Where are all the good fathers?

by Robert Lutz

Image source: iStock

Image source: iStock

I am a man. I am not the father of a child, but I may be someday. Would I make a good father? Biologically speaking, men are of course just as capable of parenting as women. However there are ingrained societal beliefs about the differing roles men and women are supposed to play in the lives of their children that scare me. These roles conflict with the kind of father I would want to be.

One thing I am sure of is that I’m not interested in a long-distance relationship with my child, spending all day in an office late into the evening, only sharing meals with my family on the weekends. In fact, the question of fatherhood for me hinges on whether I can be there for my child. If I were going to be absent most of the time while my child grows and eventually becomes an adult, I see no reason to father a child at all.

RESPONSIBILITIES

We used to live in a world where the pursuit of gainful employment was completely at odds with the role of caring for a family – the general consensus being that the man earned the money while women were expected to work full-time at home, raising the family. The gender equality movement has made progress in helping women obtain gainful employment, while very little progress has been made to help men participate in care work at home. We often blame absent fathers for neglecting their children but in doing so, we are blaming them for the very behavior that we incentivize, collectively as a society.

‘Despite decades of gender equality measures, men and women both continue to be oppressed by social roles. Men are prevented from sharing the labor and rewards of intimacy and caregiving and women lack social and financial autonomy.’

Research shows that fathers around the world want to spend time with their children. According to the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES)conducted by Instituto Promundo and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), the majority of men in most countries say they would spend fewer hours at work if it meant they could spend more time with their children.

… But quite often they can’t. Let us look at three important factors causing this:

PATERNITY LEAVE

The report State of the World’s Fathers reveals that only 78 out of 167 countries offer paternity leave, for one to 10 days, and mostly with statutory levels of financial compensation. As a comparison: the US (yes, really) and Papa New Guinea are the only two countries in the world that do not offer paid maternity leave, according to the United Nations. A great chart illustrating the distribution of maternity and paternity leave policies worldwide was also published by Time Magazine last year.

Aside from paternity and maternity leave, some countries offer parental leave intended to be available to people regardless of their gender. However, the State of the World’s Fathers report states that “it is nearly always mothers who take [parental leave] rather than fathers, maintaining gender inequality in caregiving”. Why is that?

Absent-father

Image source: readsuzette.com

PRESSURE TO BE THE BREADWINNER 

It certainly is not a matter of men being lazy or inherently caring more about their jobs than their children. As the IMAGES survey reminds us:

“Globally, an unequal work-life endures where men are generally expected to be providers and breadwinners while women and girls are generally expected to provide care for children and other dependents…”

You may be familiar with this fact, but chances are you are accustomed to looking at it from the perspective popularized by the women’s movement – that women suffer from a lack of equal opportunities as their primary role is pre-determined as that of a caregiver, nothing else. But, from a man’s perspective, the survey suggests despite decades of gender equality measures, men and women both continue to be oppressed by social roles. Men are prevented from sharing the labor and rewards of intimacy and caregiving and women lack social and financial autonomy.

In the current social arrangement, everyone regardless of gender is losing big time.

PART-TIME WORK 

A big factor restricting bonding time between fathers and their children is the distribution of part-time and full-time work. Data from across the EU shows that men tend to work full-time throughout their lives, whereas women frequently work part-time to care for their families or handle household work.

More often than not, women are now expected to take care of the householdand contribute to the household income through part-time work. The concern of the women’s movement here is that women end up working more than men and this claim is certainly substantiated by the European Commission. They reported in 2014 that a majority of women in the EU are now breadwinners or “co-breadwinners”. Instead of gender equality freeing women from the shackles of the household—as the women’s movement had intended—many women continue to inhabit the traditional woman’s role but now they additionally face the pressure to earn income for the household.

This development is surely accidental but nevertheless extremely unfair and burdensome.

WHY DON’T MEN JUST CUT THEIR HOURS?

At the same time as women are being burdened with extra work, men continue to serve in the traditional role of full-time breadwinner and on average do not have the opportunity to spend much time with their families. But why do men not simply reduce their work hours to part-time upon starting a family, as women tend to do? The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the BBC have all written about fathers who (try to) opt for part-time and the coinciding stigma and discrimination they face from employers and coworkers alike.

While societies around the world have opened up more and more to the idea that women are capable breadwinners, men continue to be seen as incompetent caregivers.

‘When men ask to spend more time with their families, they are made to understand that they are violating the social norm of manhood and deserve to be “punished” through firings, pay discrimination, or workplace stigmatization.’

