Ed Balls thinks schools intimidate fathers because they’re too female dominated….

// 8 May 2008

Maybe what he should be arguing for is for more men to take responsibility for involvement in their children’s education and in the low paid, low value world of primary education. Instead he says primary schools (for which read women as most primary teachers are female) have to do more. His suggestions – encourage men to come to schools in groups so they have someone else to talk to. Because obviously men can’t talk on a level with women, I mean what a stupid suggestion that they should have to demean themselves so.

Fantastic example of self-reinforcing patriarchy there Mr Balls. Lets confine women to lower paid, gender segregated industries and then blame them for feeling like it’s a bit different to walk into their world. Yep it is, welcome to our world.

But then Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan made it a whole lot word. Mr Balls had suggested that there should be a helpline for parents with questions about education which also might promote fathers involvement. Mr Brennan averred that men wouldn’t use it.

“If we honestly asked ourselves a question, if you had a problem would you ring a helpline? And for a lot of men, it’s something that we wouldn’t do.”

From BBC News

One has to wonder why not… perhaps because men are taught by patriarchy to be uninvolved and uncommunicative. Perhaps because the majority of flexible contract call centre staff are women and therefore we’re back to the talking to and asking advice of women issue again. Or maybe just because it’s easier to not be involved – after all patriarchally “fathering” is about insemination and “mothering” is about raising children.

Comments From You

Amity // Posted 8 May 2008 at 6:34 pm

I find it interesting that it is mainly women who teach primary school and who volunteer their time as parents lending a hand at events and organisation, yet many men complain that they feel ‘left out’ of their children’s early years in education. It seems to matter to them only later, in secondary school and beyond, when the prestige of being involved in education is higher and deemed more important for deciding their offsprings’ futures. It’s also no coincidence that the number of male teachers goes up the older the children get. Once again, the ‘dirty work’ of conducting the early years of childrearing and teaching is left to women, who are later pushed aside or made to feel guilty for being too involved or not making the fathers feel welcome and involved.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 8 May 2008 at 6:46 pm

Proves what I’ve always said patriarchal teaching of what supposedly comprises appropriate masculine behaviour are never ever logical or rational. Poor men so they can’t communicate with women teachers, but instead will have to have a special male support group every time their feet actually touch primary school premises. No, we can’t expect men to contact a help line – men are independent rational thinkers so they don’t need help lines. Only women need these.

Alex T // Posted 8 May 2008 at 8:19 pm

Hmm, I’m not sure I agree. I’m a female primary school teacher, and yes, there is just one male member of staff in my school. As far as parental involvement goes, it’s not too bad at my place – not ideal, but probably has more fathers involved than in plenty of other places.

Anyway, teachers, on the whole, especially primary teachers, are often out to improve the world. We are well-trained in equal opportunities and, with varying degrees of success, seek to compensate for children’s disadvantages. If a child can’t do a maths problem, we give her/him some cubes to help her/him count. If a child’s parent(s) can’t afford to pay for them to come on a trip, allowances are made. Likewise, if children’s lives and education are going to be improved by the presence of fathers in school, I for one would be willing to look into ways of bringing that about. I do feel that it *is* our responsibility to do that, regardless of the fact that we’re mainly women.

On a related note, we (female feminists), always bang on about how uncomfortable we feel in male-dominated spaces: I’m not surprised if men aren’t comfortable in female-dominated ones.

(Once again, must point out that I’m a woman. There’s been a spate of people thinking I’m a man because of my name!)

rbrta // Posted 8 May 2008 at 8:37 pm

In my experience (as a mother who has helped in the classroom) all schools appreciate it when parents get involved – not just mothers & fathers, but grandparents too. i recall a school trip i went on when a father came along too – he was taken to one side & given specific instructions about dealing with the children; like what could be construed as inappropriate touching (ie hugging or placing a hand on a shoulder!).

Not sure now what the point of my comment is! except that I remember thinking that it was a shame to single out the dad.

I thinkthe problem is that the traditional family has Dad out at work and unable to participate in the children’s school life as much as the Mum – yet another example of the imposed (patriarchal) separation of gender roles.

Damm Shame cos everyone loses out.

Rhiannon // Posted 8 May 2008 at 9:52 pm

Men are very welcome in most primary schools.

Maybe it’s just Ed Balls that’s unwelcome?

Holl // Posted 9 May 2008 at 8:51 am

Well, it seems that Ed isn’t the only one to lament the lack of men in the education system. Boris’s deputy, Ray Lewis, is hot on his heels with the accusation that the presence of so many women in schools is “unhelpful” because “males have a different psychology to girls”. Girls? And what’s he getting at anyway? My school (a bog standard comp in the 80s) had a glut of fearsome women who kept everyone in check. The implication from Ray here is that female=weak. It’s time to stop blaming women for every bloody thing that’s wrong in society and start looking for proper solutions.

Vinaigrette Girl // Posted 9 May 2008 at 11:26 am

As usual, Ed Balls has been badly-advised and is ill-informed himself; and like most politicians has over-simplified and conflated various issues.

One issue is that men in primary school teaching tend to get into headships rapidly and easily by comparison with women; this is a function of them planning their careers more directly as well as plain patriarchy doing its dudely stuff. So with men using the classroom as a stepping-stone rather than as a destination, boys end up with fewer male role models in education.

A different issue is the extent to which dads get involved in childcare. My own experience is that any man, in any class, who defines his masculinity in terms of being a Good Dad, will be involved with his kid/s. To what extent (female-staffed) schools are in any way responsible for developing men who are either unsure or unenlightened is another matter entirely.

Anne Onne // Posted 9 May 2008 at 12:39 pm

Holl, exactly! And they go on about how boys have no role models blah blah blah when 90% of the leaders in any field (sports, academia, politics) are male.

Boys have plenty of smart, confident men to aspire to be like. There are even kind, compassionate men out there, the kind we really need to encourage boys to emulate. Unfortunately, the patriarchy doesn’t value hard work and compassion, it values hyper-masculinised stereotypes, which unfortunately lead to exactly the crime and behaviour they worry about boys emulating. But no, much easier to blame it on boys not having a father at home (because they can’t learn anything from their mother! She’s a WOMAN!), or on not having enough male teachers in primary school, than on the fact that we as a society actively teach boys to fulfil the roles we complain about.

Also, whose fault is it that men on average wouldn’t be seen dead staying at home to look after kids, or becoming a primary school teacher? Why aren’t the MRAs outraged that men are being kept out of these influential positions, out of their children’s lives?

Alex, I both agree and disagree. Female feminists that want to concentrate on it can if they want, but it’s not up to women to put issues that affect men before the (usually more serious) ones that affect women. As women we have been socialised to take men’s problems on our shoulders, and solve them for them, and it makes me uncomfortable that the idea seems to be that yet again, women should bend over backward instead of men doing anything to help themselves. I’m not saying you’re advocating it, but the general idea behind the post stems from this ‘poor men’ way of looking at problems. The reason men feel uncomfortable is because of the patriarchy, something they can be much more influential in changing than those who have less power than them. It’s bad they feel uncomfortable, but how exactly can women take the responsibility for men’s emotions, if the very problem is that men won’t take responsibility for what affects them? I can empathise as far as feeling isolated, but if men chose to oraginse their own support for dads, and be more involved in parenting, and teach other men how to strip away patriarchical teachings, it would go much further than whatever the government or women could do. If the problem is that men are socialised to react to an emotional challenge with lack of involvement, and avoiding the issue, it needs to be tackled directly.

If it’s a job for anyone, it’s a job for male feminists (an area they can talk directly from experience, and get through to men in a way women won’t) and fathers themselves.

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