A famous German saying says “Der Erfolg hat viele Väter” (success has many fathers). The feminists amongst you will now cause an outcry. What about the women? Where is the credit for mothers?
Richard Cobden, the quote’s father, probably did not waste much thought on a woman’s role. In the beginning of the 19th century the role of women and men was set, women stayed at home caring for house and children while men went to work earning money, becoming leaders and guiding the society. While it is about time to amend Cobden’s saying, mothers should not substitute fathers, but instead be on the same level and share the work equally to achieve success.
Back in the 21st century, the MenEngage conference in Vienna tries to do exactly that – involving men and women equally to successfully care! Through more equal caring, more gender equality can be reached, on a micro-level (inside a family unit) and macro-level (in society as a whole). However, men are only slowly getting engaged which has many reasons – from fearing the contempt by peers, struggling to leave behind the traditional gender norms or dreading female activists’ anger for ‘stealing their credit and power’ which they have fought for more than one century. But no matter the reason, gender equality needs the involvement of men. History shows that changing societal norms takes time, effort, sacrifices AND the support of the powerful, which in our current patriarchal society are men. The latest World Economic Forum report states that it will take 202 years until the economic gender gap between men and women is closed. Far too long. So the question is: how can we get men involved in the fight for gender equality (on an equal footing)?
In order to get more men involved in caring, we need to look at the root of the problem. Paul Schreibelhofer, Assistant Professor for Critical Gender Studies at the Department of Educational Science at Innsbruck University, urges to explore what is called toxic masculinity and counter it. There is no single definition for toxic masculinity, but it usually describes
- Traditional notions about “real” masculinity (tough, aggressive, dominant etc.)
- Problematic behaviour against others (violence, sexual abuse, etc.)
- Problematic behaviour against oneself (alcoholism, psychological problems etc.)
We see characteristics of toxic masculinity in many prominent figures, for example when US-president Donald Trump defended his “Grab her by the pussy” as locker-room talk or former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache’s drunken behaviour in Ibiza. The term toxic masculinity highlights problems with male norms, but it does not want to impute men with solely bad attributes. It shows that man characteristics of masculinity are harmful for others and also contains self-harm characteristics, meaning that men also suffer from their own toxic masculinity. Schreibelhofer also states that we need to be careful not to overemphasis men as victims. We see that both genders are suffering from toxic masculinity but there is a big difference between the gender who is more dominant and the one who is subordinate (patriarchal society). At the same time women fall for toxic masculinities all the time, often because they believe they get something out of it, such as protection.
There is no question of eradicating masculinity, but instead modernising it. A modernised masculinity could/should be a caring masculinity. How do we achieve that?
Studies show that men become involved in caring if there are laws and regulations supporting men and if the surroundings (family and work) support the leave taking by men. The latter however is still one of the main struggles, alongside money, which keep men from caring although they would want to. 85% would like to stay home, but can’t because the leave system in their country does not allow it or their employer views it negatively. The latest EIGE Index shows that even if a leave system in the country exists, 34% of women and 23% of men are excluded because they do not meet the conditions for the leave. To tackle this circumstance and support more involved fatherhoods, an EU work-life balance directive has been adopted giving fathers and equivalent second parents 10 days paternity leave and 2 months non-transferable parental leave. Although this European directive finally establishes minimum standards across the EU, there is still a long way to go. MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign, aims to unlock the power of men’s care with its commitment of 50 minutes, 50 percent. Their analysis shows that in order to reach 50 percent of the unpaid care work, men would need to increase their time spent by at least 50 minutes a day.
They also urge for changes in these five keys areas:
- Improve laws and policies
- Transform social and gender norms
- Guarantee economic and physical security for vulnerable families
- Help couples and co-parents thrives
- Put individual father’s care into action
The 50 minutes, 50 percent commitment brought forward further emphasises not to get into binary thought processes. 50 minutes and 50 percent is a statement to achieve gender equality, but there each individual couple has a different approach and need to find their own equal way. It is a call to all fathers and men to make small gestures towards equality. Men are shaped by society and they have an individual responsibility for achieving equality. It takes all together to make the ultimate change so that we achieve full gender equality in all areas of life.
Men, caring is the path to gender equality! Own it and spread it! Just as Ziauddin Yousafzai, father of Malala stated:
“I was a feminist before I even knew the word. (…) I encourage my children to aim high – and every day they make me proud. I learn from them. And now my daughter isn’t just experiencing the world, she’s changing it. In one generation we transformed our family from a patriarchal one to an egalitarian one. My hope is that all fathers (…) will question their privilege, care about equality, and contribute to our shared future.”