Blog

I done a book. Again.

Dads Don’t Babysit is out now. Please buy it. I only get a few pence per copy so that’s not why I want it to be a bestseller.

It’s because if it sells well I’ll be famous and my ego will be pleased. ONLY JOKING.

Actually it’s because it’s an important message, and therefore, I think, an important book.

The subtitle is ‘Towards Equal Parenting’ and that really is what it’s all about.

Currently women invariably do most parenting in any domestic set up. Men are usually the breadwinners and, to a greater or lesser extent, the second or back up parent.

That’s not how it is for everyone and its not how I want it to be but that’s the world as it is. However, equally is importantly it’s not the world as people want it to be.

Most men want to do more parenting. Most men and women think parenting should be shared equally but for various reasons it’s not happening.

‘So what?’ you may say. What folk do in their own homes is up to them. It’s not for anyone else to tell people how to order their lives.

True.

Except everyone is telling people how to order their lives. Sometimes explicitly. More often in lots of little subtle ways.

For example women are entitled to six weeks maternity leave paid at 90% of their salary and up to 12 months away from work to care for their baby in total. Men get two weeks. Then they can share that 12 months allowance if their partner is happy to transfer some of her leave to him. The message is loud and clear that a mother is more important in her baby’s life and that parental leave belongs to the mum because she ought to be the one using it.

The number of men my co-author and I spoke to who said they’d gone to their boss to discuss flexible working after becoming a dad and the response was an initial ‘oh’ at best and ‘that’s not a good idea for your career’ at worst. Signals that a man doing something about his work life balance is weird. (Flexible working is one of the very few areas where men are actually discriminated against, women tend to get their applications accepted far more easily because they are expected to want to fit their work around their family commitments.)

But men think about their work life balance. Most say they want more time with their families, many – particularly millennials – are willing to sacrifice higher pay in return for a more flexible work life.

Then there’s the dodgy science that claims there are pink brains and blue brains and suggests men are just not made to do childcare. Even though the experience of most men that actually throw themselves into family life is the opposite. And the science doesn’t stack up anyway.

And where are the caring, competent role model fathers? On TV kids get the message early on from Peppa Pig that Daddy Pig is a buffoon who can’t even do the washing. They might graduate to The Simpsons where Homer cares more for beer than his offspring or carry on to Broadchurch where the stay at home dad character is flagged up as weird by his penchant for killing people.

Overcoming the weight of public expectation about the role of a father is tough. But not impossible.

This book came about because Dave Freed sent a message to the @GenderDiary Twitter account. That’s the account my partner Ros and I set up seven years ago to record the different ways our son and daughter were treated. It ultimately led to The Gender Agenda book last year.

And that message not only showed that actually the internet is great for bringing people together but it also pointed to the solution to how we bridge the ‘paternity gap’ – the difference between what men say they want and the set up we currently have.

Making contact and talking is the first and simplest step. If you’ve taken shared parental leave and enjoyed it (as Dave did, and we’ve yet to hear from anyone who regretted it) then tell your friends and workmates. Reach out through social media to those who feel the same and your voice is amplified.

When you go to the pub, as I have done, and hear men engaging in banter that denigrates childcare challenge it. Instead talk about the joys of having children, for there are many. If it wasn’t great nobody would do it!

When a friend recently told me he was going to become a father one of the first things I said to him was ‘are you going to take shared parental leave?’ (Doing this was an idea put forward by Jo Swinson in her own book and in conversation with myself during research for Dads Don’t Babysit). He said he hadn’t really thought about it. Next time I saw him he said he’s doing two months of shared parental leave. That’s not equality but just doing that share with benefit his child’s development, his own mental health and his wife’s pay packet. The parenting hat-trick as we call it in the book.

It’s all in the 300-odd pages of Dad’s Don’t Babysit. Plus there’s Serena Williams, Michael Gove, hormones, heroes and reference to a man pissing a melon.

I think it’s an idea whose time has come. The more people that buy the book the more we can get things done and we really can make the world a better place.

Why men must fail

It’s been a couple of weeks but I figured I’d post here the speech I delivered recently at the New Statesman debate at the Cambridge Literary Festival. The motion was ‘For more women to succeed more men must fail’ and I was speaking for the motion. (That’s NS deputy editor Helen Lewis in the chair in the pic). Here’s what I said:

“There is something richly ironic about a group of feminists – in which I include myself of course – having a debate. There is surely nothing more typical of toxic masculinity than a debate, a format invented by men because they couldn’t just sit about talking about stuff SOMEONE HAS TO WIN. Personally, I’ll only consider myself to have won this debate if you all abstain at the end and choose to mull the issues more deeply rather than vote.

