Are we facing fathers’ discrimination in modern society?
Why? Changes in the family model
In the 20th century, many changes in family structures and dynamics in Western Europe and North America appeared. From patriarchal model and industrial model, we came to the phase where the processes of authonomization and individualization are clearly visible. Members of the family are not so strongly dependent on each other, especially when we analyze relation between wife and husband; also division of housework became more symmetric (although we still haven’t reached full equality of rights in this case). Also the process of secularization has important role in increasing independence of modern wives, as the divorce became something quite normal nowadays. Relations between spouses are more intimate but also less stable. Relationship will last as long as it will give satisfaction - it is not sacred and unbreakable any more.
So where are the men here?
During the last decades and still today, a lot of laws have been settled in order to achieve this equality and to ensure women’s rights. Modern father is encouraged to participate in raising children and fulfilling domestic duties equally to his wife. He is no longer the only breadwinner in the family – his wife usually works as well. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes are still alive and strongly embedded in our culture.
What I want to show in this article is that we should try to see those stereotypes not only in as a discriminative towards women, but also consider them as serious limitations that men have to fight with. Still the ‘real man’ should earn more than woman and be successful in his work. Though in theory we can enjoy our unlimited freedom and make whichever choices we want to, in reality it is very hard for man to break the stereotype and become ‘househusband’. We consider it as even more hard than making spectacular professional career for woman nowadays! In our society it is the woman who is caring, patient and family-oriented. Men are socialized to be competitive, assertive and ambitious, and those are the characteristics we would describe typical man with. That is why is seems at least strange if man decides to sacrifice his professional career and dedicate himself to raising children, even if his wife earns more, is very job-oriented and the decision appears to be as logical as possible. Surprisingly, women themselves are also an important subject in this discrimination process – they don’t want their husbands to go into women’s role. Even with simple domestic duties, frequently woman prefers to do something by herself, because she considers her husband as less qualified in home-connected tasks. Also majority of women would prefer their husband to be rich and successful than financially depending on them.
Fathers at work
It is even more difficult for men to obtain the same advantages than women when they want to care for they child child : the boss presume it is the role of the mother. If someone is to get some additional hours in the office, for example because of some important project, it would hardly ever be a woman with children. Also taking paternity leave could be a problem – in young women’s case managers can anticipate that one day she will probably like to use her rights and go for her leave. No one presume such a thing in young man’s case! Probably no boss would anticipate that man would like to go out of work earlier to pick up his child from kindergarten or to take his ill daughter to the doctor. Then fathers pay an emotional cost of not being present for the child, and vice versa. They will probably miss some important events in their children’s life and maybe they will not even be able to form really close and intimate relations with them. Again, man has to make a difficult choice.
Another field where fathers are usually emphasizing in the discrimination discussion in the problem of divorces and custody. In Poland, where I come from, in 2010 in 57.2% of cases custody was given only to the mother, and only in 4.2% to the father. In 36,5% both of parents got the rights. In reality father can be quite sure he will get the full custody only in his wife left him, is addicted to drugs or alcohol (although there were some cases in which court still judged that staying with addicted mother would be better for children than living with their father) or is not interested in fighting for her rights.
Why does it happen? Nowadays, though things are slowly changing, as I already mentioned, women are still considered to be better endowed with skills that one need to take care of a child. That is why, basing on this assumption, we believe that it would be just natural if both mother and father will continue fulfilling their gender roles – mother will stay with the child and father will provide the means of subsistence.
Though it is not frequently discussed, I believe we should take this problem into consideration and I would like to draw your attention on it. Discrimination against fathers can only be understood in relation to discrimination against women because the first one is the result of the second one. That’s why, standing on the threshold of adulthood and setting our own family, we should ask ourselves – what actually is the place of the father in a society that reject patriarchy and ask him to invest himself at home but still consider the mother as the only care-taker for children? Shouldn’t we rather let all the people be what they want to be, never mind if it means businesswoman without children or a man staying for 5 years at home, taking care of his children, while his wife keeps being on her executive position?
Author: Milena Blahuta, YPGD