Parental Leave and “Choice”

// 8 February 2010

Troon argues that recent announcements from Labour and the Conservatives of plans to offer families ‘radically more choice’ in how they balance work and childcare may actually reinforce traditional assumptions about gender roles in childcare

On 28th January the government announced changes to the parental leave system, which currently allocates the birth mother up to twelve months, of which nine months can be partly paid. Her partner (male or female) gets up to two weeks at minimal pay. The government’s new plans allow the mother to allocate all or part of the final three months’ unpaid and three months’ paid leave to her partner should they wish. The Conservatives wish to allow couples to take 38 weeks of a total twelve months’ leave in any combination they want. As someone who looks after children when his partner is working, earns roughly what she does, whose partner is currently feeling much like this about maternity leave, and who only managed by luck to have an extended period of time with my first son, I should be jumping for joy at these moves to allow us choice. Both, however, are deeply flawed.

There can be no real reason for allocating the early part of leave only to women and the later part, potentially, to their partners. Women often need less than six months to recover after birth, and that time should be for their own physical or emotional wellbeing and treated as ‘sick’ leave, not incorporated into leave for childcare. The Conservatives’ proposal comes close to what has been argued for by Jennifer Gray on this site, but ignores one key piece of reasoning behind an EHRC leave proposal. By allowing leave to be taken simultaneously, male partners may indeed get to ‘help out’. Regardless of the time spent actually caring for children, ‘helping out’ and ‘assuming responsibility’ are not the same, and it is notable that more men think they take ‘responsibility’ than women think their partners do. The sphere in which responsibility is taken also needs examining. I know many men who undertake a fair share of the childcare at home, but rarely take the baby out of the home, something which would be impossible if they actually looked after children on their own. Allowing men to act as societally invisible subsidised domestic sidekicks in a supposedly woman’s world does not promote the idea that childcare should be their responsibility too.

My key objection is that ‘choice’ is not sufficient to change the idea that this leave, and childcare, are primarily intended for women, and may make the situation worse by suggesting the current status quo is desired rather than enforced. Gendered inequalities in existing pay and welfare structures mean that choice is so constrained by external circumstance that what ‘makes sense’ can hardly be seen as choice at all, so that two in five men do not take even what leave they are currently allowed . The problem goes much deeper than economics. From the children’s centre staff who refer to me as ‘’babysitting’; to the women at baby group whose discussions about childcare never consider their men staying at home; to a barrage of media coverage, the world outside of the feminist blogsphere is one in which the assumption of female caring is so strong it makes choice and criticism of that choice about when and if a woman returns to work, not whether her male partner should be involved. The law needs to change this, not work within it.

Meaningful reform of parental leave is critical to parents and non-parents. The initial period of leave influences which partner does what for the rest of their children’s childhood, and the way their children and other adults perceive gender roles. The image of women alone as child carers constrains all adults, and women especially. We don’t need a law which states that men can do childcare if they want, but one which states that they should. Its basic components must be a separation of the recovery period of the mother from leave given for childcare, and leave periods for both partners which allow some flexibility but which cannot be taken largely simultaneously. The government claims these ideas offer ‘radically more choice’; it would be better for us all if they simply offered a more radical choice.

Comments From You

G // Posted 8 February 2010 at 10:07 pm

I actually think there is a real basis to pushing that the early part of parental leave should be maternal: it’s a societal pushing for breastfeeding. Speaking as someone who had real issues with it, I know that many women do not have a good breastfeeding relationship and a steady milk supply in the first three to four months. Breastfeeding is so beneficial to both mother and child, when possible, that it is a societal good to promote it. For no other reason than the tremendous health benefits incurred on both sides which result in great financial savings to society.

FertileFem // Posted 8 February 2010 at 10:23 pm

There can be no real reason for allocating the early part of leave only to women and the later part, potentially, to their partners.

Um, breastfeeding, perhaps? I mean, granted, not all women are going to breastfeed or breastfeed for the entire duration, but most babies need to be breastfed for a minimum of six months and this is recommended by the NHS, which is why that particular benchmark is generally used. I’m not saying a woman shouldn’t be able to waive her right to having that first six months to establish breastfeeding, but that’s where the six month figure comes from.

Women often need less than six months to recover after birth, and that time should be for their own physical or emotional wellbeing and treated as ‘sick’ leave, not incorporated into leave for childcare.

Some women don’t need six months to recover, certainly, but many do. It’s not just as simple as “Oh, you can walk around again, you’re fine!” If a woman feels she is physically, emotionally and mentally able to return to work sooner than six months, more power to her. But to insinuate that mothers *should* be recovered from their births by six months is dangerous and doesn’t take individual circumstances into account. As for calling pregnancy-related leave ‘sick leave’: pregnant women already struggle with retaining bodily autonomy and with their babies’ gestations and births being treated as physiologically normal processes, not ‘illnesses’ or ‘problems.’ I think having this kind of leave fall under sick leave is a slippery slope indeed.

Horry // Posted 8 February 2010 at 10:57 pm

@G – Regarding your comment on breastfeeding, I breastfed both my sons (am still breastfeeding the second, although not literally at this moment!). I am also a trained breastfeeding peer supporter, currently volunteering for the Gloucestershire Breastfeeding Supporters Network, so have a lot of encounters with the problems new mothers face with this area. I am also, finally, Troon’s partner, so excuse the potential bias!

The problems women face with breastfeeding are not, I think, alleviated by suggesting that it is a full-time job. Many women find breastfeeding difficult and become discouraged, but this makes normalising it all the more important. It is horrendous that so many women end up feeling “I don’t have enough milk” or “I just can’t do it” – as campaigners such as Gabrielle Palmer explain so well, the societal pressure NOT to breastfeed is so strong we actually forget we’re mammals and that it would in fact be far more unusual for an individual not to be able to breastfeed. Women have legitimate reasons for believing they can’t do it and for finding it hard, but support, up-to-date advice and social acceptance are far more likely to help that the implication (enshrined in law?) that you need to be the sole carer if you’re going to breastfeed at all.

Troon and I started using expressed milk from when each of our sons were two weeks old. With our second, this was actually essential, as he was seriously ill in a hospital in another town and I wouldn’t have been able to spend any time with our first child or supply milk for our second’s tube-feeding if I’d been averse to using the breast pump. Even so, I wouldn’t like to suggest this was a “good” version of expressing milk and doing it for “social” reasons (e.g. I want a night’s sleep) is bad. Indeed, I don’t think I’d have stayed the breastfeeding course for either child if it wasn’t for the pump.

I’m just coming to the end of the second batch of parental leave I couldn’t share with Troon, but have had some keep-in-touch days at work in-between. Expressing and storing milk has not been a problem (I will continue to do so when I’m back full-time next week), and I really think we should ensure all workplaces make it easy for women to do this should they wish. We might get a greater uptake of breastfeeding if we could change perceptions of it – it doesn’t have to be every day sitting at home with baby and widgy pillow, as for some of us there’s a limit to how many “gazing into baby’s eyes, inhaling his/her milky scent as we come to the end of another happy feed” moments you can chalk up before you’re bored and have backache (although I’m sure both baby and me will miss the daily “Deal or No Deal” feed come next Monday …).

Troon // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:51 pm

@G and FertileFem

I was well aware from previous posts here on leave and on motherhood that breastfeeding may come to dominate responses. From those previous threads, I’m sure some women will post dissenting opinions on how privileged it should be in debates on parenting and work. I would add that in this specific context, six months is utterly arbitrary, and occurs in NHS guidelines not because this is the point breastfeeding should stop, but the point weaning should start. Most children will continue to get their supply of nutrients from milk for many more months during the early stages of that weaning process, and many children are breast fed well into their toddling years. Hence breastfeeding, if we see it as excluding a return to work, would seem to me an argument for longer periods of leave not for an allocation of these six months.

@FertileFem

I struggled with the term for ‘leave for post-partum recovery’, since it doesn’t exist, and the term ‘sick’ leave was forced on me largely due to constraints of space (I tried to compensate by putting ‘sick’ alone in inverted commas in the hope this showed that such recovery was not an illness). We may disagree on broader ideas of what is physiologically normal (since mastitis, PND, heavy bleeding, excessive physical and mental exhaustion or post-caesarean recovery seem a lot like illnesses to me) but if you read what I wrote again, I hope it is clear that I am specifically not arguing that recovery from birth is easy or quick or that women ‘should’ end up back at work as if it were. What I am arguing is that that period of recovery (however short or long) is necessary because of their own mental and physical needs, and as such should form an additional right to leave, not be incorporated into a leave period also given for childcare. Treating the two together is in itself a significant attack on the bodily autonomy of women, in that it packages ‘mother and baby’ as one object when considering health and leave, in much the same way as an irritating stenographer talking about ‘Mum’ or anti-abortion campaigners do before birth.

Liz // Posted 9 February 2010 at 12:27 am

I agree that maternity leave should not be counted as sick leave. For the most part, people choose to have children. People don’t choose to get sick.

Kez // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:17 am

I fully agree with the points made above by G and FertileFem. It is entirely untrue that there is “no real reason for allocating the early part of parental leave to women”. There are very good reasons: only women give birth, and only women can breastfeed, which has very many well-documented health benefits to both mother and child. Admittedly, some women will continue to breastfeed after returning to work, by expressing milk for when they are away, but in order to do this successfully it is essential that the breastfeeding relationship and a healthy milk supply are well established in the early days.

Of course, many parents may wish to arrange their parental leave differently, and of course should be able to do so to suit their particular circumstances. But to suggest there is “no real reason” for women to take the early part of parental leave (and with no mention of breastfeeding in the entire article) is simply not true.

Horry // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:27 am

@Fertilefem

Upon the birth of his sons (one of whom he delivered) Troon said many things, but I can assure you, “Oh, you can walk around again, you’re fine!” wasn’t one of them. Given that what he’s written already makes it clear he has a real live partner and real live children, it should have been obvious to you that this wouldn’t be the case.