However, we’re here and I’d like to look at two areas in particular that I know well, that sit at either end of the scale that runs between the public and domestic sphere and which I think demonstrate clearly that more men must fail if women are to succeed

Firstly, in the public sphere there is one place where it is quite clear cut that men must fail for women to succeed – the House of Commons.

There are only 650 seats, the vast majority represented by men.

This event is one of very many taking place across the country to mark 100 years since some women won the right to vote. Many suffragettes and suffragists – don’t forget the suffragists, factions and disagreements within the movement are nothing new – thought winning the vote would inevitably lead to further improvements and maybe even equality.

Now the former is undoubtedly true. The lot of British women has improved since suffrage was achieved. And that demonstrates why we need more women in parliament, because if women are present women’s needs will be considered. This isn’t just some airy fairy need to consider women’s issues, it’s life and death. While we had a female education secretary she drove a policy of compulsory and comprehensive Sex and Relationships Education. When Justine Greening was replaced by Damian Hinds one of his first moves was to go soft on SRE, confirming that parents will be allowed to take their kids out of classes if they wish. This despite a Women and Equalities Committee report that reported quality SRE ‘HAS THE POTENTIAL TO MAKE THE SINGLE BIGGEST IMPACT ON ALL FORMS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN THIS COUNTRY’

But we can only have more women in parliament if there are fewer men. There are only so many seats. For women to succeed in winning places in our law making body more men will have to fail to get elected.

The fact that equal suffrage has not brought about equal representation speaks to my second point which I’ll come on to shortly.

But it is rooted in the fact that we don’t actually want a parliament that is representative. If that was so we would want murderers and stupid people sitting as MPs. I would suggest that we want is a parliament that represents the best of us.

And still today women are not seen as the best of us.

We are trained from a very young age to look down on women, we create a female sphere to disdain it.

This is my second point, men must redefine what it means to fail because for too many men failure actually means being like a woman.

Big boys don’t cry – why? Because to show emotion is to be like a woman

‘Woman’s work’ is a derogatory term – because women’s work is low status and consequently low paid.

For a man to be termed a big girl’s blouse is generally regarded as an insult. The insult is not in being described as an item of clothing, it’s in being like a woman’s item of clothing.

When I was looking at the internet instead of writing this speech the other day I came across the latest writings by godawful Brexiteer shitehawk Dan Hannan in which he described critics of his offhand attitude towards the Irish border question as shrill. Men, who physically have deeper voices are not shrill. The implication is that his opponents are rubbish because they are like women.

It is all around us.

And it starts very young. One of the surprises that my partner and I learned from the Gender Diary project that documented the different ways boys and girls are treated and which culminated in The Gender Agenda book last year was the constant reinforcement girls and boys get that one gender is better than the other.

That to be ‘like a girl’ is to be inferior. Seared into my memory is the scene in a toy shop when a young boy of maybe 7 was playing with the lovely dolls houses on display at the back of the shop only for his father to emerge from the front of the shop and loudly proclaim: “Caught you! Playing with the DOLLS HOUSES”. The shame on the boy’s face as he mumbled ‘no’ and ran off was as heartbreaking as it was infuriating.

It’s no excuse but it’s no wonder when they are told practically from birth that women are inferior, when they see their mothers shouldering the mental load of household tasks while their father does something more important out of the home – and that remains the norm, there is not a country in the world where men do more domestic work than women – why are we surprised that men regard it as inferior, to be avoided, failure.

I don’t think men need to fail because I don’t regard what I do – juggling childcare with freelance work, enjoying spending time with my children because it feels like the most natural thing in the world while my partner does what comes naturally to her – pursuing an impressive and fulfilling career, knowing who needs a pack lunch when and making sure each kid has enough clean shirts for school, stuff that so many women regard as normal – I don’t regard that as failing at all.

Men need to rethink what it means to fail. To throw off the narrow definition of masculine success. In my new book, Dad’s Don’t Babysit, I look at how we can make that happen. Because when it does, when man do their fair share around the home women will be free to succeed in whatever way they choose.

Ladies and gentlemen, by the standards men set I’ve failed. I wish those standards would alter but until they do more men must fail just like I have. And just like me I know millions of them would enjoy better health – mental and physical – and happiness.