Sure, there are bad fathers out there who fail to attend to the needs of their children. Just as there are bad mothers who are guilty of the same. But most men are simply trying to take care of their families and fulfill the duties society has assigned to them. These duties are outdated—they stand in the way of gender justice and good parenting. We need comprehensive, paid paternity and maternity policies. We also need to encourage men to opt for part-time work in the interest of their families, and we must change the way employers respond to this request.

It is up to us to make these important social and legal changes happen.

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Speak up and stay safe: starving the oxygen from online harrasment

by Joshua Piercey

Image source: Ivan David Gomez Arce/Flickr

Image source: Ivan David Gomez Arce/Flickr

It’s a tedious and tragic irony: women who speak up about violence towards other women incur – almost without fail – violence towards themselves.

Much of that violence manifests as online harassment. The combination of personal anonymity and proximity the internet provides can be toxic. Expressing opinions, speaking personally or even just creating content can provide a window for others to reach into your life without fear of reprisal or censure.

A TROLL UNDER EVERY BRIDGE

They can see you. They can comment on what you do. They can share your information, manipulate the facts, and even impersonate you. You are public, so they can do with you as they please.

They are anonymous, so there is little you can do to respond. The sheer scope and violence demonstrated in online harassment – the kind that leads to isolation, the end of careers, even suicide – has left society baffled. Despite admitting that they “suck” at dealing with online bullying, platforms like Twitter have utterly failed to take serious steps to combat it.

These are facts that Anita Sarkeesian, media critic, blogger and owner of the YouTube channel Feminist Frequency, knows all too well.

VIDEO GAMES VS. WOMEN

In 2012, Sarkeesian was targeted by an online harassment campaign of staggering violence, following the launch of a Kickstarter project to fund a YouTube series examining the portrayal of women in video games. Here’s an edited list from Sarkeesian’s Wikipedia page:

‘Attackers sent Sarkeesian rape and death threats, hacked her webpages and social media, impersonated her on Twitter and repeatedly doxxed her (unlawfully distributed her personal information). They posted disparaging comments online, vandalized Sarkeesian’s article on Wikipedia with racial slurs and sexual images, and sent Sarkeesian drawings of herself being raped by video game characters. The threat of violence became so intense that Sarkeesian was forced to leave her home.’

As Rolling Stone would later point out, the misogynist backlash merely proved her point – video gaming has a serious problem with women. But those who chose to speak up about problems in the industry often found themselves the target of harassment campaigns just as vicious as that suffered by Sarkeesian. For women talking about video games, online harassment has become the norm.

FIGHTING THE SYMPTOMS 

Anita Sarkeesian has received death threats after outing gaming industry misogyny on her YouTube channel Feminist Frequency Image source: abc.com

Anita Sarkeesian has received death threats after outing gaming industry misogyny on her YouTube channel Feminist Frequency Image source: abc.com

One of the reasons online harassment has become prevalent is its effectiveness. People unprepared for the vitriol and inventiveness of the mob can find their lives turned upside down. And though it might seem defeatist to treat the symptoms without addressing the root cause, the internet can move so fast and with such intensity that commentators find their ability to speak out reduced – eclipsed by the sheer scale of harassment that can be organised against them.

Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment is a freely downloadable collaboration between Sarkeesian, anti-rape activist and founder of Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) Jaclyn Friedman and Renee Bracey Sherman, reproductive justice activist and author of Saying Abortion Aloud.

In a friendly, no-nonsense tone the guide gives best security practices for social media, email, online gaming, website platforms, and ensuring privacy of personal information online, advises on how to document and report harassment, and – crucially – gives advice on how to  care for oneself (and one’s loved ones, a frequent target) during an online attack.

‘The combination of personal anonymity and proximity the internet provides can be toxic. Expressing opinions, speaking personally or even just creating content can provide a window for others to reach into your life without fear of reprisal or censure.’

It’s sad that such a thing should exist. In the words of the guide:

“We wish we didn’t have to write this. Going through even some of these steps to protect your online safety will cost you real time and sometimes money. It’s a tax on women, people of color, queer and trans people and other oppressed groups for daring to express our opinions in public. None of this is fair. It should not be our meticulous labor and precious funds that keep us safe, it should be our basic humanity. But that has proven heartbreakingly, maddeningly insufficient more times than we can count.”

“While we fight for a just world, this is the one we’re living in, and we want to share what we know.”

The existence of the guide promotes hope in two important ways. The first is that it may have the desired effect – starving online harassment of oxygen, reducing its effectiveness and therefore removing its appeal.

The second is merely this – when a system cannot protect you, you can protect yourself. As Sarkeesian and her colleagues have demonstrated, even something as overwhelming as the internet can be tackled with rationality, bravery and empathy.

Bullies prey on fear, but like any disease, fear can be inoculated against. Using tools like this one, it is possible to speak up while staying safe.