Why men matter (and other reflections on gender equality)

Many reports and studies show that there is increasing equality between parents in terms of traditional parenting roles and responsibilities;

For example British men are spending more time on domestic work than their forefathers (an increase from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 150 minutes per day by 2004), are taking increased responsibility for caring for their children (from 15 minutes to 2 hours per working day between 1975 and 1997, an 800% increase) and are increasingly becoming the parent with sole responsibility for childcare during the working week (21% of fathers of under-fives are solely responsible for childcare at some point during the working week)

While there is still some way to go before we can begin talking about true equity and equality between the sexes, these are positive trends.

And yet public media is unfortunately still very much geared to reinforcing the traditional “doofus father” stereotype – the blundering, largely absent, beer and sports obsessed icons of yesteryear, petrified to change a nappy, incompetent at meal times, useless around the house, and generally setting a bad example to their children.

And to compound this stereotype, society is also not currently particularly geared to accepting the change in the zeitgeist which the statistics suggest is happening,

Whether it is detail such as the fact that nappy change facilities are still largely positioned only in female public toilets; that there is still poor or non-existent pre-and post natal support for fathers; that marketing and advertising for baby products is still geared towards women.

Or more at the macro level like for example the fact that until recently there has been dreadful inequality between paternity and maternity leave entitlements, it is little wonder that men may feel intimidated by impending fatherhood.

Traditional notions of masculinity still pervade a man’s everyday life too. One only has to see the incredibly damaging four “rules of masculinity” pioneered by 1970s American psychologist Robert Brannon, to understand how many fathers have been coded to act.

  1. No sissy stuff – reject all that is associated with femininity
  2. Be a big wheel – wealth, power and status define your success as a man
  3. Be a sturdy oak – reliable and strong in a crisis
  4. Give ‘em hell – men are associated with risk, daring and aggression

These notions are damaging because they are divisive. They perpetuate notions that it is somehow emasculating to let your female partner go out to work while you look after the children at home.

Even though the proportion is at a historical low (and despite all the positive advances mentioned above) a recent study revealed that nearly one in five British men still believe that it is the woman’s role to stay at home and look after the children. Those one in five constitute an important critical mass, and one which needs to be addressed if a tipping point for societal change is to be reached.

For some families it no longer makes as much economic sense to automatically designate the father as a breadwinner because according to a number of studies the gender pay gap has all but disappeared in low income families and findings by the National Equality Panel in 2010[i] found that the earnings gap is continuing to narrow.

And this trend is likely to continue across all demographics as young girls / women now outstrip boys / men not only in school participation, graduation and results but also in further education and training.

So going forward, men in the UK are likely to have much more of a role in bringing up their children than their fathers, or their fathers father’s, ever did. And new research shows that this is perhaps no bad thing.

Researchers and child experts are realising that there are incredible benefits related to this societal shift. Research[ii] shows that infants of highly involved fathers have higher cognitive functioning, are better problem solvers as toddlers and have higher IQs by age three.

As well as better cognitive functioning, infants of highly involved fathers show better social and emotional development and well-being. And if that is not enough, involved fathers lead to less disruptive behaviour, less depression, less sadness, less lying and substance abuse and a myriad of other negative development outcomes in their children[iii]. And when men participate fairly in the home, research shows that everyone is happier and healthier.

What this boils down to is the need for gender equality and men can be important agents of change in this regard. An excellent recent report from the Government Equalities Office[iv] (which dad blogger John Adams – @dadbloguk – contributed to) points out some of the challenges that face individuals, organisations and societies when pursuing equality.

But the report argues that the key thing is to ensure that male voices are included in dialogue about gender and that actually, in doing so, amazing opportunities may arise. Many men will have much to gain through gender equality that allows for new ways of working and living for both men and women to flourish.

As UN Under Secretary General Ban Ki Moon points out, the evidence is clear

“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all”

This all strikes a very resonant personal chord with me. I have recently cut down to a four day working week in order to spend more time with my family. It initially wasn’t easy, and I had to have a number of tough conversations with my manager, my colleagues, my wife and most importantly, with my ego.

But it very quickly became a conversation about opportunities. My reduction in work hours, provided my wife with an opportunity to pursue a more challenging career and I got some all-important time off to be a better father and better husband.

