli
News this week that men are still in the grip of gender stereotypes. Hardly surprising to me. I wrote a book about how those stereotypes are imposed from a very early age. So they are going to be tough to shake off.
Some fascinating academic research showed that men are happier if they earn more than their partner. Being the breadwinner makes men content. And crucially if their partner earns more then the working dad is likely to report being less satisfied.
Now, this isn’t because men just enjoy having more cash than their partners. It’s because they are brought up to believe they ought to provide for their family. Financially. There is of course more to providing for your family than simply putting food on the table. There’s love and attention and education and understanding. But men are constantly presented with a model in which they are at work while women remain in the domestic sphere. That might be how it was in their own home growing up. It might be what they see all around them in adverts and popular culture. But it all adds up to a mighty weight of expectation. Consequently many working dads feel comfortable and content when performing the role that is expected of them. Those that challenge the stereotype need something extra.
It’s always controversial to suggest a man working part time is a hero when so many women do that or feel compelled to when they become mothers. But the research demonstrating the ongoing influence of gender stereotypes shows just what men must overcome to achieve something different.
It’s why role models matter.
So spare a thought for Virat Kohli. Not just subject to the normal stereotypes but a man who carries the hopes of a nation as the captain of India’s cricket team.
And he’s to walk away, temporarily, in the name of fatherhood.
He’s due to be a dad in January. So he’s taken paternity leave that means he’ll miss two test matches between India and Australia at the turn of the year.
Remember, India is nutty about cricket. Captaining the national team makes Kohli one of, if not the most famous, most recognisable, most powerful men in the second most populous nation on earth. He’s a nation’s hero. So the pressure he must have faced when considering whether to take paternity leave is surely more than any other dad has faced before. And he chose to smash the stereotype.
Fans have been divided on his decision. Mainly they don’t want to lose to Australia of course. Plenty have pointed out that one of Kohli’s predecessors in the Indian team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, missed his baby’s birth to play in the cricket world cup in 2015. Dhoni insisted playing cricket was his national duty and it trumped all other considerations. He was wrong of course. But maybe he couldn’t bear to bust the stereotype. That would be understandable. Attitudes have changed in the last five years.
And whether they agree with his decision or not Virat Kohli has got fans talking not just about cricket but about paternity leave. Men who would never previously considered it are now thinking about it. If the nation’s cricket captain can put his job to one side for a fortnight then can any other man in India now claim that his job is too important to do the same?
It’ll be fascinating to watch the statistics on paternity leave take up in India from here on.
The whole episode is a lesson in power. You don’t have to be one of the world’s leading cricketers to wield power and influence. If you can role model different behaviour, demonstrate a better way of working, challenge a damaging stereotype then take that opportunity.
And yes, that will make you a hero. Howzat?
Photo by Sushanth Kulkarni on Unsplash