Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tilted against fathers: A Brit perspective

Several months ago, Nick Clegg, a member of the British parliament and leader of the Liberal Democrats, suggested that some of the laid-off steelworkers and miners in his district (near where The Full Monty was set) should take jobs as childminders. (That's Britspeak for day-care workers.) "I was stunned," he writes today in The Times online, "when my office received complaints that it was inappropriate work for men, with a barely disguised hint of suspicion about why men would want to spend so much time with young children."

Only 1 percent of childminders are men, an indication, Clegg says, that Britain clings too closely to traditional notions of what constitutes men's work.

And it clings too closely to traditional notions of a man's role in the family. In England, mothers can take a year of parental leave. Fathers get two weeks. "This split is out of step with the reality of many modern families, and discourages fathers from making a commitment to the care of their own children," he writes.

During World War II, he notes, women flooded the workforce, filling all kind of jobs, including those traditionally held by men. In a suggestion as apt on this side of the Atlantic as that one, he suggests that it's time for us to re-invent ourselves again:

"Many men will be forced to let go of their earlier identities and try something new--like the unemployed car worker in the West Midlands who explained on Newsnight last week that he was retraining to become a social worker. And many women may become the only family breadwinner for the first time. For many couples this will be unsettling and deeply disruptive to the settled patterns of life, work and marriage."

Unsettling, to be sure, but essential. Those settled patterns have kept too many of us--mothers and fathers alike--in cages.

It's a surprisingly thoughtful and perceptive piece, for a politician. And it's the kind of talk we could use more of here in the colonies, as well.

1 comment:

  1. Amen, amen. This idea that only women can take care of young children, plus the unsavory suspicion of any man who wants to, should have been put to bed years ago. Men may, as a general rule, handle the job somewhat differently, thanks to socialization and possibly even biological programming. But since when is different bad?

    I, for one, do believe that having a parent at home while children are young is a major help to the kids. But why does it always have to be Mom? Dad can be just as effective. And maybe if more men took it up - and more women supported them, we'd finally see child-rearing as the incredibly important job that it is.

    Anne Louise Bannon
    Your Family Viewer