For more women to succeed it’s not just that more men must fail, they must embrace failure.”

 

 

 

 

Sexual harassment: a silly man and DJ Sillyboy

A thoughtful PR sent me a release this morning titled Can This Video Game Teach Men to be Less Creepy when Flirting?

Bloody hell.

There’s ‘gameplay’ footage here. It’s both amusing and horrifying in equal measure. I struggle to believe anyone will actually but the game.  I’m not entirely sure it’s not a hoax. But if it’s real anyone who thinks the best way to find a partner is to sit at home playing a computer game about finding a partner will learn the key to success is not to grab a lady’s behind and instead say ‘that’s interesting’ in a droning voice. Certainly the fella behind it who styles himself a ‘controversial pick up artist’ is at best lacking self-awareness (sitting on double bed with two mute ladies who’ve forgotten to put their clothes one while apparently trying to teach men to respect women? Really??) and at worst a very silly man. I’m not inclined to give him or his Super Seducer game any further publicity.

But it set me thinking about something else I heard recently that feeds into the same theme. That sense of entitlement among men. And how it can be challenged.

And it started with Steve Wright.

As so often, when on the horns of a dilemma or struggling with a really big and complex issue Steve Wright sorts it out.

The afternoon host on Radio 2 also known as DJ Sillyboy read out one of his fatuous factoids the other day and things somehow made sense.

The ‘fact’ (usually something made up by a PR and bagging said ‘account executive’ an extra bag of gack for getting it read out on Radio 2) concerned love at first sight. The claim that 40% of men said they’d fallen in love at first sight, the figure for women was 28%.

Wrighty – who we can assume is a massive feminist due to the fact he’s the only presenter on Radio 2 that play Dua Lipa’s number one New Rules, and he plays it like every day – left the factoid hanging at that.

But somehow that silly sum, whether true or not, goes to the heart of the current debate around sexual harassment.

Men are more likely to claim to have fallen in love at first sight. Because it’s easier for men to fall in love at first sight.

Because men have entitlement.

They don’t have to worry about stuff like emotion, empathy, relationship building and such like, they just look at a woman and decide they’d like to have her.

No-one, thankfully, seems to be claiming such behaviour is innate. Or at least anyone that is can be safely dismissed as a big daft.

So when does it begin?

Almost from birth. How do I know this? Because I wrote a book about it.

The Gender Agenda, authored along with my partner, was published last summer. In it we documented every tiny difference we noticed in the way our son and daughter were treated by friends, family, society, and ourselves.

Gram by stereotypical gram it added up to a huge weight pushing children into certain gendered straitjackets.

The girls side marked by pink and passivity. The boys’ behaviour boisterous and confident – entitled, in other words.

But you don’t have to take our word for it.

The excellent pop science show No More Boys and Girls that aired on the BBC over the summer showed boys lack of vocabulary to describe their emotions and the inevitable result that they turn to violence when they can’t express themselves. Girls, routinely but not deliberately passed over when it came to answer questions in class lacked confidence. A lifetime without Lego meant most lacked the spatial awareness skills that appeared to come ‘naturally’ to their male counterparts.

But with regard to the current moves to take on sexism the vital difference is that boys are raised to look down on girls, and girls are expected to live with that.

Whilst girls can ‘trade up’ and take on traditionally male roles with relatively little comment – playing football, embracing engineering, punching their siblings – the same is not true for boys. They are trained to dismiss all that is pink, to have disdain for caring professions.

In the home kids see a clear division of labour between their parents. Research has found in every country in the world women still do much more domestic work then men, and that kids that see their mothers doing more household tasks and their fathers doing less take that as the natural way of things and repeat the pattern in their grown-up lives. When a mother is haring about doing mundane jobs like making packed lunches, ensuring there’s enough clean school uniform and hoovering she’s taking on a full time management job as well as any paid employment. It’s called the mental load, this now famous cartoon explains it perfectly. But the broader lesson is that society/men – so often they are the same thing – looks down on these tasks and, vitally, thinks it’s OK for women to do them most of the time but not men.

And a society that does not value women as much as men will always end in mistreatment, abuse, not taking women seriously when they raise issues, basically where we are now.

In the wake of Weinstein and the wandering hands scandals at Westminster women are now being listened to in a way they haven’t before. Which is obviously a good thing.