Regarding breastfeeding and the arbitrary, weaning-based six-month cut-off point, the focus on this as a return to work date convinces many women that you can’t combine paid employment and breastfeeding at any point you wish. This is something we need to change, not reinforce.

G // Posted 9 February 2010 at 10:07 am

I don’t want to make this a personal bf post- that’s a bit off topic. And I support bf for at least a year and as many more as both wish. The six months for me was because, mammals or not, many women (myself included) have supply issues and the first three months are primary to developing a regulated supply. It really isn’t that simple for everyone- or perhaps as simple as that lots of infants in the mammalian world die. I don’t think acknowledging the importance of the first 3-6 (hey, in Austria 18 months) months devalues women’s ability to do anything they want. I do think studies have shown that bf is more likely to continue when women have that time to develop that relationship.

I also remember the bitter, black period when I realized that bf wasn’t that easy, that supply wasn’t that easy, that going back to work before a latch or a regulated supply existed was not good (but I needed my job) and the remaining 11 months of pumping to a hospital grade, never having a good enough supply, and being told that bf was a natural mammalian experience. So I must be a reptile.

Sorry. The bitterness does hang on. I say give women more time: it’s good for society and quite a lot of us need it.

Horry // Posted 9 February 2010 at 10:25 am

@Kez

I think it’s a shame this discussion is getting totally sidetracked into a debate on breastfeeding, but just to reiterate: it’s entirely arbitrary to suggest you need six months to establish breastfeeding and milk supply (expressing can in fact be a pretty good way of stimulating it, especially if latching on’s a problem). If, like me, you had a sick baby in one town and a toddler in another, you might find establishing this complex relationship not so complex at all (another thing that’s so great about women’s bodies is that we can adapt to this kind of situation).

Troon did mention breastfeeding in the original article, had to cut it down for the blog and I suggested cutting the reference to breastfeeding because it’s such a red herring and prone to responses such as those above. So blame me for apparently making it look like he, regular steriliser of the breastpump and bearer of glasses of water when the baby’s already latched on, needed to be reminded that breastfeeding exists (but I promise, this is my last comment, as I’m aware he can defend himself – I just find it difficult to see so many people speaking “on behalf of” breastfeeding women when, as the breastfeeding woman he spends his life with, I can assure you none of you speak for me, or indeed for any woman who wishes to approach breastfeeding without inaccurrate and limiting preconceptions about what our bodies can do).

Troon // Posted 9 February 2010 at 10:43 am

First, can I stress I did not fail to mention breastfeeding because I was blind to the issue, but because it seemed to me from previous threads that the discussion could not had whilst still engaging with the question of whether increasing ‘choice’ is the way forward in parental leave law (since this was the issue raised repeatedly in response to FertileFem’s blog analysing the practical impact of this particular law). I tried to state above briefly what I felt, but please see what follows as a clarifying addition to the second paragraph of the piece in light of responses:

There can be no real reason for declaring that the early ‘six month’ period of parental leave should be allocated to the woman. There are two arguments that might be used for doing so. First, that this time is necessary for women to recover physically and emotionally after birth. I think this solution elides the health of the mother with her childcare roles and thus severely damages the autonomy of pregnant women and recent mothers. It is also entirely arbitrary, recovery periods vary significantly and can be both more and less than six months. Breastfeeding is critical, but believing this justifies the ‘six months’ makes no sense. Most breastfeeding women will continue to need to supply milk for their babies until well beyond that point (since solid foods do not provide much nutrition in the early months of weaning) and if they can do so from work then they can do so earlier. Claiming that breastfeeding demands that women stay at home in itself pushes employers against making the necessary accommodation in office space and time which allows women choice. Finally, if breastfeeding is to be the killer argument then there is no room at all for paternal leave within the twelve months framework, and leave would need to be extended (which I think would be a better solution all round, but only if the leave increases were gender symmetrical). Basically, neither of these points remotely justifies ‘six months’ to me, the figure is appropriate neither to the biological needs of ciswomen nor to the range of women’s experiences.

Kez // Posted 9 February 2010 at 11:13 am

I’m certainly not claiming to speak “on behalf of” breastfeeding women – just giving my own opinion – and having breastfed two children for (so far) a total of five years, I can assure you that I don’t have any limiting preconceptions about what our bodies can do. I certainly didn’t say six months was needed to establish breastfeeding – I just referred to the “early days”, which obviously will vary. I just found it surprising that Troon’s article does not mention something that seems so relevant to the topic, particularly when, as you point out, he is well aware of the existence, and presumably the importance, of breastfeeding. His post did not, however, give this impression, hence the reason perhaps why this discussion has been “sidetracked”. I really disagree that breastfeeding is a red herring.

This is going to be my last comment too (on the F word in general) as I don’t seem to be able to express myself properly on issues that matter to me and it’s frustrating! My problem, not yours.

Troon // Posted 9 February 2010 at 11:30 am

@Kez

Please respond. I think Horry feels rather dehumanised by comments which ignore her as my partner (and rather maddened by the end of maternity leave, itself perhaps an argument for allowing men to do more) and is channelling her pent-up anger and eloquence into this thread.

I hope the earlier comment clarifies things: I did not mention breastfeeding because I was short of space and did not want responses to centre on it as they had elsewhere when this issue was raised. This isn’t becasue i’m blind to it, or the problems you and others have, it is because what I had hoped for was some engagement with how we might use the law to change conceptions around childcare, and specifically whether unrestrained choice was preferable to earmarking some leave specifically for partners. I would value you feedback on this, or on how breastfeeding relates to it, but would ask you too to look at my comments in the light of this rather arbitrary ‘first six months’ figure since the consequence of that in some ways creates pressure on men not to take the now allowed leave.

My blog clearly not what I wished-my problem, not yours.

Holly Combe // Posted 9 February 2010 at 11:33 am

Kez, I’ve been moderating the thread for Troon’s post and, so far, haven’t had time to get any more involved than checking through the comments (so I’m sorry if this comes across as a bit glib) but would just like to say right now that I hope you’ll reconsider making that your last comment! Obviously it’s up to you but I have to say I really enjoy reading what you have to say and consider you a valued part of the commenting community here. I think you’ve expressed yourself well.

v // Posted 9 February 2010 at 11:49 am

Horry

It may interest you to know you aren’t the only woman to ever have done breastfeeding, and that you by no means are the only person allowed to have an opinion about it. You do not speak for me, and you dont speak for the other women commenting here that you have been quite rude to.

The fact that your blokey wrote the article doesnt give you the right to decide on the boundaries of the following conversation, or to have a go at women who disagree with him.

Troon himself said he was “well aware from previous posts here on leave and on motherhood that breastfeeding may come to dominate responses”, so he knows it must be a really important issue to many of us. You advised him not to mention it though, and he was obviously happy to leave it out. In itself, that really irritates me – that you both knew that on the subject of parental leave breastfeeding is an important issue to women here – and that you decided anyway that not only was it not worth mentioning but that you’d both make an effort to keep it out of the comments too. Unbelievable.

Troon also says “in this specific context, six months is utterly arbitrary, and occurs in NHS guidelines not because this is the point breastfeeding should stop, but the point weaning should start.”

Well it was recommended to be four months for my first and six for my second, but we just let both start nibbling other foods when they showed an interest in doing so. However – the point is that for six months, current guidelines, breastfeeding women give up a huge amount of their own vitamins and nutrients and energy to their babies.

I was exhausted until my kids were not just weaning, but regularly eating and drinking different foods, so lets say eight to nine months for each of them.

That is a big reason for why women should have those first six months rather than men. I’m all for men being able to take it at the same time, but your argument that it women get it ‘arbitrarily’ is ridiculous.

gadgetgal // Posted 9 February 2010 at 1:07 pm

I think these arguments for and against where men and women should take their maternity leave are interesting, but I’ve noticed they all hinge on the employee status of both partners. As a contractor, most women I know (unless they have very rich partners) are back in work within the first couple of months out of necessity – we aren’t necessarily entitled to any kind of paid leave except the government statutory one, which at less than £150 per week isn’t a lot if your mortgage is topping £200 per week (mine is, I don’t have a big house but I bought when all houses were more expensive and then the market dropped out, but on a fixed rate mortgage there’s not a lot I can do about that). In my case, unless I can argue with either one of the two companies that employ me I simply can’t have that time off. It would be nice to have ALL of my maternity time to be transferable because my husband would be paid by his company for his time off, whereas I wouldn’t.

So I can see the logic in your argument, Troon, although not for the reasons you state – for most people it’s not an arbitrary choice for the mother to take the first block of time off because of breastfeeding, but that’s under the presumption she’s allowed to have any time off at all anyway!

So I’d like to have the choice for either parent to do so, it would mean I wouldn’t have to lose my home in order to have a baby, either in time off and lack of pay or extortionate day care fees!

Kate // Posted 9 February 2010 at 1:26 pm

While I agree that this argument can’t be had without talking about breastfeeding, I think there are other parts to it.

One of those is earnings. I know many couples who are parents, in many different gender configurations. I can’t think of one couple where the higher earner has become the main care-giver (in terms of hours spent alone with the child(ren), for want of a better measure). So some men stay home while their female partners work, one man has gone part-time while his male partner stayed full-time, both bio and non-bio mothers in two-woman relationships have cut back on paid work to spend time with the child(ren). In most mixed-sex parenting couples I know, though, if someone’s working fewer hours for pay, it’s the woman. In most mixed-sex non-parenting couples I know, if one partner earns more, it’s the man.

So until parental leave is paid at prior income, sharing leave or allocating it to the one who feels most inclined to take it isn’t a free choice. Statutory maternity/parental pay is far lower than average pay; for anyone to take it, a household will, on average, lose money.

I’m not sure I even believe that SMP should relate to prior earnings – it would mean paying already-better-off parents more for the same job – but we have to be honest that the main factor is earnings rather than the availablilty of leave. Non-bio-mother parents already have the right to request flexible working; very few men have done so. Financially and culturally, there are huge barriers. We *know* it isn’t about having the choice, where the choice is confined in all sorts of ways. Choice is one of the daftest words thrown about in feminism generally, and this is another daft place to use it without examining it in detail.

