Grace Dent: We need to treat stay-at-home dads with the respect that stay-at-home mums have yearned for
Some figures, released yesterday, from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of stay-at-home fathers has doubled in the past 20 years. There are now 229,000 men shouldering all of their household childcare. Meanwhile the number of women at home has fallen in the past year by 45,000 - to 2.04m. When it comes to the ongoing emancipation of women, some news - women priests, Saudi female drivers, Beyonce deciding she's a feminist - arrives with bells, whistles and the pleasing smell of smouldering bras, while other news sort of farts its way out on a Monday and no one cares.
Yet the matter of childcare - of who does it, who gives up their career dream (excuse me, puts it "on hold", ha ha ha), who sabotages the simple freedom of skipping out of the house at 8am mid-toddler teething tantrum and then gently perusing a newspaper on the commuter train before a day lost in office "banter" - is one of the biggest feminist struggles of all time. We can talk and talk about female equality, but at ground level what's crucial is who is holding the baby and who has spare hands to get things done.
We women should celebrate this news of menfolk yielding to the idea of full-time bum-wiping, burping, taxiing and sewing endless "themed" school costumes - with full throats and open hearts. Let's start a National Stay-At-Home Dad Day. Maybe a Hug-a Home-Hubby Week? Instead, women choose not to see this rise as terribly important, probably because the idea of men moving into the full-time child-care game exposes some fuzzy sexist logic of our own.
For instance, men making a bloody good job of being home-makers and baby-raisers is a kick in the teeth for the cult of Mummydom. That idea that Mummy has a special bond with "baby" - due to its arrival via her womb - that Daddy can never achieve. Perhaps that's poppycock. Perhaps this was only ever about control? Then there's the "Being a Mummy is the hardest job in the world" brigade - sucked up to by adland - who warn that if you want cleaning/cooking done, wait for Mum to do it and don't ask Dad as he's an affable idiot who will burn the house down.
In the battle for equality we women will need to lose this cliche, in the same way as we might - as collateral damage - have to accept that the Diet Coke ad where the half-naked man is slavered over by girls is, yes a bit of fun, but also sexist bilge and we might need to get tough on women who expect a man to pay for their dinner. The long road to emancipation might include one of the Nolans being told to be quiet about her daft husband on Loose Women.
And day to day, we need to treat stay-at-home dads with the respect that stay-at-home mums have yearned for. Our eyes shouldn't drift off at a party in favour of the person with the "actual career". We shouldn't treat stay-at-home dads as "kept men" or men "taking the easy option". We should explore the truth that many men didn't want a career as much as their wife did, and if that's still difficult to accept from your friend or neighbour, it's indicative of how sexist we really all are.
We need to stop treating men out with their children in public places like "access visits", or side-head-tilting the bloke at the school gate like the poor sap "between jobs". In fact, does anyone know if they are even his kids? Has anyone checked his identification? He could be a pervert!
We will only have more women in the boardroom if we have more men at the nappy-changing table. And the men are beginning to give a little, so let's not mess this up.
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