But to stop such behaviour, to prevent it happening all over again – because it will as long as the sexes remain unequal – we need to look at the very start of kids lives.

Love at first sight can provide a solution, the emotion a parent feels upon seeing their baby for the first time. And the drive to make the best possible future for them.

Treat children fairly and equally rather then shunting them into gender stereotyped silos and the belief, implicit or explicit, that one gender is better than the other and therefore entitled to more.

And adults need to model the alternative, share the domestic work and the mental load, women’s work – a phrase widely used as an insult despite feminist attempts to reclaim it – needs to become everyone’s work.

There’ll still be power imbalances, people will mistreat each other but we can work to prevent it becoming so binary and gendered.

We need new rules.

 

 

How to understand Brexit

I may have mentioned that I’m doing a new podcast series called The Brexit Breakdown. I’m making 26 episodes for The UK in a Changing Europe, a research organisation based out of King’s College London who are expert in all things Brexit.

Each week I’ll have a guest from the world of politics or diplomacy of business on to talk about what Brexit means to them and what ordinary folk need to know about the huge change that’s coming to this country. And we’re joined by a wonk from UK in a Changing Europe as a sort of on-site fact checker and to drill into the issues as required.

One of the features involves asking both the guest and the academic for a recommendation for something that folk can turn to to help understand Brexit.

I’m going to collate the recommendations here and by next summer it’ll be a sort of library of at least 52 different items that’ll explain Brexit. It’ll be more than 52 because for a start I’m going to include a bonus recommendation from a future guest who came up with a good, off beat recommendation in the lift on the way to the studio. But said something else when we got on air! See below

Here’s the list:

Episode 1

Matt Chorley, editor of the Times Red Box: Hillbilly Elegy by J D Vance 

Anand Menon, director UK in a Changing Europe: Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank

Episode 2

Grant Shapps, Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield and former party chairman: watch BBC Parliament

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe: Brexit and British Politics by Geoff Evans and Anand Menon

Episode 3

Jonathan Isaby, editor of Brexit Central: How to Lose a Referendum by Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith

Simon Usherwood, reader in politics at University of Surrey: follow Richard North and Andrew Duff on Twitter and listen to his own podcast A Diet of Brussels

Episode 4

Gisela Stuart, chair of Vote Leave and Change Britain: Create More podcast, episode 21

Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at Cambridge University: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Episode 5

John Mills, chairman of Labour Leave and chair of JML: Brexit Economics and other pamphlets by John Mills

Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at Rutherford College, University of Kent, and Senior Visiting Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House : Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union by Harold D Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley

Episode 6

Steve Bullock, former UK negotiator to the EU: follow David Allen Green, Steve Analyst Ian Dunt, Jo Maugham, Steve Peers, Kenneth Armstrong on Twitter

Helen Drake, Director, Academy of Diplomacy and International Governance, Loughborough London: educate yourself

Episode 7

Chris Wright, founder of Chrysalis records: the work of Peter Brookes, political cartoonist for The Times

Simon Usherwood, Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: follow Brussels correspondents Nick Gutteridge,  Jennifer Rankin and Matt Holehouse

Episode 8

Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham and chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations: BBC Reality Check

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: the work of Katy Hayward

Episode 9

Alison McGovern, Labour Campaign for the Single Market and MP for Wirral South: the work of Professor Philip McCann

Simon Usherwood, Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: follow spoof Twitter accounts Berlaymonster and Martini Seltzermayr

Episode 10

Nicole Sykes, Head of EU Negotiations at the Confederation of British Industry: Tony Connelly, RTE Europe editor

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech

Episode 11

Baroness Angela Smith, shadow leader of the House of Lords: Don’t Leave me This Way by The Communards

Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at Cambridge University: Brexit and Ireland by Tony Connelly

Episode 12

Eloise Todd, CEO of Best for Britain: Monty Python’s black knight sketch

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: the work of Raquel Ortega and Philip McCann

Episode 13

Bernard Jenkin, MP and chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs select committe: study European history

Dr Alan Wager, Researcher at UK in a Changing Europe: ‘Brussels should start listening to voters’ by Danny Finkelstein

Episode 14

Gráinne Maguire, comedian: The Irish Passport podcast

Sir John Curtice, superwonk and election exit poll overlord: read UK in a Changing Europe output and follow the links

Episode 15

Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service: All Out War and Fall Out by Tim Shipman

Simon Usherwood, deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: We Can Work It Out by The Beatles