Just finally – I cheered when I saw mention of female-partnered bio-mothers in the first para of this article, and was disppointed when it wasn’t followed through.

Claire // Posted 9 February 2010 at 1:33 pm

Blimey! This is getting a bit heated when it seems to be that everyone is in violent agreement that a bit of parental responsibility by both sexes would be a good thing. As for the breast-feeding thing, my employers paid me four months leave, so I took it but no more. I went back to work and carried on breastfeeding and weaning for another three months – tiring, but doable. Women in developing economies have to put up with far more gruelling lives than I had. I find V’s remarks and calling someone a “blokey” rather demeaning of us all. How do we encourage men to take more parental responsibility and is it a good thing? In domestic violence contexts, shared care is most definitely a bad thing and many a “Fathers for Justice” type father has used his cloak of parental responsibility to hide abuse. DV statistically escalates in pregnancy and continues after childbirth. It worries me how maternity and paternity rights can be abused. As to Guest Bloggers comment that men don’t go out of the house with babies – I think you should just do it. We none of us found our way to this website because we believe in conforming rather than standing up for something that matters.

Troon // Posted 9 February 2010 at 2:52 pm

@v

My point is not that linking women and breastfeeding is ‘arbitrary’, it is that fixing the time at which it magically ceases to be issue at six months (as these proposals do) is arbitrary and absurd-you yourself give different figures and note breastfeeding necessarily continues well beyond this point if the NHS guidelines on weaning are followed. It therefore seems a very poor defence of the current proposals. And I’m most specifically NOT arguing for men taking leave at the same time-please read the post not the comments.

You clearly think me an ignorant thug when it comes to curtailing discussion on breastfeeding, but could I ask that if we are to discuss breastfeeding you also recognise the implications of turning ‘parental leave’ into ‘breastfeeding leave’, especially if you are purist enough to exclude EBM from that definition? It abnormalises women who return to work and continue to breastfeed or express milk, or who don’t breastfeed, with corresponding damage to their feelings as professionals and mothers. It encourages some women to stop breastfeeding earlier than they would wish because they also wish to return to work. It also necessarily makes all parental leave maternity leave. Given six months is a completely unsupportable figure, it would suggest longer periods of maternity leave, something which in itself demands a huge and unlikely increase in overall leave allowances if any gender symmetry is to be maintained, or a very minimal grant of leave to men (say about 1-2 months absolute maximum). The effect of all this is to argue for deep gender asymmetries in leave arrangements, with the corresponding effect that in all common social contexts in which ‘parent’ is defined (absence from the workplace, baby groups, day-to-day encounters during workdays) ‘parent’ means ‘mother’ . This in turn normalises that position both to parents and non-parents, and damages the position of both mothers and other women.

I really regret writing the piece now. I think Holly asked me to do it because the question of potential male response was essential to responses to a piece on Fertile Feminism discussing the law. I knew breastfeeding would matter, but also that there was no space to discuss it properly (it’s taken this whole thread after all). The end result is I’m none the wiser about what the broader feminist community believes is the case or otherwise for demanding fathers take leave, and that that my partner (or should that be my birdie, given I’m her blokey), who I haven’t spoken to directly about this except over the issue of whether to cut the section on breastfeeding (which seemed logical given I don’t do it), will now feel worse about herself as a mother because she, despite being a fantastic parent who, among other things, has given of her time and effort to provide nutrition to our sons for their entire development, is being told expression is not an option for ‘real’ mothers. Lesson learned, and apologies.

FertileFem // Posted 9 February 2010 at 3:26 pm

@Horry

I didn’t mean to imply that this is what Troon personally feels or has said, just that some people (especially those who have never given birth or who lack the ability to ever do so) may not be aware of how far-reaching and long-lasting the effects of childbirth can be for some women and how difficult establishing breastfeeding can be.

As for the six-month breastfeeding minimum coinciding with the end of the proposed maternity leave and what that means for mothers, I really don’t think it is meant to be a way to say one can’t combine work and breastfeeding. Certainly, returning to work while your baby is still totally dependent on you for its food is more challenging than returning after he or she is beginning to take solid foods and nurse with less frequency, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done so I agree with you on that. However, considering that many women’s supply drops when they are separated from their babies all day, that some women are not able to use a pump successfully and/or that many women do not have the privilege of being allocated the space, time and ‘permission’ to pump at work, I think that preserving the six-month benchmark is important, since that is the period of time in which a baby is totally dependent on milk for its survival.

I too find it a bit odd that both you and Troon felt that breastfeeding was such a ‘red herring’ that it would be better to leave it out of a discussion of which it is a huge factor for many families. Claiming that breastfeeding isn’t a consideration of when women will return to work just because it is a ‘hot button issue’ and because you don’t want women to think they can’t do both comes across as disingenuous to me. I realise you both have good intentions but would suggest you could perhaps fine-tune your approaches to further greater understanding and mutual respect. :-)

Amy Clare // Posted 9 February 2010 at 5:21 pm

Having read the post and the comments, it seems to me that no-one is suggesting mothers *not be allowed* to have the first period of time off for breastfeeding if they so wish.

Isn’t the issue that some mothers may not *want* to have this first period of time off, for whatever reason, and that desire should be respected in the law by allowing couples the choice over who takes which bit of the leave. Forcing the mother to take the first few months based on NHS guidelines about breastfeeding is removing autonomy from the mother and treating her like a baby-feeding machine.

If the mother wants to take that first few months, then she should be allowed to. If she doesn’t – whether that is because she feels she can express milk at work, or the baby is bottle-fed – and her partner wants to take it, then he/she should be allowed to. Isn’t that the point being made by the OP?

Incidentally, I wonder how the suggested parental leave plans would accommodate gay male couples who adopt a baby?

Laura // Posted 9 February 2010 at 5:46 pm

My understanding of Troon’s thinking is not that breastfeeding shouldn’t be a factor in people’s decision to take parental leave, or in the provision of parental leave per se, but that using it as justification for giving only the bio-mother the first six months’ leave places pressure on women and makes assumptions about women’s ability and willingness to breastfeed and the context in which breastfeeding will take place. In other words, the breastfeeding justification for granting only the bio-mother the first six months rather than enabling this to be taken by her partner or by both partners (if she has a partner) limits women’s and families’ choices. Which makes sense to me – I think we should be expanding parental leave and making it flexible for a wide variety of reasons, not tying provision solely to assumptions about breastfeeding (if indeed this is the reason for the current limitations).

I think one of the major factors that needs to be addressed to improve parental leave rights is the gender pay gap. In heterosexual couples, it can often mean that it makes more financial sense for the woman to take more time off, meaning that any choice and flexibility we do manage to achieve in parental leave laws could be completely meaningless for het couples.

Mary // Posted 9 February 2010 at 10:15 pm

I don’t really get what there is to debate in these proposals from a feminist point of view. Being able to choose to transfer the second six months of parental leave to the non-giving-birth-partner is a Good Thing compared to the status quo, even more flexibility for the first six months would be Even Better.

Is there really anyone who wouldn’t prefer to see more flexibility for individual couples or thinks that the status quo is better than the new proposals? I mean, it just seems like a non-argument to me.

Holly Combe // Posted 10 February 2010 at 11:55 am

My understanding of Troon’s thinking was the same as Laura’s and, while I agree that the right to take whatever time off is needed for breastfeeding shouldn’t be forgotten, I also agree with Mary that greater flexibility for both partners is better than the status quo. Indeed, I would maintain that getting these things right and not descending into the same old gendered assumptions about childcare (i.e the ones Troon is challenging in this very post) is something that will benefit us all in the fight for gender equality. That was why I encouraged Troon to write the post and I don’t think anything he says is in danger of leading women to lose maternity leave entitlements (his actual words were that “there can be no real reason for allocating the early part of leave only to women”). He is, as I understand it, simply highlighting that all this talk about “choice” needs to be backed up by supporting all the different kinds of set-ups facing parents.

All this doesn’t mean that breastfeeding can be swept aside as somehow no longer an issue and I genuinely don’t think that’s what Troon was trying to do. It’s just one factor of many and, of course, not all women will approach breast-feeding in the same way.

gadgetgal // Posted 10 February 2010 at 12:19 pm

Spot on Holly, Laura and Mary – although it would be better to be able to transfer all leave from one partner to another, being able to transfer some of it is still better than nothing at the moment, and hopefully we can still push towards fairer, fully-transferable leave in future.

Good post Troon! I agree with your idea, and it definitely (albeit unintentionally) got a lot of debate going :)

Holly Combe // Posted 10 February 2010 at 12:23 pm

Thanks Gadgetgal. As a side-point: I would just like to say this hasn’t been an easy thread to moderate, due to the heated direction the discussion has gone and, in retrospect, would ask that people try not to make things too personal. For example, V, I would say your reference to Troon as Horry’s “blokey” was needlessly disparaging.

However, I realise this is a subject which really matters to people, which was partly why I originally opted to keep the discussion going and not stifle it with tone requests. As has been suggested to me, in an off-site discussion with a contributor who is also a parent, one of the problems of discussing parenting seems to be that parents understandably care very deeply about making exactly the right choices and this makes it all too easy to slip into investing every decision with wider significance, in terms of its universal “rightness”. This isn’t helped, IMO, when society makes such a song and dance out of judging people as “good” or “bad” parents so, in acknowledgement of that, I think we all -regardless of whether we are parents ourselves- need to work together to give parents a break.

Claire // Posted 10 February 2010 at 1:21 pm

Well, I might just be playing devil’s advocate here to keep an interesting thread going, but yes, in answer to Mary’s point, I can see an issue potentially, with the sharing of leave proposals. The DV angle. I was married to a man who took voluntary redundancy and looked after the children for three days a week for six months before getting re-employed on a full-time basis. I continued to work four days a week during this period. When I divorced him for violence (of a pretty horrendous nature) he fought for shared care. One of his main arguments was to use the presumption of 50/50 shared care and to paint me as careerist because I had worked during a period whilst he had stayed at home. He was trying to get the shared care out of desire to control the situation and me. Any mother who gives up full responsibility might be giving up more than she bargained for. Yes, it’s unfair, but that’s the way the courts work. CAFCASS have a presumption of 50/50 shared care and many times over ignore DV. Then your children have to live with it (and with a violent perpetrator) for part of their lives.