The important thing to conclude is that new shifts towards gender equality are exciting and will benefit organisations, individuals and ultimately society. There is still a long way to go however, before a true tipping point can be reached.

However through modelling opportunities presented by pro-equality governmental and organisational policy, and continued dialogue around gender equality and the roles of men and women in society, there is no reason why a more equal vision of society cannot be achieved in our lifetime.


[i] Report of the National Equality Panel; Executive Summary, January 2010

[ii] See for example “The effects of father involvement: a summary of research evidence” Father Involvement Initiative, fall 2002

[iii] See for example this comprehensive conclusion of the impact of the father on their “children’s learning and achievement” Fatherhood Institute, May 2013

[iv]Men as Change Agents for Gender Equality”, Government Equalities Office, June 2014


Men and PND – time to talk

Today 6th February is #timetotalk. For more information check out the time to change website

Over the month of February I am going to feature guest posts from people offering a male perspective on post natal depression (PND), with ideas and advice on support and care.

The idea is to raise awareness and get people talking about PND, particularly men.

Which is why I just had to feature this excellent 18 minute slot on The Last Word, an excellent radio show hosted by Matt Cooper on Today FM in Ireland. 

This programme was shared with me by the lovely people at Nurture.

The programme features two men Ronan Kennedy and Owen McGrath, whose partners have suffered from PND, plus Nurture CEO Irene Lowry.

Ronan and Owen highlight brilliantly why it is so important that men are part of the discussion on PND, and that men who are supporting a partner affected by PND often need support themselves.

Irene provides some insightful context and some interesting statistics that suggest that PND is still very much a taboo issue.

Please grab a coffee, put your headphones on and have a listen

Men and Post Natal Depression (the Last Word, Today FM 28th January 2014)


(Nurture is an Irish charity founded by counsellor Irene Lowry and co founder Lilian Mc Gowan. It offers counselling and support surrounding pregnancy and childbirth mental health illnesses & emotional wellbeing. Check them out they are doing great stuff)

One born every minute

It is actual Fathers Day! And this is the fourth in the series of #fathersdaymonth guest posts. This one is a second post from @dadvsthekids. You can read more from him on his new blog http://www.dadvsthekids.com

It’s a post about childbirth. And I particularly like this post because it is funny. Really funny. But also that there is a great central message here. Kids dont play by the rules. Neither should you. Stick your hands out and get them dirty.


Hi. I’d like my coat dry-cleaned please. That stain? Yeah, it’s just my wife’s blood. Do you reckon you can you get that all out?”

Okay. Let me back up a bit.


Okay. Maybe I need to go back a little bit more. Because if you’re bringing a child into this world, you need to be prepared. But not prepared in the way you think you know right now.

This is the birth of our second child. I got this. I read all the magazines. I diligently attended all the birthing classes. I even managed to get in good with one of the staff on the maternity ward (ok, it was my mother-in-law) and secured a serene, private hospital room to welcome our latest ‘miracle of life’ into the world with the aid of the finest drugs the NHS has to offer. NAILED IT.

From the Dad’s point of view, as long as you’ve picked up the TENS machine, remembered the overnight bag, your ONLY job in the delivery room is to hold your wife’s hand, offering appropriate, positive commendation whilst resisting the temptation to take a hit of the gas and air whilst the midwife’s back is turned.

We’d been through this already with child no.1 – I knew the drill. I knew my place. So when the contractions started that summer afternoon in 2006, it was like the Rocky theme tune was playing in my head all over again. All those months of training has led to this.

 Mrs DvK calls her parents and we arrange to drop off our firstborn. Because who wants to traumatise a 2yr old child with shrieking contractions and profanities, right?

“Yep,” she breathes into her phone through the mild contractions. “We’ll drop him off to you Mum, and then we’ll go home and collect my stuff before meeting you at the hospital. The contractions aren’t too bad, so we should have plenty of time.” I make a mental note to pack myself extra magazines and maybe a Mars Bar.

An hour later, we’re back at home. Mrs DvK is on the sofa, wrapped up in the TENS machine, timing the contractions whilst I make the last few phone calls to friends and family.

Informing the maternity ward of our imminent arrival, I try my best to sound confident and jovial. Don’t be fooled – judging the window between “should we go in now” and “I can’t believe that moody cow sent us back home” is another rite of passage for all paranoid new parents. If you don’t sound convinced, then they won’t be.

