I just saw this Tweet quoting Desmond Tutu: “Boys, it is when you stand up for girls and women that you measure up as a man.” How brilliant. How true. All my life I have been lucky enough to be supported by men who have not been scared, worried or intimidated by the idea that women and girls in their lives might “do better” than them: whether winning at sport, earning more money or holding more senior positions.
The important thing for them was supporting everyone, irrespective of gender, to fulfil their potential and ambitions.
When I was born it was still the age of the “ideal”, gender role based family in which mother was homemaker and child carer and father was breadwinner and head. My Dad made sure that, from a young age, I understood that this was not an inevitable outcome just because I was a girl and that I could be anything I wanted to be; or at least I could try to be anything I wanted to be. Better to try and not quite make it than not to try at all. It may take a bit of a fight, but there were no real reasons why girls couldn’t do what boys did if they wanted too. If I wanted to be an engineer, a pilot, the Lord (or in my case Lady) Chief Justice, a specialist surgeon or the Prime Minister there was no reason why not if I had the ability. There was one exception – the church. As I said in an earlier post, the misogyny of the church was something my Dad really wanted his church going female friends and relatives to fight. They never did.
I have been married twice (widowed once). In the “traditional” sense I supported both my husbands. Even when they were working I earned significantly more than they did. But what did it matter. We were running a household that needed managing, we had children that needed care, love, food and shelter. It was our joint responsibility to provide it as best we could and all the activities, tasks, roles were equally valid and important.
My first husband, a Cambridge graduate, was a good dad and, apart from breast feeding, he was just as able and willing to provide child care as I was. Mothers don’t love their kids more than fathers do. Fathers who understand the value of raising their children don’t feel demeaned by becoming stay at home dads. But even today in the UK, mums and dads who “reverse roles” can still be criticised by the wider society; working mums in particular get a bad press and together with single mums are apparently responsible for nearly all the evils of society. But they aren’t! This portrayal is more a slight to fathers than it is to mothers. Does society really believe that fathers are so insignificant in the lives of their children? Of course not.
My first husband was ill. He suffered from a recurring brain tumour. It slowly changed his personality and eventually I had more in common with a single mum with three kids than a married mum with two kids.
I met my second husband at work just before my first became very ill in late 2000 and he provided the practical and emotional support I needed. Eventually he took redundancy and became a full time housekeeper, childminder and carer supporting me and my family and also relieving the load on my much relied upon parents. He didn’t earn anything; he gave up his home and trusted me to support him. If anyone ever tries to put a price on that or to say it is a lesser job than being the bread winner they have no idea. It is priceless. It saved my mental health, my physical health and gave me time with my children and dying husband I couldn’t have before. It is also possible that by supporting me to continue working he saved our house and prevented us from sliding into debt or welfare dependency. Caring is another of those roles traditionally assigned to women, but men are also excellent carers and, I believe, those who take on family and caring responsibilities are liberated from the constraining mindset of the traditional view of masculinity.
Men aren’t undermined by empowered women. Empowered women mean they have more choice; we all have more choice. It is not, in the current jargon, a zero-sum game. Men who stand up for and support women through equal access to education and opportunity, like my Dad, or through taking on household and caring roles like my husbands or in any other way empower themselves and demonstrate loud and clear that they have enough strength and self confidence to stand tall on their own feet without restricting the roles and opportunities available to women. They say that there is a woman behind every successful man; in my case I’ve had three wonderful men standing up for me.