Jeremy Corbyn appears to be the latest politician to wade into controversy when it comes to gender stereotypes. Comments a few months ago by Andrea Leadsom also highlighted the issue around parenting stereotypes.
Mr. Corbyn‘s comments about male dominated after work socialisation probably have some merit but by saying that women ‘obviously’ want to get home for their caring responsibilities implied that men didn’t. As someone who has to leave work on the dot to pick up my daughter from nursery, his comments were a little jarring.
In contrast to Leadsom, it would appear Corbyn had good intentions but a ham-fisted approach to the issue. Leadsom, on the other hand, seemed to imply male nursery workers all had the potential to be paedophiles.
Both highlight some obvious stereotypes about men when it comes to parenting and working with children.
Any stay at home father is going to have heard something akin to ‘Babysitting today are we?’ or ‘Giving Mummy a rest?’ Again like Mr. Corbyn’s comments, well-intentioned, but showing some less than subtle stereotyping underneath. This kind of comments exemplify the undercurrent of cultural norms men sometimes have to swim against.
Now to be clear this isn’t anywhere near the levels of discrimination women face about parenting and working. Any discussion about men in this regard has to take place with that in mind. Men aren’t likely to suffer discrimination for choosing to work part time or take more time with their children. But old stereotypes work both ways and if we want more men to take up parenting and break the age-old stereotypes we have to be clear that it’s just as unacceptable.
So in reply to Mr. Corbyn I’d say that there are obviously many fathers out there who will want to get home to see their kids as well. Who works full time is up to the individual family as is how they use their free time. The problem is, he’s perpetuated the stereotype which undermines his point and will work against what he intended.
Reinforcing the idea that men are somehow unwilling to care for their children allows them to be portrayed as unworthy parents. When it comes to managing a work-life balance that includes parenting, dads will be more likely to lose out. Not being considered in the same way as women are. This is low-level discrimination but it is discrimination.
Breaking old taboos has to be an active process and you can’t exclude dads from it on the basis that it’s about empowering women. Because if you do allow these ideas to continue you’ll end up with those men who do want to get involved feeling like they can’t speak up, and women feeling like the men don’t want to. Individual choice should not be overlooked but it is important to ensure that individual choice isn’t limited by stereotypes or prejudices.
As I made clear before, this discussion has to take place in the full knowledge that women still suffering far more discrimination than men. But the best way of combating this is to include men in the conversation.
Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.