“Did you call the midwife?”

“Yes hun”

“Did you put my slippers in the bag?”


“Have you put the car seat in?”

“It’s done.”

“Did you pack the baby vests?”


“The green ones and the white ones?”


Apparently no one cares if I packed my Mars Bars, but whatever. I take charge of the conversation. “Right, I’ll get everything in the car.” I slip my hands into my coat, help Mrs DvK up from the sofa and march ahead for the front door. “Let’s go!”

The first scream of pain hits me with brute force. I’m not supposed to hear that until we’re in the delivery room am I?

I turn around and for the first time, I see paralysing fear in my wife’s eyes. By the Power of Greyskull: THE LITTLE GIT IS COMING NOW.


“I can’t move! I can’t move! I have to push!” she screams. The sheer ferocity of the contraction is too much and Mrs DvK, in a hysterical panic starts to remove her clothes.

“NOOO! Not in the living room on the carpet!” My cry falls on deaf ears. But Mother Nature has taken over and gravity is the first to say hello. With one push, her waters break, spilling out onto the floor.

Imagine what you’ve seen in light-hearted romantic comedies and hilarious TV sit-coms.  But without the canned laughter. Nobody is laughing now. It’s EVERYWHERE.

“WIFE IN LABOUR! BABY COMING! SEND AMBULANCE!” My adrenalin fuelled stuttering to the 999 operator reveals I am way in over my head. This is uncharted territory.

My wife and I are alone, with no medical professional, no drugs, and no way out. There isn’t an app for this. Mrs DvK is about to endure childbirth cave-man style, and I didn’t even get to start thumbing through my fresh copy of GQ. Typical.

Despite all the odds, she’s still on her feet. Everything is a blur. The second push is more dramatic than the first.

And then it happens.

I can see my son’s head.

My stupid brain frantically tries to recall anything from the birthing lessons that can help in this situation. Nope.

One thing I can guarantee, new Dads: Time will slow down when you see your child for the first time. I don’t remember the exact moment I dropped the phone and extended my hands to catch my son. That primal need to protect him at all costs is something that you can never fully put into words. This tiny child is fighting for survival from his first breath and he’s relying on you to step up.

The umbilical cord is still wrapped around his neck. But he’s crying. That’s a good thing right? “Yes, yes that’s a good thing you idiot”, I think to myself, “that means he’s breathing.” Unwrap the cord dammit, unwrap the cord.

Mrs DvK finally crumples to the floor in a shock, tired heap. I remember I’m still on the phone to the 999 operator. “THE KID IS IN MY HANDS WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?!?!?”

“Get blankets. Keep them comfortable. Another midwife and an ambulance are on their way sir.” The reassuring tone of the disembodied voice make me think this is definitely a more regular occurrence than I’ve been led to believe. Did she just call me Sir?

Your child will shock and surprise you from the second they are born. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll blindside you with an emotional uppercut and you’ll be left wondering why you weren’t prepared and begin to doubt your ability to keep another human being alive.

To those who have such trepidation, I say USE that. Use that fear to fuel that primal maternal/paternal bond, not shy away from it.

The books and the classes and the well-meaning (but sometimes conflicting) advice from family and friends have their place.

But you’ll be surprised what you’re prepared to do for your child when you use them as the measuring rod of your success as a parent, not the photo-shopped magazine version we all find ourselves aspiring to.

If catching my son mid-delivery taught me anything, it’s that kids don’t play by the rules. And neither should you. Stick your hands out and get them dirty.

The real professionals arrive less than 10 minutes after the delivery and do their thing.

Actually, one of the ambulance paramedics, built like brick house, and who’s probably seen more than his fair share of multiple car pile-ups, confesses he is squeamish at the sight of women giving birth. Outstanding.

He offers to make himself useful by putting the kettle on and making the bed. 

Mother and baby are eventually given the all clear by the midwife and within an hour they’ve gone, and our new son is already asleep.

Aside from the stream of text messaging well-wishers, the eerie quiet is a stark and bemusing contrast to the heart-stopping moments that preceded it.

I look at my blood-covered watch. It’s nearly 8:30pm.

“Fancy catching the last few minutes of Eastenders?”


This was originally a guest post for @ministryofmum. Go check out her superb blog at www.ministryofmum.blogspot.co.uk