Equal Parenting – and a Big Yawn

// 18 June 2006

Today is father’s day in the UK, making it as good a day as any to talk about father’s taking on an equal share in the responsibilities, travails and pleasures of parenting.

And in this, for once in my life, I actually agree with the Telegraph, which today published an opinion piece calling for greater equality in parenting.

The problem with this article is two-fold. One, the premise of the argument is that feminists must support a father’s equal parenting rights. Nothing wrong with that, although I would argue that feminism has always done that in one way or another – from campaigning for equal pay, which would make it economically viable for men to chose to stay at home and look after the kids, to eroding the social gender norms that get humanity tangled up into thinking that childrearing and housework are “women’s work”.

But then, let’s see how the Telegraph article frames childrearing:

In the past, movements for social and political change on behalf of groups who lack privilege have succeeded only when they have been taken up by the beneficiaries of privilege.

For instance, every self-respecting man of a progressive and philanthropic turn of mind automatically signed up to the suffragette cause.

Women were never the beneficiaries of priviledge in this picture – however much value the role of motherhood may have, and has always had, it has never been fully recognised by society.

Women may have been “priviledged” in that they’ve been able to take an active role in raising their children, but this priviledge has always been accompanied by a social encoding of women as inferior. Rather, taking care of children has been denigrated by society as too lowly for men. And even now, witness the discrimination faced by mothers in the workplace, and the difficulties faced by many mothers in getting their children’s fathers to take an interest in the process and/or take on some of the burden.

And then he really takes the biscuit:

If, therefore, feminists are serious – a premise that may be as plausible as saying “If the moon is made of cheese” – about equal pay, equal opportunity and the elimination of the glass ceiling, they will have to make it their business to ensure that fathers are equal in family law as much as in family life.

This is just ridiculous. If feminists arn’t serious about these issues, who is? Fathers4Justice, who the author congratulates for their equal rights agenda with nary a mention of the domestic violence that haunts the past of many of its most prominent members (before it went down in flames because of infighting?) Hopelessly, hopelessly clueless.

Meanwhile the “Torygraph” may not really reflect the views of the party leadership anymore – David Cameron has come out with a fantastic pledge to ensure that lesbian and gay couples receive the same tax breaks as straight married couples, the Observer reports.

But his leading frontbench policy adviser, Oliver Letwin, told The Observer that the pledge did not contradict any core Tory values. ‘It’s about how you translate and apply some enduring values,’ he said. ‘If the Conservative party is anything, it is a party that believes that relationships matter.’

‘But another Conservative value is fairness,’ Letwin said. ‘If you put stability and fairness as values and ask the question “what about [same-sex] couples who can’t get married”, it seems unfair and illogical for gay couples not to have an alternative.’

If this is a sign that the mainstream right-wing is starting to wake up to the 21st century, then brilliant. But, unfortunately, the announcement will also mark a return to politicians talking about moral issues. We all know how well that went down when John Major tried it with his “back to basics” campaign. Would Cameron fair better?

‘If you’re a child growing up in a family where something is going wrong, it will be of very little comfort to know that the UK’s gross domestic product is growing,’ Cameron will say in his speech. ‘Family life isn’t a component of GDP. But it’s a huge component of GWB – the “general well-being” of our nation.’

In an echo of his recent remarks on violent rap lyrics and the marketing of padded bras to pre-teens, Cameron will add that he is determined to practise a ‘new politics’ in which leaders take strong positions on moral issues. But particularly on issues of family, he says in the speech, this must not mean wading in with ‘legislation, regulation, targets and bureaucracies’.

Personally, I think it’s the job of politicians to worry more about the economy and less about fluffy and slightly weird ideas about how happy everyone is. The government’s best chance of making people happier is to make the world that bit fairer, freer, greener and affluent.

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