Liberating Dads Means Liberating Mums Too!

This is a blog post I was delighted to write for Fathers Network Scotland. As an early partner in the evolution of the Gender Friendly Nursery project in Glasgow, which I developed on behalf of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, I have maintained our links with this great organisation who continue to advocate for the needs of dads and male carers.

“If we are talking gender stereotypes, in childhood I would have been called a “bit of a Tomboy”.  As a teenager I had mainly male friends, and even now if I’m being honest, I find the company of men much more straightforward than navigating the sometimes tricky world of female friendships.  As an undergraduate student I wrote a dissertation on biblical masculinity and muscular Christianity, and as a masters student I chose to research the support needs of men as they become fathers.  

Susie and her Dad

When Barbara and I developed the Gender Friendly Nursery approach I felt that I could bring this lens to the project and advocate for the “men and the boys”.   For those who aren’t familiar The Gender Friendly Nursery is a Glasgow based programme which promotes and celebrates good practice around gender equity and the minimising of gender stereotypes in order to create nursery spaces where children are not in any way limited because of their gender.

In the early days of the project there was much discussion about the impact of gender stereotyping on women and the LGBT community, through the role that they play in issues such as gender based violence, homophobia and transphobia, idealised body images and workplace gender inequality (there are many more).   My role at the time was around suicide prevention, and given that three times as many men than women die by suicide in Scotland, I could see devastating impacts on men also.  We were keen that the programme recognised this.  We felt it was important to pull together a project steering group which represented a range of perspectives and so I was delighted that Fathers Network Scotland was one of the organisations who agreed to join us.   Through the lively and often challenging discussions of that diverse group of partners it became clear that gender stereotyping impacts upon us all in some way, and that work to eliminate gender stereotyping is essentially work around human rights.  We are all part of the problem, we all live with the impacts and therefore we are all part of the solution.

During our training we show participants Tony Porter’s “A Call To Men” TED talk.  If you haven’t watched this I would highly recommend – it’s always one of the most powerful parts of the day, and really pulls it all together.  Tony talks about what he calls “the man box” – the set of rules and rigid expectations which society has traditionally placed on men – and the impact this man box has had on him, his father, and his children. 

The #BeThereBeYourself campaign from Fathers Network Scotland is a direct attempt to tackle the effects of this “man box” on how men in Scotland are perceived when they become fathers.  Several years ago I conducted some research with dads in Glasgow.  What was clear from speaking to these men (who ranged in age and socio-economic backgrounds) was that despite an acknowledgement of the changing nature of fatherhood, many continued to feel constrained in some way by traditional gender roles.  This had an impact on their ability to seek help or support during the transition to fatherhood, particularly in relation to their own mental and emotional wellbeing.   (It’s probably right to acknowledge here the equally damaging effects of gendered role expectations on mums – there is no them and us here.)

To me there was a sense that the dads that I spoke to were part of a sandwich generation, struggling to straddle the lingering traditional father figure role which they associated with their own dads, with the dads they actually want to be and that society increasingly expects them to be. The Fathers Network Scotland campaign aims to free dads from these stereotypes and limitations in order to just be the best dad they can be, whatever form, shape or size this takes.  It’s a brilliant campaign which comes at a time when the conversation about gender roles and gender stereotypes is growing in momentum.    If successful it stands to benefit us all.  If men can comfortably take on an equal share of domestic and caring responsibilities, women may find it easier to achieve full equality in the workplace and other spheres of life.  If children see caring, nurturing, involved men and dads (and empowered and achieving women and mothers) they will grow up knowing that anything is possible for them.

Tony Porter ends his talk with a really powerful quote:  “My liberation as a man, is tied with your liberation as a woman”.    He’s talking here about freedom from those gender boxes, those harmful assumptions and expectations which are limiting us all.   I guess then the #BeThereBeYourself campaign could also quite confidently say  “Our liberation as fathers, is tied with your liberation as mothers”.  This campaign is for all of us, and I for one am fully behind it.”


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