UK Daddy Blogger John Adams says he’s celebrating International Men’s Day this year, something he wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before he experienced fatherhood.
International Men’s Day is upon us and I shall be celebrating it and encouraging both men and women to do the same. I haven’t always held this view. Until about three years ago, when I became the main person caring for my children, I’d have laughed at such an occasion. I’d have told you it’s a man’s world and we don’t need this kind of interference, thank you very much.
Since then, experience has shown me that us men are second class citizens when it comes to being parents. If International Men’s Day can shine a light on this issue and change the perceptions of fathers then I will be very happy indeed.
So how can it be that us fathers are disadvantaged in the twenty first century? It’s true, there is no Israeli-style ‘peace wall’ coming between my children and I. In the nation where I live, the United Kingdom, men and women alike are protected by a raft of equality laws that stop men in my position from blatant discrimination.
Sadly, however, this message has not been universally received. I can tell you that I face lazy, latent and often unintended sexist words, media messages and actions every day and most of it revolves around outdated language used to describe parenting. Allow me to give you a few examples.
When was the last time you saw a cleaning product with a strap-line clearly stating it was for women to use? Can’t think of one? I suspect you’d probably have to go back decades. You just wouldn’t see products marketed that way anymore and yet you could walk into any supermarket and there on the shelves you’ll find a major brand of breakfast cereal sold in packaging instructing children to ask their “mum” to help them pour the milk into the bowl.
You probably think that sounds petty. Unfortunately the examples just keep coming. There’s the baby shampoo and skin care cream with “mum and me” stamped across the packaging, the powdered milk manufacturer that runs a “mother and baby” club, the book publisher that instructs children to “read with mummy” and so on.
I could continue but you get my point. These products, which I always try to boycott, are marketed using very lazy language. Not only does such marketing send a shocking message to our children, it also ignores the fact that men are increasingly taking a more hands-on approach as parents.
I always think there’s a certain irony in this dreadful approach to using this language. In my opinion it’s just as offensive to women as it is as to men. It reinforces the old stereotype that a woman’s place is in the home looking after the children.
Of course this is a much bigger issue than some stupid comment written on a shampoo bottle. Just the other week I took my baby daughter to see a general practitioner. The doctor was a young woman, probably about 30, and to my surprise, more so because of her young age, she accused me of “babysitting” my child. This is a phrase that has unfortunately been thrown in my direction a number of times but never by anyone so young.
I can think of another time when I took the same daughter to see a nurse for some inoculations. I can only describe what happened as bizarre. She gave my daughter the required injections before pointedly asking where my wife was and then started to physically look around the room for her! I’m also going to put myself on thin ice and say that women can be guilty of reinforcing the stereotype that childcare is no place for men. One way to demonstrate this is to look at social media usage.
Let me give you an example that’s rather close to home. One of my daughters was attending a pre-school that had a Facebook page. Despite the fact that several men were regular users of this page, messages were almost always sent out to “mums” and “mummies.” My concern when seeing these messages wasn’t for myself but for the male divorcee or widower who must have found these messages very irritating indeed.
Again, this may seem like a very petty example but it demonstrates language and use of language is important. If men are to be encouraged to be better and more involved parents the language used to describe parenting must be more inclusive.
In conclusion, my appeal to you, dear reader, is to think about the language you use when talking about parenting. That coffee morning you’re organising, is it just for mums or are dads also welcome? Put down that story book that says “read with mummy” and find something else that doesn’t reinforce unhealthy stereotypes. That “mother and toddler” group you attend, maybe you should have a quiet word with the owner about that dreadful name.
The most important thing you should do, however, is enjoy International Men’s Day. I’m not going to dodge the fact; there are some dreadful fathers out there. Sadly they tend to dominate the news headlines. Just for one day, let’s celebrate the good men that are out there, because they do exist and they are trying to raise healthy, well-rounded children in a world that often says they aren’t capable.
Picture Credit: Flickr/APM Alex