Why Did It Take Two Feminists Speaking Up For Men To Get This Conversation Moving?

My wife worked fairly late last night and didn’t get home until after 6:30pm. After picking up the youngest from preschool and taking he and his brother to the park to kick around the soccer ball, I came back home and cooked dinner (my nightly duty) and sat the boy’s down to start theirs whilst I started on grilling the fish my wife and I were having so it was freshly cooked for her arrival home.

I had seen the news headlines about U.N. Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson’s feminist speech pop up in my Facebook news feed earlier in the day, but with a busy day at work including going to a truck depot to pick up some parts followed by two stops in to see customers, and a lunch stop whilst I was out on the road, I didn’t have a chance to watch it at my desk during my lunch break.

While I was out on the road I was listening to my favourite talk-back radio station and the veteran journalist Ray Martin was on the afternoon show promoting the (then) upcoming interview he did with former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard which was shown on television last night. I was looking forward to hearing the interview, the first in depth one she had given since her departure.

Although it was not the crux of her interview, Ms. Gillard is famous for her feminist laden misogyny speech and that was brought up by Mr Martin, but it was her comment about the media’s sexist remarks about her long time partner Tim Matheison and his occupation – that being a hairdresser – that tied the two stories together.

This week I have been seeing regular updates on the personal pages of my fellow Dad Bloggers from the US who have been attending the 19th Annual At-Home Dads Convention (AHD Convention) held by the National At-Home Dad Network. There have been further shares of information and photos within our Dad Bloggers’ group. From their website;

“The convention will again offer primary caregiving dads the chance to network, learn and grow in their roles as at-home fathers. In addition to keynote speakers and breakout sessions that address the day-to-day issues stay-at-home dads face, the convention will continue to feature popular events such as a Dads’ Night Out, Meet and Greet and post-convention dinner at a popular site in downtown Denver.”

The AHD Convention highlights a conversation that needs to be had to promote the roles of dads who choose to or who are forced to be the primary caregiver. But it’s a conversation that needs to be outside the walls of a convention centre and also, a conversation that needs to include those men who are not the primary caregivers but could be if they didn’t have the burden that society puts upon men to be the primary breadwinner rather than the one who can raise the children.

There are many of my fellow Dad Bloggers who promote this conversation via their personal blogs as well as having their freelance work published on popular news aggregator and media sites, and many others who have had their stories go viral on the mainstream media including two of my contemporaries who were both on Australian morning breakfast television shows back in early July this year. You can read about that in this post; Why This Morning Was A Leap Forward For Stay At Home Dads In This Country.

I am sure that you would be aware of the conversation that has been played out for many years by the feminist groups and personalities promoting women’s rights, and the right for women to be whatever the hell they want to be. And why the hell not? (Sorry for using that expression, but compared to the four-letter-word I first typed, I’m sure you can agree “hell” is quite tame).

I am currently studying part-time an undergraduate Bachelor of Behavioural Studies (Psychology) with the hope of continuing on the a full degree in Psychology before I die. As part of the first unit that I am studying we are talking about inequalities in further education and this week the topic of gender came up. Three weeks ago when we were given our first essay to complete, we were given a list of sub-topics, one of which we needed to pick to be ours to write about in relation to inequalities in further education. Straight away I chose gender because it is a topic that truly interests me.

Of course with that, I will have to put forward an argument from the point of view that women are lacking in numbers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) further education courses. Now whilst I mentioned to one of my lecturers on Monday night that I was taking “the devil’s advocate” position seeing that I am a male arguing on behalf of women, she pointed out that many men do this as their topic and that really, this is just as important an argument for men as it is for women; especially for men who are fathers of daughters.

When women enter into the roles, occupations and fields that are traditionally “assigned” to the male of our species, the conversation that is being had goes along the lines of “these are not just men’s roles, and women can do these just as good (if not better sometimes) than men.” And no one should really argue with that because, it’s true. Sadly however, when men decide to enter the fields of occupation that women dominate in, the conversation being had is not a favourable one. As I wrote in my piece Should Men Be Banned From Working In Childcare? late July this year, we need more men in the role of childcarers, not less as a local government is suggesting.

In regards to her partner being a hairdresser, Julia Gillard offered this gem;

“To some extent you look at all of that and you say, how much of that is gender working, because would we think it was quite so odd if a male Prime Minister or a male chief executive officer of a big bank or whatever had a wife who worked as a hairdresser? Would we think that was… really odd, you know? ‘Why on earth did he marry her? She’s a hairdresser!’ I just don’t think it would occur to us. I think it was the gender thing a bit.”

Julia Gillard Ray Martin Interview Partner Hairdresser Tim MatheisonAfter the interview was over I headed upstairs to assist our eldest son getting ready for bed including having a bath and cleaning his teeth. Once he was off to sleep, I headed back downstairs to do my next nightly chore of packing the dishwasher and cleaning up after dinner.

We have a 42″ smart TV in our lounge room so I switched it to computer mode and loaded up the Emma Watson speech on YouTube. I would have loved to sit on the comfortable couch or to have sat at my desk in my office to watch it on the computer so I could take it all in, but a busy working father’s job is never done, and packing the dishwasher and cleaning the dining table wasn’t going to be the last of my chores for the night.

My favourite part of her speech was when she addressed us men;

“Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.  

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.

If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.”

Emma Watson Feminist SpeechAnd although that passage is brilliant, the next paragraph sums it up perfectly for me;

“I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

I have hesitated to fully take on the title of being a feminist mainly for the reason Miss Watson stated at the beginning of her speech;

“I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

I don’t hate men. I am one. And I don’t hate women, even the radical feminists amongst the ranks who do come off as being anti-men. I share that belief that men and women should have equal rights. If either of my sons wants to be a childcare worker, a hairdresser (as opposed to a barber), or go into any of the fields that are traditionally roles for women, they have my full support. And I hope that this doesn’t prejudice their ability to find loving and caring partners who will support their choice.

And if they end up starting a family with a partner who earns more than them and the decision is made that they become the stay-at-home parent, I hope that they can look to their own father and see me as a role model for them. Whether it’s  through my writing, my activism or my own actions of taking on many of the traditional “mothering” roles, whatever it is that speaks to them, I hope the conversation keeps going and it doesn’t end late September 2014 with a viral speech from “this Harry Potter girl” or former Prime Minister.
Now please excuse me, I have some washing to fold…

Thank you to UN Women.org for the Emma Watson transcript. You can read the whole speech here. Alternatively you can watch the speech below;

4 thoughts on “Why Did It Take Two Feminists Speaking Up For Men To Get This Conversation Moving?

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