Holly Combe // Posted 10 February 2010 at 1:52 pm

I do see your point Claire, with regard to abusive situations, but I’m inclined to think that’s all the more reason for CAFCASS not to ignore DV. The thought that women in relationships with men are going to have to retain the status quo in terms of gender roles, for the sake of safety (i.e. just in case a partner ever became abusive) is most depressing. Surely nothing will ever change if we try to challenge tradition on the one hand but then cling to the few privileges that patriarchy affords us as women on the other? I realise that’s easier said than done though because, of course, some of the fears underpinning an unwillingness to encourage men to do their share of childcare are understandable. It’s hard to get the horrible nightmare vision of women being used as breeding machines and having nothing left, in terms of reward, out of one’s mind.

Maryam // Posted 10 February 2010 at 3:02 pm

I realise this won’t be a popular view here, but I am getting a bit tired of constantly hearing about the rights and choices of parents. I work in a place where people who have got children do not hesitate to totally dump on those who haven’t, because they think they are way more important. They think they should come first every time, and that everyone else should subsidise their lifestyle choices, by paying more tax, doing much of the work they are being paid to do, and always giving them first choice when it comes to taking time off.

I thought there were already far too many people on the planet. Did I get that wrong? Oh, and another thing – a lot of the men who take time off, supposedly to look after their kids, are just total piss-takers who have no intention of doing that. Some of them even boast about it.

v // Posted 10 February 2010 at 5:35 pm

lol, well i used blokey because i wasnt sure about partner/boyf/husband.

the fact is that parts of the original post were erasing of a quite important (and one of the only) differences between men and women; the author deliberately left out what he later admitted he knew was an important issue for many women here, because he felt it ‘dominated’ similar discussions here in the past; then he and his partner/girlf/wife attempted to police the boundaries of the discussion to keep that out, and she in particular was imo dismissive in the way she did it, to the extent that one person even said she’d just not comment anymore.

anyone want to unpack the assumptions about social class in any of the original post or his and hers comments?

but all of the above is clearly irrelevant in light of the fact i used the word ‘blokey’, which is after all a well known sexist term that does add to the miserable oppression of men by women in our society.

is this one of those fword, cant see the woods, moments?

Claire // Posted 10 February 2010 at 6:21 pm

Hi, sorry, you have missed my point about DV, because I didn’t make it clearly enough. First of all, CAFCASS have been heavily criticised over a number of years for failing to recognise DV and for pressurising survivors of DV into mediation with violent partners (which is against Home Office guidance) and for forcing survivors into shared care arrangements which give the abusive partner more opportunities to continue to perpetrate DV. You cannot rely on CAFCASS to take account of DV. Sad and unacceptable but true. But what I was meaning to say is that the shared use of maternity/paternity rights in itself can become a battleground. That many abusive spouses accuse their victims of poor parenting and we know that poor parenting is an accusation frequently thrown at working mothers, whereas it is not frequently thrown at working fathers. Frankly though abusive spouses can use almost any tool in the book to be abusive. They can say you can’t go back to work because they want to restrict your social interactions, they can say you can’t go back in order to curtail economic freedom, or they can pressurise you to go back then blame you for being a bad mother. I am wary about men who profess to want to stay at home with babies. But then I wouldn’t make that choice for myself either. I find babycare dull. And I find it liberating to say that. Mind you, now that my children are older, I’d love some paid parental leave. All I feel is that my spouse would certainly have experienced the easier 6 months of a baby’s first year if he had taken the second six months off from paid work to look after a baby and would have used this to reproach me for how I’d coped in the first six months, I would have worried about the baby’s welfare more with him than I did with qualified female childcare. I don’t mind the change in legislation to help out non-abusive couples, but I do think it comes with problems for those in abusive relationships.

Holly Combe // Posted 10 February 2010 at 7:29 pm

@Maryam. Just in brief (as this is something I’d like to cover in more detail in a separate post sometime), I would suggest it’s a mistake for those of us who don’t have children to make negative generalisations about people who are parents. I do understand how one could easily feel defensive in a culture that, IMO, puts way too much pressure on people to have kids and where, unfortunately, there are indeed some parents who are rather partial to lording it over people who fail to “join the club” but I don’t think it would be fair to use that as ammunition to typecast all parents in the way you seem to be here. Also, I genuinely think prejudice against Mothers in the workplace is something that effects a large number of women who are perceived to be of prime childbearing age and, personally, that makes me concerned about it, regardless of whether or not I decide to have children.

Holly Combe // Posted 10 February 2010 at 8:08 pm

@v. Well, clearly all of the above has not been considered “irrelevant” seeing as your comments were still published regardless of your own, IMO, dismissive tone!

I genuinely don’t think anyone has deliberately set out to try and sideline the issue of breastfeeding but, as has already been said, it’s an issue that activists quite rightly feel very strongly about and it does obviously relate to the issue of leave so I thought it was important we included those views.

Also, unpacking social assumptions possibly inherant in what we write is important but, again, I think the impact of that is lost if the person doing the unpacking uses a condescending or bullying tone when s/he does that.

My point about your use of the phrase “your blokey” was that it seemed disparaging towards the person you were talking to (i.e. Horry) so I really wasn’t saying anything about sexist language against men. I think it’s interesting that you are so quick to assume a feminist site would be showcasing reactionary commentary about “the miserable oppression of men by women in our society”. I’ve never written or read anything like that here. You seem to have mistaken us for the Daily Mail.

FertileFem // Posted 10 February 2010 at 9:47 pm

@Maryam – I will try my best to be courteous to you in my response, though I struggle to feel you deserve it. Whilst I appreciate that women who don’t have children face their own set of pressures and challenges (because I’ve been a childless woman before, too), I would respectfully submit that until and unless you’ve ever been a parent, you probably don’t have a firm grasp of the pressures, challenges and bigotry *we* face — in society and especially at work. Generalising and stereotyping based on what you perceive to be true without ever having experienced it isn’t helpful, to say the least.

Having to deal with people such as yourselves who resent our every holiday request to coincide with school holidays (because otherwise we have no one to look after our children, not because we want to get dibs on the sun loungers), our flexible work schedules so that we can pick up our children from their carers (not so we can nip off to the pub) and who think that they shouldn’t have to “pay for our choices” (as if childless people don’t ever use or benefit from services paid for by parents)… well, let’s just say that it’s not pleasant. Nor does it create a welcome working environment for parents (but mainly women) who are trying and struggling to balance working and financial responsibilities with raising children completely dependent on us for every last thing, from the bare necessities to their emotional and intellectual educations. Looking down your nose at us and saying asinine things like “Don’t we have enough people on the planet?” insinuating that our children should never have been born is plain spiteful.

No one’s saying that selfish, insensitive parents don’t exist, of course they do. And if one is being unfair in his or her requests, challenge them on it or go to your supervisor. That’s what they’re there for. But you are being really prejudicial and narrow-minded if you think you have cornered the market on oppression because you have to listen to people ask when you’re going to have a baby. I mean, that’s annoying, definitely, but making disparaging remarks about people just trying to do their jobs and raise their families is not an appropriate response. In future, please rethink such antagonistic remarks towards mothers in a space that is supposed to be respectful towards women, no matter their reproductive status.

Olivia // Posted 10 February 2010 at 10:55 pm

“but all of the above is clearly irrelevant in light of the fact i used the word ‘blokey’, which is after all a well known sexist term that does add to the miserable oppression of men by women in our society.”

This. F word gets priorites wrong once again. And grr at Kez wanting to leave because someone getting in the way of a strop.

Mary // Posted 10 February 2010 at 11:17 pm

Frankly though abusive spouses can use almost any tool in the book to be abusive. They can say you can’t go back to work because they want to restrict your social interactions, they can say you can’t go back in order to curtail economic freedom, or they can pressurise you to go back then blame you for being a bad mother.

I would agree with this – whilst your situation sounds horrible, surely you wouldn’t argue that couples shouldn’t have the right to split parental leave any way they want, because in abusive relationships it wouldn’t be done equitably and in a spirit of fair play? I mean, I would have thought that was the essential characteristic of abusive relationships: whatever the background legal situation, an abusive partner will look for ways to assert their power over the other party.

Horry // Posted 11 February 2010 at 12:44 am

V.

First, in response to your excuse for using the word “blokey” – “partner” tends to cover all options. I think we all know that.

Second, while I am not “the only woman ever to have done breastfeeding”, I am a human being, which is what makes your extremely personal attack so unacceptable. Furthermore, it ought to be understood that there is nothing dismissive in choosing to make informed comment on breastfeeding which focuses on possibilities rather than perceived limitations. As I made clear in my original comment, I frequently give of time and effort to help women experiencing difficulty breastfeeding, and therefore am also able to set my own personal experience within a broader context. Confidence can have a large part to play in how women interpret and respond to setbacks, and in this sense the presentation of negative or restrictive personal experiences of breastfeeding as inevitable, typical or even “more authentic” is not just inaccurate, but actively damaging.

Third, I’m sorry you think having an opinion about what should or shouldn’t be included in written material is unacceptable. It’s just what happens with writing. Equally, having an opinion about what is or isn’t relevant to a discussion is not “policing” it. It’s just having an opinion. If I were interested in “policing” a discussion, I certainly wouldn’t do it by repeatedly engaging with people on a topic I didn’t necessarily think was of central importance. In fact, I’d do precisely the opposite of what I’ve been doing.

Finally, as I made clear in a previous post, while my status as Troon’s partner does not give me specific “rights” within a discussion, it does mean that when others make patronising comments about his apparent ignorance of breastfeeding, I feel it implicitly denies the validity of my experience as his breastfeeding partner. Initial commenters may have done so with the assumption that he didn’t have a partner who breastfed, which is why I was open about who I was. Later commenters such as yourself have no such excuse for insensitivity.

