When I first became a stay-at-home dad I always intended to write a retrospective post about my experiences. Of how I entered a traditionally mothers environment as the ‘minority dad’ and came out the other side.
In my head I already knew what I was going to write. How facilities aren’t geared towards dads. How we’re treated with suspicion. Of negative attitudes and having our masculinity mocked.
It was for these reasons I spent the first few weeks at home. We’d occasionally go to the library, get our books and on the way out pass the baby and toddler group with a ‘maybe next week’ cowardice.
But as any stay-at-home parent will tell you, the true enemy is isolation. It’s the lack of adult interaction. It’s recounting an anecdote about your day and realising midway through that what you’re actually describing is an episode of Mr Tumble.
And so with a large degree of trepidation we set off to our local playgroup. Once there we discovered other groups we could attend, and in doing so realised us dads aren’t the novelty we once were. Our fore-stay-at-home-fathers had already trodden this very same path, and some had even hung around for the tea and biscuits.
Maybe I was lucky. Maybe living near a city centre made things easier. Maybe my self-deprecating humour helped or more likely I was just too tired to notice; but whatever the reason I was never made to feel anything but welcome. I never felt discriminated against. I’ve never once struggled to find baby changing facilities and what little masculinity I had remains largely intact.
OK so I was mocked by my male friends and I’d expect no less, but dig a little deeper and they all admit to being envious of the time I spent with the kids. Jealous of our trips to the museums and art galleries. Regretful that they’ve missed so much of their own children’s early years through long hours, deadlines and the misery of the commute.
So you see all my preconceived fears and opinions of being a dad in a mum’s world were just that. Preconceived. When it comes to being a stay-at-home parent, equality reins. Our side of the battle is won. Or so I thought.
But what does this have to do with feminism?
Well, as a middle-aged man I never felt feminism had anything to do with me. It was the woman’s battle for equality. Whilst I may have agreed with their ethos and end goals it was, and always would be their fight.
It was only when listening to Emma Watson’s amazing speech to the UN that I realised how wrong I was. Inequality is every bit my problem. Every bit my responsibility. And as the father of two boys probably more so.
As a stay-at-home dad I may already be an inadvertent feminist but that’s largely through circumstance, because prior to taking on the role I never considered it an option. I was the breadwinner. My role was to provide, Janet’s to nurture. It’s an archaic attitude I’m not proud of.
It only came about because I was made redundant and suffered a mental breakdown. A breakdown that with hindsight was largely due to my entrenched attitude that as a man I should be able to cope. That I shouldn’t ask for help. That like so many men my age it was what was expected of me. Only I didn’t cope. I didn’t ask for help. It never should be expected.
Gender equality is every bit my problem.
And why don’t my male friends feel they too can play a larger role in their children’s early years? They’re more likely the breadwinner. They’ll statistically be earning more. It’s still what society expects.
Gender equality is every bit their problem.
And what of my boys. So young and yet already gender stereotypes are being instilled into them. What toys they should play with, what careers they should aspire to, and what activities are appropriate to them.
Recently in the school playground I overheard two parents discussing a party invitation their boys had received from a girl in their class. It went along the lines of,
“Why would she invite boys? It’s a Princess theme. I’m going to have to pretend we’re away that weekend.”
Why wouldn’t she? They’re four. It’s a party!
Gender equality is everyones problem.
I’ve loved being a stay-at-home dad. It’s been the happiest and most rewarding years of my life. To watch them grow and develop is something money can’t buy.
But I also realise how lucky I am. How many dads would love to do the same but for whatever reason can’t. And I appreciate just how important it is to instil gender equality into Sonny and Luca so that when they too are parents they might not be so hampered by the stereotypes and behaviour patterns of my generation. That they’ll respect women as their equal and share equally in their opportunities.
Being a stay-at-home dad may make me an inadvertent feminist but that in itself isn’t enough. I need to do more. Men need to do more. We all have a duty to do more, because by definition equality for women means equality for men too.
Which is why I’m proud to call myself a feminist. It’s why I’m proud to bring my two boys up as feminists. And it’s why I’m so passionate about supporting the HeforShe campaign.
“Now it’s time to unify our efforts. HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.”