Darren Ball is right and describes it well. The real enemy is patriarchy, a system that despises men who are weak or vulnerable, and does nothing to support fathers’ greater involvement in caring, because that means them working less and competing less to get to the top.
I gave up my international career to work from home – I am an embarrassment to patriarchy (and proud of it). I never quite saw it that way, till I read Darren’s piece, so thank you, Darren!
If patriarchy is a common enemy between advocates for both men and women, then it follows that collaboration is a rational way forward.
It so happens that I read Darren’s article and watched the film, Pride, on the same long journey to San Francisco to attend the world’s biggest annual fatherhood event. When I was not laughing myself out of my tiny seat at the back of Air France economy, I was thinking: if London gays and lesbians can find common cause with Welsh miners and their mums, then surely the different opponents of patriarchy can find common cause against a common enemy?
Just do it
The gays and lesbians did not propose conditions to the Welsh miners before they showed solidarity, even though they feared for their own safety. They just did it, with hilarious and amazing consequences. Welsh miners ended up leading London’s Gay Pride March in 1985.
Which brings us to feminism. In all the articles I read on Inside Man (and I read every one), there is a persistent misunderstanding about feminism – namely, that it is uniform. This is not so. When it comes to men, feminism is diverse, and if our aim is to change things, rather than to be righteous, then we have to understand this fact and work with it.
Within feminism there is a long tradition that only the total dismantlement of patriarchy can deliver its aims. Feminists in this tradition reach out to men who are fighting patriarchy too. It’s not because these feminists happen to be nice, but because they are being strategic.
‘An unholy alliance’
When I was CEO of the Fatherhood Institute, I was invited by such feminists, led by one Minister in the then Government, to join the board of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I accepted wholeheartedly – they needed fatherhood advocates and we needed them.
There is another very different belief: that not only is patriarchy a problem, but men also. Glen Poole has observed this many times. I have seen it in family services, in a lack of ability to engage with male vulnerability. A father who is struggling (e.g. with employment, housing or parenting skills) tends not to be seen as someone who needs help, but as someone who has made foolish choices and needs to change.
The underlying belief is that men have power, and so are responsible for their own misfortunes. Many vulnerable men buy into this, and so do not seek help when they need it. The deep irony of this, as Darren points out, is that it is actually a position that sits very comfortably alongside patriarchy – an aversion to male weakness and vulnerability.
I encounter this unholy alliance in my work to promote real sharing of caring responsibilities. When it comes to encouraging the sharing of caring roles between women and men, our system of leave entitlements is a shambles – and the system coming in this April will fail just like all the others did. Our rejection of the principles that have worked for decades in other countries is no co-incidence.
‘Torpedoed by the maternal lobby’
Each time the debate about leave entitlements comes round – once every five years – proposals for real change are tabled. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his team came up with some amazing ideas last time round. But they were immediately torpedoed by maternal lobbies who argue that if men get hold of leave entitlements on an equal basis, they will abuse women by forcing them back to work and stopping them breastfeeding. (Scandinavian men don’t do this, as it happens, but who knows what British men could get up to!) Only women in UK can be trusted with leave entitlements, for them to share out at their own discretion if they wish.
This, combined with the quiet threat from the business sector, which does not want to see men taking any time off work, is enough to see any proposals that would actually work to enable sharing wiped off the slate before they are even public. Nick Clegg did the best he could, but the new leave arrangements simply won’t allow more sharing of roles.
Note the dynamics here: this bit of the campaign against patriarchy is supported by women and men and opposed by women and men, with feminists and non-feminists on both sides. The true battle is nothing like how it is commonly depicted.
I do not like reading about feminists and anti-feminists arguing with each other. I lose the will to live if I read too much of it. I do understand it though: if you see or experience real pain and suffering, and then people absolutely deny it or mock it, then it is truly enraging. But at that moment we have a choice. We can make demands to be accepted unilaterally by the other side, something that never works, or do what the London gays and lesbians did, unilaterally offer solidarity.
All the time that the shouting continues in social media, there are real advocates for the vulnerable, be they women or men, who work day in day out to make real change happen on the ground.
Really changing things requires partnership and strategy, not righteousness.
Duncan Fisher was one of the founders and CEO of the Fatherhood Institute and is currently developing a project called MumsAndDadsNet
Duncan is also developing a campaign for shareable leave entitlements, creating an alliance between all the interested parties in order to be strong next time the Government changes things. If you are interested, please contact Duncan.
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