As regards another person’s decision not to comment on the blog any more, I think it’s worth remembering that while anyone can stop commenting at any time, regardless of whether or not they make the decision to do so into a public announcement, this doesn’t mean the person they’re now refusing to engage with is any less vulnerable or upset.

v // Posted 11 February 2010 at 1:25 am

holly –

im sorry but you publishing my comments isnt really a sign of you not ignoring them if you go on to then not address any single one of them. here they are again.

1 – parts of the original post were erasing of a quite important (and one of the only) differences between men and women

2 – the author deliberately left out what he later admitted he knew was an important issue for many women here, because he felt it ‘dominated’ similar discussions here in the past

3 – then he and his partner/girlf/wife attempted to police the boundaries of the discussion to keep that out, and

4 – she in particular was imo dismissive in the way she did it, to the extent that one person even said she’d just not comment anymore.

5 – anyone want to unpack the assumptions about social class in any of the original post or his and hers comments?

troon said:

“could I ask that if we are to discuss breastfeeding you also recognise the implications of turning ‘parental leave’ into ‘breastfeeding leave’”

could i ask that if we are to discuss childbirth that you recognise the implications of turning ‘maternity leave’ into ‘parental leave’.

sure not all women choose to do breastfeed but there are many reasons for that, and they interest me, as a feminist and a woman and a mother. you didnt care to mention them, at all – the issue of breastfeeding and why women may not do it or may need space and time to get used to it or what effect it has on our bodies was ruled arbitrary by you. these are not side issues to the topic of ‘parental leave’, they are central.

“especially if you are purist enough to exclude EBM from that definition?”

nothing condescending and sexist here!

“It abnormalises women who return to work and continue to breastfeed or express milk, or who don’t breastfeed, with corresponding damage to their feelings as professionals and mothers.”

ive been through rough breastfeeding and come out the other side, ive supported women through breastfeeding, bottle feeding, expressing, all of it. dont you condescend to tell me that concentrating on women, and the reasons we make these decisions, and what support we need in all this, is damaging to women. pretending we dont bloody exist and that our bodies – where babies grow and birth and feed – are not an important consideration to ‘parental leave’ is what is damaging.

“It also necessarily makes all parental leave maternity leave.”

maternity leave is what you are talking about, troon, not parental leave. parental leave is the new lets-not-leave-out-the-men term for something that has been around a long long time and has women at the centre. you are being deliberately disingenuous about this.

it is women’s bodies that change and grow and give birth and have to heal, and women’s breasts that grow and hurt like fuck and leak all over clothes. it is not sick leave, as you suggested earlier, either – it is maternity leave, it is leave for a very specific set of circumstances. do i think that the non pregnant non birthing non leaking non feeding partner should get leave too? yes, easier and better for us all. do i think it is good for women, for maternity services, for mothers, to ‘degender’ all that we go through at that stage and call it ‘parenting’ and ‘parenting leave’ and claim that it is ‘arbitrarily’ given to women? hell to the no.

time off after a birth is not just for the sake of the child it is also for the sake of the mother. so what if some mums can supposedly pop one out and head back into work the next day? they are the exception, not the rule. with the amount of c sections being done, with the drugs used around birth, with the recuperation and healing of our bodies and minds after not just birth but pregnancy and the months of indigestion and the rest, with any stitches needing to heal, with the blood clots that come out in the following days and the little contractions that come with them, with the energy we’re losing through breastfeeding, with the energy we lose if we get any sort of infection (common enough for it to be a factor), with the leaking milk and the breast pain, with the re training of our bladders and our pelvic floor muscles, with dealing with piles if we’re unlucky too, *all of this* makes *maternity leave* not arbitrarily assigned to women – it exists exactly for these reasons! what we offer the new baby is one part of it, one part of many, and even then im sorry but no man can provide what a breastfeeding mother can provide – is that really so hard to accept?

is there even space left to mention the considerable number of women who suffer from post partum depression, whether it be ‘baby blues’ or something much more intense?

if you can look at the great long list of reasons for why maternity leave exists and boil it down to ‘men and women offer and need the same thing at that time’ or that otherwise it should be considered ‘sick leave’ – im spying a whole lot of sexist bull.

Holly Combe // Posted 11 February 2010 at 9:20 am

@FertileFem. Very well said. (Though I’d add that societal pressure on people to have children is more than just annoying. That’s another topic though!)

@Olivia. I don’t think you’ve taken the whole thread into account. I made another comment before I made the one mentioning tone (not to mention the fact that a whole day went by before I brought it up) so I don’t think we’ve prioritised that at all.

Edit: I’d also add that I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with Kez expressing frustration and saying she’s going to take time out from the discussion. Along with this, I genuinely don’t think stopping commenting was meant as a slight against anyone personally. However, this has been a difficult discussion so I appreciate how choosing to disengage in the middle of it could seem to some other commenters.

Juliet // Posted 11 February 2010 at 12:47 pm

Fertile Fem, IMO Maryam could have worded her comment more diplomatically, but it is true that a lot of women who don’t have kids have to put up with constant negative judgements and pressure from society. As Holly says, this is way more than just ‘annoying’.

I myself haven’t got children, but my sister has six little (totally lovely! darlings. You wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would) the incredibly rude remarks people, even perfect strangers, feel entitled to make: ‘Are ALL those yours?’ ‘Haven’t you got a telly?’ ‘Are you Catholics?’ are just a few, and she gets worse than that. She and her husband pay for and care for their children themselves, they are not on benefits or anything, and no one else is paying for their ‘lifestyle choices’. I can’t think why anyone imagines it’s their business.

I, at the opposite end of the spectrum, am constantly quizzed about my non-reproductive status. Why haven’t I, why don’t I, when am I going to, etc. Don’t I like children?! It’s as if many people think there is nothing more than that to any woman – why hasn’t she and/or when is she going to! I’ve been asked it at work, at job interviews, by people who’ve just met me, by relatives, even by my GP when I went to consult her about an eczema flare! It’s become something of a yardstick by which I judge who I do or don’t want to know. The only people who’ve never asked are my parents and sister. Many people can be, without even probably meaning to be, quite patronising towards people without kids. My sister says she thinks it’s because they want them to have kids too so that they can find out first hand how hard it is!

I’ve got no problem with parental rights/leave/whatever, and I wouldn’t want to have to always take my summer holidays in August! But I (and my sister) can certainly do without stupid, patronizing comments and attitudes from both ends of this particular spectrum.

v // Posted 11 February 2010 at 1:06 pm

please someone explain how getting rid of maternity leave and calling it sick leave instead would be good for women, in any way. would employers treat us differently? what would be the ramifications in terms of extra doctors notes, statutory sick pay instead of maternity leave, etc?

if six months is so ‘arbitrary’ what should be done to fix it? should women have to visit the doctor weekly and get a note to justify any extra time off work, just like regular sick pay?

in accepting that some women want to get straight back into work, and that six months is more than some need, and that breastfeeding is irrelevant, should all women have to justify any extra time off past the first few days, week, whatever other ‘arbitrary’ time limit is going to be set?

how do you think such rules would impact on the least wealthy and most disadvantaged women?

would stopping maternity leave aimed specifically at women, replacing it with ‘parental leave’, be open to abuse, with some women being forced back to work when they are not ready physically or otherwise by dominating partners (and their families..)?

i have a dozen other questions about this deliberate erasing of women, and what childbirth does and means for very many of us, physically and otherwise – how can it possibly be good for us?

i do not see any real difference between this post and any other from the fathers rights (at the mothers expense) perspective. just because someone uses ‘objective’ academic language and says it is feminist, does not make it so.

should the non birthing partner/s have greater access to time off around birth? yes, thats a no brainer for any feminist. should our society sort out its priorities? yes, again.

should women be made invisible and have the benefits, such as they are, of the recognition of the mother-specific pros and cons of pregnancy, childbirth, and the following months, be erased and ignored in order to pacify fathers who instead of arguing for additional rights and recognition, fight to diminish ours?

this is so many levels of wrong. my own partner suggested that maybe troon, horry, and holly, hadn’t really thought this through. i suggest that implies a certain amount of unconsidered privilege on their part. in addition, the lack of interest of any of them to acknowledge or deal with any of these problems and the condescending and authoritarian, tones they have taken throughout this thread demonstrate to me they dont really give a fuck about the consequences.

Mary // Posted 11 February 2010 at 1:23 pm

v – hey, not all couples are heterosexual, you know! “Parental leave” is the term I use to talk about the way me and my partner might organise our parental leave if we have kids because clearly the one who gives birth is going to have a very different experience to the other one. At the moment I’m entitled to paternity leave if she gets pregnant, and whilst of course I think it’s hilarious that I might go on paternity leave, I’ve nothing against a gender-neutral term.

I really can’t imagine why you’d object to other couples being able to choose which partner wants to take leave in the first six months after birth. I daresay that in the vast majority of cases it would continue to be the women who had given birth who would take that leave, but why on earth should that be the only legal option? Making it an option isn’t the same as making it compulsory.

Kez // Posted 11 February 2010 at 1:38 pm

Oh, dear. Needless to say I was unable to resist the temptation to see how this discussion panned out, and I see my post above has given rise to some negative (and positive – thank you Holly) comments. So I thought I had better explain myself, especially as Horry has stated she feels vulnerable and upset, which is the last thing I want.

Horry and Troon, I am genuinely sorry if either or both of you have been upset by anything I have said in my two previous posts in this discussion. I certainly did not intend to say anything which could offend or cause anyone to be upset. When I made my first post on this thread, I was unaware that Troon did indeed have a breastfeeding partner, so there was certainly no intention to dehumanise or ignore you, Horry, as I did not know you existed. I really do try to be polite and respectful in what I say even when I am disagreeing with people and I apologise if I have failed in doing this in this instance or in any other instance.

Maybe there was no need for me to make a “public announcement” of my decision to stop commenting. I can see it may have been construed as attention-seeking flouncing, or some kind of point-scoring tactic, as indeed may this post. That wasn’t/isn’t my intention. I’ve been a regular commenter on this site for quite some time now and have decided for various reasons, not just this thread, or having a “strop”, to give you all a rest from my views! ;) Like I said – my problem (if you can call it that).

