Are we making a mountain out of parental equality?

As France debates extending paternity leave, Nick Inman ponders equality rights

21 November 2018
By Nick Inman

“What do you mean there is no baby changing station in the Gents? What am I supposed to do if I am a man travelling alone with a baby? Use the Ladies? That’s discrimination.”

We have to stop over-complicating this man-woman, father-mother thing. We’re human beings and we need to treat each other with respect.

Many people have a problem with the word “equality”. “How can we be equal?” they ask, “when we are not the same?”

There are obvious biological differences, but beyond those you have to contend with endless exceptions – because we are so varied.

We must avoid generalisations such as “men have got it coming because of their bad behaviour”, or “women should be believed in court cases more than men” (assertions made recently in UK newspapers).

Equal does not mean identical; it means “doing as you would be done by” and “each according to their needs”.

As a man, I expect certain rights and opportunities. If I have them, who am I to deny them to women?

Feminism is not just about liberating women. It must also be about liberating men from burdens of expectation placed upon them.

All this applies to parents. They should be free to choose how they divide up or share the duties associated with the raising of a child. Often – but not always – mothers and fathers provide complementary emotional functions in a family.

If a woman is entitled to maternity leave as a new parent, the father should be eligible for the same. The Macron government is wrestling with the implications of this. It fears that giving fathers and mothers equal rights to time off work after a birth will stress the economy, but accountancy should never outweigh ethics.

A father can be just as active a parent as a mother and society should aid him, not stand in his way. We may never get things perfectly right but men and women should champion each other’s interests in solidarity.

Whether each of us has a good or bad experience of being a mother or father depends on the attitudes of the individuals around us.

All we can do is do our best. That means we need to develop interpersonal skills that are not gender-dictated: empathy, listening and the ability to know when and how to offer help.

Only when we have halfway mastered these skills ourselves can we pass them on to our children who, we hope, will be less confused than we are.

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