Episode 16

Tony Connelly, Europe editor, RTE: BBC Brexitcast podcast

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: follow Peter Foster, Europe editor at The Daily Telegraph

Episode 17

Madeleina Kay, Young European of the Year: follow Mike Galsworthy of Scientists for EU

Dr Alan Wager, Research Associate at UK in a Changing Europe: Question Time by Dave

Episode 18

Arup Banerji, Regional director for the EU at the World Bank: Who Can You Trust? by Rachel Botsman

Simon Usherwood, Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Episode 19

Sonia Delesalle-Stolper, UK correspondent for Liberation: the play Ubu the King by Alfred Jarry and The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch by Monty Python

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: read the foreign press particularly El Pais, Liberation and Der Spiegel

Episode 20

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick: No, directed by Pablo Larrain and starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Dr Alan Wager, Research Associate at UK in a Changing Europe: Yes to Europe by Robert Saunders

Episode 21

Henriette Engbersen, UK correspondent for SRF: take a cab tour in Northern Ireland

Catherine Barnard, Professor of European law at Cambridge University: Ivan Rogers’ Glasgow speech

Episode 22

Margot Parker, deputy chairwoman of Ukip: Brexit: The Movie

Simon Usherwood, Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: Twilight Arch by James Turrell

Episode 23

Simon Evans, comedian: talk to his dad/your parents/an expert in a particular field

Dr Alan Wager, research associate at UK in a Changing Europe: The Museum of Brexit

Episode 24

Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee: You Can’t Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe: work of The Hansard Society

Episode 25

Victoria Hewson, counsel to the international trade and compliance unit at the Institute for Economic Affairs: watch the 1975 Oxford Union speeches by Peter Shore and Barbara Castle

Sir John Curtice, superwonk and election exit poll overlord: Brexit: Why Britain voted to leave the European Union by Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley

Episode 26

Matthew Elliott, former chief executive of Vote Leave: Change or Go from Business for Britain

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe: Munich by Robert Harris

Bonus recommendation

Steve Bullock, former UK negotiator at the EU: Just by Radiohead

Brexit Breakdown

Here, at last, is the first episode of my new podcast project. It’s called The Brexit Breakdown.

The UK in a Changing Europe, they don’t like being called a think tank (but they are a think tank), have taken me on to produce these hopefully for the next year. The idea is that they are a longer listen with guests from across the Brexit and political divides and from all sorts of other areas too – we’ve a playwright, a scientist and hopefully a comedian lined up. Episode one’s guest, for reasons, was journalist Matt Chorley from The Times.

Please listen and like, share, comment, review etc. I don’t think it’s on iTunes just yet but when it is, and it’ll be on Acast, Stitcher etc too, then, again, please review and share and all that.

It’s me on the telly again

Here I am doing a Sunday morning newspaper review with the man from the Sun on Sunday, David Wooding.

He said that 70-80% of our laws come from Brussels. I suggested that was nonsense. There was lots of Brexit talk.

And I called out the patriarchy for terrifying women about childbirth.

I was wearing the new suit my mum bought me for my birthday. Do share your thoughts on it in the comments.

Watch here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b094k467/the-papers-03092017

I’ve been on Woman’s Hour!

Jane Garvey, presenter of Woman’s Hour, joins the list of heroes I have met who turned out to be just as great in real life as you’d hope – along with the likes of Glen Campbell and Graeme Garden.

When Woman’s Hour called up a few weeks ago to say they were keen to feature me and partner Ros on the programme talking about our book The Gender Agenda I was delighted. I’ve been a fan of Woman’s Hour for years, it’s an amazing example of brilliant radio – that’s why it’s run for so long. And when the producer added that they’d like to dedicate the entire episode of the programme, with it’s listenership knocking five million people, to us and our book I was astounded.

Today was the day. Ros and I headed for Broadcasting House, had our picture taken in front of a yellow screen for some reason (see above), met Jane Garvey and went on air. We gave it a bit of chit chat about the book. Then the great British public phoned in. We’d done our homework the night before, prepared for all sorts of difficult questions and issues that might come our way. We shouldn’t have worried. The Woman’s Hour audience were broadly onside with our agenda (apart from Steven, and Ros gave him what for) and told us about all sorts of examples of the ways children are treated differently according to their gender from a very young age (as if there weren’t already enough examples in the book!) It was inspiring and empowering to hear so many people who are aware of the issues and keen to do something about it.

Listen in here or download the episode – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b091s7t3