And this really is my last post. :)

Holly Combe // Posted 11 February 2010 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for that clarification, Kez :-)

@v. First of all, I really don’t think considering comments to be relevant (which will always be a matter of opinion anyway) means I am somehow obliged to add to them. I’m certainly not going to respond to your demands to address your 5 main points when I have no personal experience of parenthood or breastfeeding and have never implied I have. I’m here only as a moderator to oversee the discussion. I believed that women who have experience of breastfeeding (including both Horry and yourself) would know more about the ramifications of Troon’s suggestion than I do and it was for this very reason that I took a backseat during the earlier part of the discussion and didn’t attempt to intercept the direction it went in. I’ve not presented myself as an expert at any point so it really is quite baffling to see you referring to me taking an “authoritarian tone”.

It seems rather unfair for you to assert there is “no difference” between Troon’s post and “the fathers rights (at the mothers expense) perspective”. My understanding is that his intentions come from an egalitarian viewpoint that seeks to help break down traditional gender roles. Sure, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to argue that perhaps seeming to boil the matter of leave down to “men and women offer and need the same thing at that time” is problematic but labelling it as “sexist bull” makes it sound like he’s just looking for a way to keep men in a dominant position and I genuinely don’t think that’s the case. Just because he and Horry have a different idea to you in terms of what the consequences of the suggestions he made might be doesn’t mean they “don’t give a fuck” about them.

On reflection, I actually think you’re right to be concerned that women could possibly end up being forced back to work by others when they are not ready and also that you give an important reminder of the physical shit we women have to go through if we have a baby. However, I don’t think it’s necessary for you to be so hostile in order to make those points. It does absolutely nothing to make your arguments more compelling and, if anything, I’d suggest it merely gets in the way of you being able to influence people.

Claire // Posted 11 February 2010 at 4:49 pm

Well said Holly about v’s tone of hostility. Whilst I think V makes some interesting points, we are not responding to them because they are expressed in an antagonistic way. I wonder where all this antagonism is coming from. Maybe it comes from the tiredness of being a working mother with small children who gets criticism and pressure from every angle. I certainly know I did and still do. I am not going to talk about what the law ought to be or equality or anything like that in this post but just say, from my heart, having had three children and holding down a full time job, experiencing DV and now being a single parent, that motherhood is tiring and motherhood is a compromise on all sorts of fronts – social, economic, physical. It’s a compromise I’m glad I made. The judgements are sometimes hard and I don’t believe that there is a right answer even for each person let alone a right answer that fits everyone. But I know that my self-esteem suffered when I stayed at home for longer maternity leaves, and that longer maternity leaves made my eventual return to work harder, that recent research into mental health suggests depression lifts more quickly for people who get back into the workplace than those who don’t. I believe there should be INequality when it comes to deciding on how to take maternity leave. I believe that women should decide. I think they are better placed than men to do this and shouldn’t be put under pressure, even well-meaning pressure as I’m sure our guest blogger intended to argue, other than at the very limits of what society can afford. If we valued mothers more, we’d have better children, better childcare and a better society. What this sharing seems to say is that a man can be as good a mother as a woman. I dispute that as a general rule, though there may be exceptions.

Angel // Posted 11 February 2010 at 4:58 pm

“There can be no real reason for allocating the early part of leave only to women and the later part, potentially, to their partners…”

“Women often need less than six months to recover after birth”.

I’m sorry, maybe it’s my problem, but these comments, along with the general tone of the post, make me feel uncomfortable. I think it would be absolutely wrong to get rid of maternity leave and call it ‘sick leave’. Pregnancy is not an illness!!!

And where does anyone get off telling me I’m expected to take six months or less to ‘recover’ from giving birth? If I take more than that time, what happens? Do I get penalised?

I know all couples are not hetero, but I still think abolishing maternity leave and calling it ‘parental leave’ would at this moment in time not be helpful to most mothers. And sorry menz, but this is an area where women really ARE more important!

Kristel // Posted 11 February 2010 at 5:40 pm

Re. v’s comment: “no man can provide what a breastfeeding mother can provide – is that really so hard to accept?”

I fear that for a lot of people it still is. I do feel that this guest blogger’s post comes across as authoritarian, slightly whingey and not thought through. I totally agree that fathers should have more opportunity to participate in childcare, but unfortunately it still seems to be the case that a lot of men see that as something to evade. They want rights but not responsibilities. Trying to eradicate the importance of the mother’s role, especially during the first few months of a baby’s life, in the hope that this might make them change is not going to work and will only make things more difficult for mothers. I totally agree with Clare that if we valued mothers more (a LOT more) we would have better children and a better society.

v // Posted 11 February 2010 at 7:31 pm

yes, it is my hostile tone that is the problem, and not the erasure of women, or the attempt to diminish our role in childbirth and the stuff we deal with afterwards.

you know what, im not sorry for being angry about this. its disgraceful. it would piss me off on the daily mail but what do you expect if you read there. in fact carol sarler has a post up this very day that i honestly do not think is very far removed from where this one is coming from.

of course increasingly people tell me, what do i expect when i read here. i should listen to them.

to sum up – you, holly, who have not been through childbirth, asked troon, who has not been through childbirth, to write an article about maternity leave. he insists it be referred to as de-gendered parental leave, or even as sick leave for the new mother, and deliberately makes invisible all reasons why maternity leave exists, which allows him to claim it is ‘arbitrarily’ given to new mothers.

and all the women who say that actually breastfeeding is kinda important, and that all that other stuff, the invisible stuff new mums are dealing with, is kind of important, and that, you know, theres a bunch of assumptions about class and that going totally unpacked here – are told off for what, being mean to the poor man, for supposedly claiming to represent all mums, for getting ‘sidetracked’ from the real issue (you know, the issue of what men should get!), etc.

and then, and then, the smug middle class peoples telling me to watch my tone while completely disregarding their own tone and what they said that made me so bloody angry in the first place – ah the f-word, always a pleasure for a working class feminist mother.

v // Posted 11 February 2010 at 7:54 pm

also, even as sarcasm, this from troon:

“my partner (or should that be my birdie, given I’m her blokey)”

hits the same sexist notes im reacting to in his other stuff here.

‘bloke’, and ‘blokey’, or ‘guy’, and etc, are not, to my knowledge, used to discriminate, oppress, belittle, humiliate, or emasculate men. they really are just slang used to refer to men. ive never heard the word blokey used in a way that was damaging to the man or men in general.

men calling women ‘birds’* on the other hand, has its origins and its meaning fully in the same old same old dehumanising, belittling, etc etc, misogynist crap.

these things are not comparable, although it says volumes that troon thinks they are.

*i starred it because bird is obviously sometimes used among women as a sort of lively term of endearment, i spose in the same way ‘me old slapper’ is. but that is very different to men referring to women as birds or slappers. i feel weird explaining this cos id assume everyone here already knows this kind of feminism 101 stuff, but it seems not?

gadgetgal // Posted 11 February 2010 at 8:24 pm

I think Troon’s post is interesting and I think everyone’s seeing some kind of ire from him against mothers that isn’t there. As I said further up the thread not everyone is in a situation where maternity leave is possible – I know for most people it’s still the case that the male partner will tend to earn more than the woman, but in my case, and in most of my friend’s cases who are either pregnant or trying to get that way, it isn’t. It’s my money that makes having a home and paying the bills possible. If we had to rely upon his we couldn’t.

Also I think a lot of people here are seeing it from the perspective of the employed, not the worker, contractor or self-employed – we don’t have the same rights to paid maternity leave, and even when we do qualify it’s no where near as much money, and for less time. It’s totally screwed up, but that’s just the way it is. I think shared parental leave is a good idea from my perspective because it would make having a baby less of a choice between baby and no house or house and no baby!

Maybe I would feel less strongly about this if employment rights covered everyone in the UK, and not just those the government and employers classifies as employed – at the moment it’s difficult to get any benefits at all, including maternity leave and pay, flexible working hours, redundancy pay, paid time off for antenatal care, holiday pay, sick pay, or even the right to claim unfair dismissal if I’m sacked without notice. But as it stands at the moment shared parental leave at any time during that leave would help a hell of a lot of us – at the last count we were over 1 million, and a significant proportion of us are women.

Troon // Posted 12 February 2010 at 12:14 am

@v

Nobody is arguing ‘men and women offer and need the same thing at that time’ since it makes no sense to impose such a distinction on the hugely varied experiences of birth mothers in ‘those times’. In this thread alone you have women, all of whom feel that the physicality of birth and breastfeeding is essential to their individual motherhoods, who would wish for less and more leave, for greater appreciation of the difficulties of breastfeeding and the physical effects of birth, or for less, for minimising focus on expression of milk or for increasing it. Amazing individuals with one thing in common, but whose responses to it vary enormously and who can’t be lumped together as ‘women’ or ‘mothers’ within one position on leave, even one which accepts that ‘maternity’ leave means birth mothers’ leave. By the time you start thinking about the motherhood of non-birth mothers or fatherhood you’ve hit everything else which shapes parenting too, from character to employment to circumstance to how lucky you are with your kids’ health. To imagine that across such a hugely personalised and intense spectrum of activity, attributes and responses as birth and parenting you can simply draw a line somewhere and state ‘here be mothers’ without basically telling some women they are either not proper parents or not proper women is just absurd. This is why I do find it hard to accept the crass generalisation that ‘no man can offer what a breastfeeding mother does’, if that has any broader meaning than the utterly circular ‘no man can breastfeed’. It’s absurd to reduce parenthood in this way, not least because you are actually suggesting non-breastfeeding mothers are intrinsically worse parents.

