DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
OF ALL the issues that men could engage in the world, fatherhood is the one that has drawn the most impassioned demands for a “male perspective,” and stimulated men’s collective organising for voice, inclusion and representation. This is not surprising, as the just passed Father’s Day showed. Fatherhood has deep meaning for families, and for men, even when it involves contradictions and complexities.
The recently-formed fathers’ movement in TT has grown out of anger at mothers over custody and maintenance issues in particular, but has a generalised and largely uninformed opposition to feminism. It is concerned about positioning men as the real victims of (mothers’) childhood abuse, (women’s) partner violence, (feminised) state discrimination and an ideologically sexist gender division of labour (which defines men as providers) – issues which Caribbean feminists have analysed for decades in ways far more nuanced than this movement stereotypes.
There is actually a long history of Caribbean feminist work on care which argues that fathers are just as nurturing as mothers (and therefore that women are not biologically nor by evolution predisposed for unequal responsibility for care), and calls for more equitable sharing of housework and for better work-family balance (including paternity leave and daycare spaces in workplaces) since at least the mid-1990s.
Indeed, feminism’s core politics is that our sex (as well as gender and sexuality) should not define either our nurturing or providing roles, nor time spent on housework nor rightful access to headship, power and decision-making.
It is also that care should be counted and valued as an ideal human quality for both women and men – whether in terms of childhood socialisation, sexuality, family, the economy, national governance, international relations or our relationship to the planet.
Finally, it is that patriarchal beliefs promote domination, hierarchy, violence and toxic expectations for women and men, and need to be transformed to improve all of our lives. This is an excellent foundation for men’s movements which want to move beyond the sterility of a battle of the sexes – which is a patriarchal framing where everything is understood in terms of war, even family and fatherhood.
In this context, it was great to read the just released “State of the World’s Fathers” report, produced by Promundo, which brings together the valuing of fathering with feminist politics of care. The “good news,” cites the report, is that globally, “Men are participating more in unpaid care during the pandemic.”
Why is this good news? “Due to lockdowns all over the world, at a global level men have been present in the lives of their children more than at any time in history,” concludes the report. Men are spending more time on daily tasks of time management, food preparation, schooling and the emotional labour of fathering.
This is a real-life basis for allying with feminist movements to have family responsibilities better recognised by national care and parental leave policies, workplace conditions, social protection programmes, and political leaders. It’s an opportunity for solidarity with domestic workers who labour in our homes, and nurses who care for our ill family, expanding the issues of care that intersect fathers’ lives.
“Globally,” writes the report, “women do three to ten times more unpaid care and domestic work than men.” In one study, 42 per cent of women of working age compared to just six per cent of men were unable to do paid work before the pandemic because of childcare.
During the pandemic, both women and men reported an increase in childcare. Yet, in one study of 16 countries, women reported an increase of 5.2 hours per week and men reported an increase of 3.5 hours per week spent on childcare. This disparity is likely in local realities as well.
Men consistently report spending more time on childcare than women say they do. This gap, and the aspiration it suggests, leaves room for collaboration to make care equality a reality. It is clear that many men want to spend more time nurturing.
The report recommends specific policy goals and target dates for achieving equality in unpaid care. It describes this as “nothing short of a global shift” which will enable housework and childcare to be roles more greatly associated with men and masculinities whether in schools or health facilities, cultural narratives and social norms. It also requires that recovery policies specifically address inequalities and impacts of unpaid care work, and have more equal representation of women and men in shaping such policies.
So much more to say. For fathers’ movements, covid19 has highlighted both challenges and opportunities.
Diary of a mothering worker