Ultimately I do not think that what maternity leave has been used for previously is a reason not to ‘boil down’ what it should be used for. That women should be legally at the centre of their own healthcare is obvious. That women should be legally at the centre of childcare is less so. I too think birth mothers need post-natal care and leave which is non-pathologising and centred on their needs as individuals (which is why I can’t see how any magical figure for ending it can be pulled from a hat and why I haven’t, however much you might state I have, argued that women ‘should’ be recovered by six months). I don’t think they get that at present so can’t really see your visceral attachment to the status quo. I also think that we all need to break pretty quickly with the idea that women alone do childcare. This is not because I’m some weird idle-biddle man who wants to see his little darlings (I actually can, I took leave before, and use my holidays and evenings to work in now), but because it’s a standard which wrecks opportunities and lives.

And I’m not fighting to impinge on women’s rights to leave, and can’t see how this was assumed. I set out two things I thought key to those leave periods, neither of which involved birth mothers giving rights to their partners. I criticised the government’s plans for enforcing one particular option, and I’m not alone here in doing so. Ultimately parental leave in this country is too short, too inflexible, too poorly paid and too gender asymmetric. There is a debate to be had here, despite some soothing words to the contrary, not least about what parental leave should be for, since I see no reason to simply accept the status quo.

Horry // Posted 12 February 2010 at 11:50 am

Looking at many of the more recent posts here, it seems to me that many are arguing for a model of early childcare which, in seeking to “value mothers”, in practice only values a select few. Not only are men excluded from this childcare model, but so too are women who are not biological mothers, women who are biological mothers but don’t go through the “correct” processes (e.g. vaginal birth, breastfeeding etc.), women who do go through these processes but don’t interpret and respond to them “correctly” (and I’d count myself among them). Sure, you are left with an exclusively female space for some aspects of childcare, and I can see this is valid in the light of Fathers4Justice-style bids for dominance. But here, in many comments above (and I don’t want to name names, as I am quite wary of personal conflict at this stage), this has been pared down to leave an elitist space which is alienating for many mothers, and hence bad for both them and their children (and partners, if we choose to care about them in this too). It’s also curious that the quest for valuing mothers in what is ultimately a prescriptive way spills over into a Daily-Mail-style conservatism about what men and women should do. It’s possible to separate biological motherhood and practical childcare demands, but even then I think sometimes the “valuing” of what women go through becomes less an acknowledgement of strength than a demand that women “prove themselves” through suffering (e.g. don’t have an epidural or caesarean as this is allowing male-dominated “medicalisation” to encroach on your space – btw, I gave birth on two paracetamols and the only reason I’m telling you this is because I’ve totally internalised this prejudice myself). Anyhow, that’s what I think, (and if it looks like I agree with Troon too much and am therefore “ganging up” with him, it’s because it’s kind of necessary that we have some kind of consensus on childcare, otherwise I’d never be able to leave the house each morning).

And Kez, if you are still reading this, thanks for your responses and I’m sorry I took your comment personally when it wasn’t meant like that.

v // Posted 12 February 2010 at 2:16 pm

It would be nice if the mods could clarify why my comments get held in moderation so long, if they come out at all.

My view – maternity leave needs to be protected for women for many reasons as above.

Additional parental leave for the non birthing partner (even if that partner is their own mother or a friend – why limit it to who we sleep with?) is desirable for reasons including but not limited to – the mother and the new child needing support; mothers who want to go back to work and need a partner at home they can rely on; non birthing partners wanting to experience this early time in their child’s life; and the increase in relationship breakdown and domestic violence in the first year of having a new child being attributable at least in part to the stress and strains of trying to keep it all together and the feelings of being left out that many non birthing partners experience, and any inability they have to understand, or being supportive through, the changes that are happening for the mother.

Maternity leave is not sick leave – it is a very specific set of circumstances. Women do not get maternity leave because they simply want to be with their child, and it is not simply because breastfeeding is good for the child. It is way more complicated than that.

When someone suggests that men should have rights to it too, although as above there are many good reasons for additional parental leave for the non birthing partner – the overwhelming drive seems to be that in order for men and women to be equal, men must be able to ‘share’ (ie, take away some of) women’s rights in this area. All good reasons for maternity leave being for a specific set of circumstances that happen *only to the mother* are ignored and made invisible, as they were in this post.

This is a men’s rights argument that is anti-feminist because it does not consider the needs of women or the consequences to women of what it proposes. It erases women completely – note how maternity – a specific set of circumstances that happens only to women – is erased and replaced with parental – a word that has no physical meaning (eg breasts producing milk, the actual growing and birthing of the baby). On the physical alone, it erases actual women’s bodies and functions, in the name of equality for men.

There is an argument made that this benefits women because they get to go back to work if they want to – but the consequences here are that it could mean that women who aren’t physically ready to go back to work are forced to because their specific circumstances are no longer recognised.

There is another argument made that this benefits women because employers will no longer discriminate against them because of the possibility of them taking maternity leave, but this argument is easily demolished.

One – employers are not really going to treat it differently if women still have to take it as sick leave.

Two – it is not only the birth of a baby that leads to this discrimination. Employers also think about stuff like potential days off work in the future when the child is sick; or employees that all want to take their holiday leave during school holidays and Christmas etc. There is all sorts of other sexist shit going on in their brains that means that discrimination wouldn’t just stop because there’s no more maternity leave.

There is an argument that it will make better fathers – while as above I think having non birthing partner parental leave is desirable, I do not believe that the erasing of women and our rights, such as they are, in order to make men act a bit nicer, is feminist, or would even work! It’s a men’s rights perspective, and has no likely benefits for women as a whole. It’s the same perspective that says if women nagged a little less, men would be better fathers. It’s the same perspective that says if women would just give the estranged father everything he asks for, including access to their bank statements and never going out with another man ever, then he would pay the child support. It’s the perspective that never expects men to just bloody do what they should be doing; somehow its always the women’s fault. Why are some men bad at being dads? It’s probably something to do with women hogging all the parental leave..

So I could go on, and on, and on. Troon’s article was badly thought out, it was not feminist, it did not consider the needs of or consequences to women.

I am a mum. I’ve been through pretty hellish experiences on the way here. I’m also a feminist, at the very poor end of the economic scale. And that is why the article made me so angry, it is why the comments that followed from Troon and Horry made it worse, and it’s why I’m pretty disgusted by the actions of mods that allowed it all to happen and chose to defend Troon and Horry, rather than listen to what the problem was and actually try and apply a bit of feminist analysis to the situation.

I haven’t really touched on the class issues. I think it’s pretty obvious that the arguments made are intended to help out middle class families and haven’t considered working class families, particularly the poorest and most disadvantaged families. But it’s like I’d have to go through the whole 101 thing to even start with that, and I don’t have the energy, and have already spent way too long on this.

v // Posted 12 February 2010 at 2:36 pm

horry said: “women who are biological mothers but don’t go through the “correct” processes (e.g. vaginal birth, breastfeeding etc” etc

frankly, when it comes to issues of maternity services – including leave – its the mothers themselves who i think should be the number one priority. it seems we disagree about this.

as for the ‘correct’ processes – my first birth was an emergency c section and it took way longer for me to heal from, physcially and emotionally, than my second lovely drug free vbac homebirth (which hurt like fuck and was worth every second, not because i earned it through pain, but because i actually do have something to compare it to).

as for ‘the select few’ – your post really does fit extremely nicely with Carol Sarler’s in the Daily Mail yesterday – the idea that women who don’t breastfeed or vaginally birth are somehow really oppressed by the ones that do.

this is just not true. i had to fight so hard to have a home birth without meds – right up to the last possible seconds of the birth, i was fighting the midwives to be left alone.

women who dont breastfeed arent oppressed because they dont get money off vouchers at Boots. women who opt for planned c sections are not oppressed by women who are proud of and want to talk about their own vaginal births. discussion of the pros and cons of breastfeeding and different types of birth is not oppression.

i have to be really careful about publicly talking about the pros of breastfeeding, or the pros of home birth, so as not to ‘alienate’ women who choose neither. but its homebirthing women who are told they will kill their children and themselves (i was), it is they who are left out of antenatal groups (down here if you arent going to hospital, there are no ante natal groups and workshops), it is they who are treated like freaky hippy conspiracy theorists.

as for breastfeeding – jeesus, from having to endure gawd knows how much advice from men on how to do it or when to do it til, and once the baby is like six months or so, its constant, dont you think you should stop, and arent you going to give your child a complex, etc etc.

we are all – all mothers – whatever our decisions, judged – there is no winning on this. but the idea that breastfeeders and vaginal birthers are oppressing the others? its rubbish.

Denise // Posted 12 February 2010 at 2:45 pm

Equal parental leave/rights for all can’t be achieved until the gender pay gap is closed and everyone is treated equally (for instance, as gadgetgal points out, parental leave seems to be only for those who are classed as ’employed’ rather than as workers). Also when society as a whole comes to accept that childcare is not solely a woman’s job. Only then will true choice exist. Right now it doesn’t. To enact legislation which ignores the fact that the equal playing field doesn’t exist would be to ignore reality and therefore impact negatively on the lives of many parents and, at this point in time, particularly mothers (bio or non-bio).

I think we should value parenting much more and just accept that some people will enjoy it more/be better at it/not all do it the same way. Even if every financial/societal obstacle and discriminatory attitude were to magically disappear, parenting would still be the world’s hardest job. The only ideal we can and should all strive for is that every child should feel loved.

v // Posted 12 February 2010 at 2:54 pm

sorry to triple post, but again, it makes me so angry to see anti-feminism promoted here as radical and good for women.

the laws around maternity and parental leave are not good enough, I agree.

BUT

maternity leave, such as it is, is a benefit for women that has come from feminist action on behalf of women in very recent times, the past forty years or so, and the gains have been very slowly won.

the dismissal – by a man, whose views are being promoted as feminist on this feminist blog – of these hard won gains, that are part of the ongoing feminist struggle, as what he calls ‘the status quo’ – i cant be the only feminist in here with bells dinging throughout my brain.

Jess McCabe // Posted 12 February 2010 at 4:21 pm

@v It would be nice if the mods could clarify why my comments get held in moderation so long, if they come out at all.

Just to quickly add that all of us are under a lot of pressure, both on this site and with our other commitments; that’s why we have the message pop up when you’ve submitted a comment, warning that it could take some time before messages are moderated.

Isabella // Posted 12 February 2010 at 4:26 pm

v, I can understand that you’re angry. I too did not regard Troon’s post as feminist, I saw it as another whingey ‘what about da menz’ thing, and it made me wonder, not for the first time, if there is any-damn-thing-at-all in regard to women that some men will not seek to control and appropriate. The whole tone of the piece makes me feel intimidated. I thought it was erasing, patronising and, as some people have said, had a definite elitist ring to it. But I didn’t think there was any point in commenting (not sure this will make it past the mod).

Use your energy for something else. You’re wasting it in this instance.

Holly Combe // Posted 12 February 2010 at 4:40 pm

@v and Isabella. Just to clarify, all of v’s comments so far have been published. I’m really not sure why you think yours wouldn’t be. There isn’t any kind of conspiracy going on here and publishing something some of us might disagree with doesn’t mean those of us who might agree with it (or are open to the ideas) are somehow trying to erase women’s experiences or imply they don’t matter.

Maeve // Posted 12 February 2010 at 5:30 pm

There’s a lotta ‘must’ and ‘should’ in this post, which makes me nervous to start with. Troon, I don’t think you realise how your sense of privilege (or the privilege you think you deserve) comes across. To take a few gemmies:

– “someone who looks after children when his partner is WORKING”. Ooops! Isn’t looking after children work then? I know a lot of people think it isn’t.

– “there can be no real reason for allocating the early part of leave only to women”.

– “women often need less than six months to recover after birth…that time should be for their own physical or emotional (not both?) wellbeing and treated as “sick leave”. Bit confused here. So they’re not too “sick” to look after Bebby then?!

– “the children’s centre staff who refer to me as “babysitting”. Oh, poor you. It must be awful to be belittled and patronised like that in the big wide women’s world where menz don’t matter.

– “the women at baby group whose discussions about childcare never consider their men staying at home”. Well, er, maybe that’s because the gender pay gap means that idea would be laughable to them. And that’s before we even get on to the question of whether or not any of the men would want to stay at home with their kiddos.

You say you regret writing this post. Well, don’t, because it’s a good chance for you to raise your awareness and take advice as well as dishing it out. I mean well!

Troon // Posted 13 February 2010 at 1:55 am

I do indeed whinge. Tonight I was whinging because some genius thought it was a great idea to schedule something critical to my work at 5pm, so that my eldest freaked out because I left off caring for him at teatime, and thus clung to me in tears after bathtime rather than being his usual playful self. I was whinging because I then had to catch up on what I was expected to do when I was actually caring for the kids, so didn’t get to see my partner this evening. Now I’m whinging because I read this to try and reconnect after that work, and have been driven to such annoyance that I won’t sleep before my youngest needs his feed, and that that feed, usually a pleasant calming point before a brief sleep and the madness of the day, will be nervous and tired.

There are other things I whinge about too. I whinge that the SureStart centre 100 yards from my door seems to think it’s a great idea to have Dads’ days on Saturdays, because the poor men feel a liddle bit intimidated by the nasty women who I meet there during the week (and exclude my partner, who will now be working during the week, from it). I whinge about the tossers who moan that making time to look after their kids is too expensive or too hard, yet use their leave for actual holidays and have no sodding idea that flexitime is something men can ask for. I whinge about the appropriation of the word father by these men further down the line, when the spandex suited halfwits decide that kicking their kids about in the park with a ball on Saturday suddenly means they should get equal access rights. I whinge about people using ‘positive male role model’ to describe someone who is just a person with a dick who is not hitting or shouting at people, and about fact that the breastfeeding support group my partner works with think Raising Boys is a great read, but the Politics of Breastfeeding is too hard and a bit feminist.

There are some things I don’t whinge about. I do whinge that when I do look after the kids and go to baby groups old friends who have supported me (and I hope been supported by me) have vanished because they now find the baby group too ‘Boden Mum’, too ‘Formula feeder’, too ‘Breastfeeding mafia’, but I also know I am protected from those temporary exclusivities in ways they’re not: I have the acknowledged outsider’s right to be odd, without feeling I’m being told I am flawed as a parent or man as a result. And I don’t whinge about it because it would be stupid to: I’ll never have to go to a job interview and have the person look at me and worry I’ll be buggering off to look after the kids at short notice (more fool them), to have parenthood used against me at work, or to have the very fact I do paid work held against me. I don’t whinge because it is easier for me than it is for women, something I knew before I became a parent and started caring for my children, and have confirmed everytime I see this shit happening, and everytime what is seen as choice for me is seen as normality for women.

There are other things I don’t whinge about too. I don’t whinge when, having sat through the terrible witching hour when the day’s nearly run its course and I’m just waiting for my partner to come in, I realise she’s tired, needs time with the kids, or is just happy about something that happened to her at work and can wait until later to hear the minor achievements of our children’s day or the day’s worth of adult conversation in my head. I don’t whinge that we have to help them to bed at a stupidly late time in order to preserve any time when we as a family can be together. I don’t whinge that, in contrast to when I looked after my eldest full time, I now cram working hours that would be illegal on the continent into late nights, evenings, and weekends to preserve slivers of time with the children, or that all this just about keeps us living on an estate whose laughably named services will screw our kids over because our postcode is wrong, yet we can’t stop this because we have to be working all the time to keep living here. I should perhaps whinge about these things, but we do have it better than most (the we is itself quite critical), and constantly failing at everything, but by just enough to keep going, just seems part of what combining parenting and paid work is. I do whinge, though, when, in spite of doing all this to try and teach our kids that they need to do what they think is right and not think that depends on what chromosomes they’ve ended up with, leave laws contribute to a world in which every carer they see is female the moment they leave the door on a weekday, in which children centre staff peddle cheap gendered clichés, in which their cousin tells them they shouldn’t wear their favourite pink bib or play with Sindy’s hospital, and in which my partner still gets treated as is she’s working part time. That makes me whinge, since it’s either that or feel everything is completely hopeless.

My final whinge is the only one worth putting here really, but it’s late and I can’t be arsed to edit myself. I basically agree with the EHRC on leave: I favour entitlements of an initial six months for the birth mother, then three four month blocks, of which one can be taken by either partner, one must be taken by the mother at all and one by her partner. I take seriously posts by women on this site when the issue came up previously which demanded their recovery be separated from their childcare, something which some evidence to the EHRC also suggested if leave was not to be significantly extended, and thus think that makes sense in the twelve month context I assumed to narrow my focus. But I’m not telling people what they should do, or how long they should take to recover. And I’m certainly not going ‘ah, an area where women have power, let’s get at that then’. If you read that in the OP it’s because ultimately you might want to consider that there might be other reasons than pure venal selfishness why any man should give a fuck about the consequences of a world in which childcare is foist so unequally upon women. That’s so depressing I won’t even begin to whinge about it, since it really will ruin that early morning feed.

Ally // Posted 13 February 2010 at 12:46 pm

A non-maternal woman’s perspective:

Just thought I’d add in my two cents. I am not a mother, if I ever become one I have no intentions of breast feeding, and every intention of going back to work as soon as I am physically well enough to. I am quietly disappointed that if my current relationship is the one I finally settle down in, I will have to do the pregnancy bit as my current partner is a man. I like the idea of motherhood (once they can talk) but I’d be shit at anything before that. I’d be happier with adoption, but my partner wouldn’t. ‘Parental leave’ for us wouldn’t be a what about the menz argument for his access to see his child, it would be about having the legal flexibility for us to divvy up the bit of parenthood both of us is going to find a pain in the ass (and I think its only fair he takes the first half since I would have had to do the first 9 months including the excruciating physical pain).

As far as my ‘recovery’ is concerned: if I am not physically able to work, I am sick. And if I am not physically able to work at a desk in an office, no way in hell am I fit to attend to the needs of a baby without significant support from family and friends for most of the day. So its not really ‘maternity leave’. There is nothing maternal about an infected coochie or waiting for a scar to heal. If I caught measles from by child it would not be counted as extra maternity leave. In fact I think the original 2 weeks for men was perhaps initially provided with this eventuality in mind?

Horry // Posted 13 February 2010 at 9:12 pm

Ally

I can very much empathise with your viewpoint. Although I breastfeed and have liked some aspects of being pregnant, I don’t like all the other things which are meant to go with becoming a mother (including not being in paid employment for long periods of time after the birth of each child).

One thing I do disagree with is your use of the term “non-maternal”. I think it’s a bit meaningless, insofar as if you have a child, you won’t be any less of a mother than those who have different feelings regarding their role and how labour should be divided in their household. This will be true regardless of whether or not the law in fact allows you and your partner to make your own decisions regarding such divisions.

Jehenna // Posted 14 February 2010 at 2:15 am

Interesting argument. I haven’t had kids either, so feel free to dismiss my opinions or observations if you so choose.

This seems to be a major clash of the biological vs the cultural.

Biologically, women are in a position where they can give birth and can breastfeed. Men are not. Hence I can see why an argument removing these biological determinations from whom has access to leave can be confrontational. For many women, they do these things because they choose to, or they have to, and men don’t have the choice nor the necessity.

However, from what I understand of Troon’s argument (albeit with my own focus when reading), if we accept biology as the sole determining factor then we’re standardising a norm (that women give birth and breastfeed) and not allowing other situations because the biology argument isn’t there.

Women who have c-sections, don’t breastfeed, and are back at work 12 weeks later… if this is their choice, or their economic circumstances ensure they have little choice otherwise, should we stick with a system that tells them they MUST take a certain amount of leave, and that their partners cannot step in?

And for those women who don’t choose, or cannot, to make this option their own, should we be telling them that their parenting leave cuts out after a certain amount of time?

My understanding was that Troon was favouring a stance which allowed flexibility for couples (regardless of sexuality or gender) to make these choices themselves, and not to reduce those choices to ones based on the biological.

By stepping away from the biological, aren’t we opening ourselves up to much more mature decisions which can be assessed and made by the couples in question based on their own needs and circumstances, rather than legislation which sets down certain prescriptions based on whether or not one member of a couple has a womb?

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