Down among the women

22 Mar

Raising sons like daughters


Our family’s four-year-old had his tonsils removed last week. We didn’t have much notice, there was an opening in the operating schedule and by Friday the wretched body parts that have plagued him for most of his short life were gone.

His dad had a long-standing arrangement to be away for the weekend. There’s a three-year-old, and six month-old Mabel Jane. So Mrs Chook and I went to the mountain to help out.

It’s quite some years since I’ve been in a women and young children only situation such as that one. I don’t want to start a gender war but the reality is, there’s a different vibe. For a start, everybody knew what to do without being asked. If there was washing, it got folded. If there was shopping someone went to the supermarket when a child was sleeping. When food was needed, somebody got it together. There was one woman for each child, a perfect ratio especially when a child is as sore and sorrowful as Archie.  I don’t know where I am, Giddy, he wept, as I lifted him out of the car when he came home.

There was always a hip available for Mabel Jane if she got fractious. There was someone to distract Ted when he claimed to be poorly and needing the doctor like his brother. The sick child spent the nights in his mother’s bed, while I slept in Ted’s room with the baby and Mrs Chook next door, and the broken sleep was shared around.

I don’t want to claim that only women can manage these things, or that all women can or want to manage these things. Neither am I claiming that men can’t do this kind of caring. What I am saying is that there was a particular connection between us that I’ve never experienced between women when a man is present. What I’m also saying is that this is a powerful and significant connection, and I don’t want us to ever lose our capacity for making it with each other.

I remember this connection from the time when my children were little. Hardly anyone in my female peer group had family available to help, so we assisted each other with reciprocal child care, and time out just to be alone. We got through long days with babies and toddlers by spending them together, women and children, at somebody’s home, in a park, at the local swimming pool. This is where I first learned to bond with women, and at the heart of our bonding was our love for our infants and our shared anxieties about being good mothers.

For me, these times down among the women were and are profoundly feminist experiences. I remain appalled at any feminism that denigrates or dismisses these experiences.

The problem is not the experience itself, but that society demands women carry most of the responsibility for childcare and domestic affairs, without remuneration, without relief and at unacceptable cost to the rest of our lives.  The burden these demands impose on us erodes our capacity for pleasurable connectivity, while denying men the opportunity to enjoy similar experiences.

For mine, sharing the care is fundamental to our species survival. Being down among the women is an experience that teaches almost everything humans need to know. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.

You don’t have to be a biological parent. You do have to care. And of course you do have to imagine how things might be if sons were raised more like daughters.







52 Responses to “Down among the women”

  1. Suziekue March 22, 2016 at 10:41 am #

    Oh I know this feeling ‘down among the women’ so well. I’ve experienced it within my extended family and friends and it is a wondrous, connected and unspoken thing.

    I have also experienced it working on all-women committees in government as well. I moved from a male-dominated government department to a female dominated department and the difference was remarkable. In the latter meetings, women tended to just get straight down to the business at hand (disability policy arena) without all the ego faffing around first about deciding who was top dog, points scoring etc. Everyone got their fair share of air time, not just the loudest voices, and all opinions valued. Our decisions mattered to vulnerable people, and that’s who came first. We got on with the job.

    I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions to this, but in general, this was my experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter March 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

      Perhaps the reason women are more involved in child rearing and cooperative behaviours involving other women is adaptive biological.

      I’ve read women’s hormone flows make them more amenable to babies bawling and the like, if so, why criticise men when their response is limited by biology?

      Besides, we blokes don’t have the mobile instant feed packs on our chests.

      I expect a torrent of abuse for above but wont bother ‘responding unless someone contradicts the notion that child care is hormone-driven.

      Liked by 1 person

      • townsvilleblog March 22, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

        I’m not at all sure that modern parenting is going in the right direction, We have a daughter who was raised by my wife and my wife’s mother for the first four years, the damage was done by then spoiling and such, now I’m asked to be the disciplinarian now that she is 17. I was shunned from having any authority all through her life and now they (wife & MOTHER) wonder why she won’t do this or that, it’s far too late now, discipline should have begun at dat one, not at 17 years in my humble opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson March 22, 2016 at 1:01 pm #

        Nobody has to contradict a thesis for which you offer no proof, PW…
        And we aren’t talking simply about babies bawling, either.


        • paul walter March 22, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

          I didn’t offer evidence, despite reading and hearing about the claim often enough, as general knowledge.

          I did say I would consider refutation if offered with evidence. I certainly only flew the kite to find out what the response would be to the claim itself (if true).

          So far, everything proceeding as expected..


      • davechaffeyhippie March 22, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

        Here’s my 2 cents worth of ‘abuse’. (Not really)

        There are biological differences. We are hairless apes. But we have quite impressive brains. And it’s my understanding that no one can find significant differences between the male and female brains. We’re not just driven by base instincts and hormones. We can innovate with breast pumps and refrigeration to help liberate mothers from their evolution-driven biological roles. If we could isolate all the variables and do the science, it may be that mothers on average are better at raising children, but let’s not deny opportunities for women who are better suited in other roles and the men who could be fantastic child raisers. Think of the women who can’t or don’t want to have children and the men who are single fathers. Let’s help them be the best they can be! Please provide references if you know about any science that refutes my claims. I love being wrong and modifying my opinions based on evidence.

        Liked by 2 people

        • townsvilleblog March 22, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

          Dave, I don’t think that you are wrong mate, but in practice the father being constantly ‘overruled’ by the mother and her mother robs the father of any worthiness in the eyes of the child. When the Mum wants to raise the child to have ‘everything’ that she didn’t have and the father is either ignored or ‘hushed’ the child will grow up assuming that Mum is the boss, which isn’t necessarily so.


        • paul walter March 22, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

          Of course. I don’t disagree with most of what you have written and agree with a fair bit of it,which is to say DrWilson also.

          it is a fair response for the early twenty first century with a greivously incomplete system.

          I suppose I should go off and rummage up some stuff on hormones, but Ive read enough stuff in the past to consider it reliable and further await contradiction as to hormones and women and babies.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jennifer Wilson March 22, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

            Christ, it doesn’t require special hormones to takes care of a helpless human does it?

            Liked by 1 person

            • paul walter March 23, 2016 at 1:28 am #

              Prosperity came gradually after two world wars and two major depressions also post tww2 austerity. With prosperity came radios, then tv’s and computers and the dynamics of Settlement nuclear and extended family and town life were changed forever. People chat on blogsites like they were together in a decent bar or coffee lounge.

              Contraception killed the radio star.


            • paul walter March 23, 2016 at 1:29 am #

              Yes, but doesn’t a kid deserve better than second best, at least during its early months?

              Liked by 1 person

              • Jennifer Wilson March 23, 2016 at 7:50 am #

                Why is a man’s loving care second best to a woman’s?

                Liked by 2 people

                • townsvilleblog March 23, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

                  Jennifer a fathers loving care should be seen as equal to a woman’s not better, I’m not espousing a battle of the sexes only that when a father wants to partner his wife in the raising of ‘their’ baby there should be negotiation between both the parents as to how ‘their’ child should be raised, without interference from any third party.

                  Liked by 1 person

              • townsvilleblog March 23, 2016 at 9:39 am #


                Liked by 1 person

                • townsvilleblog March 23, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

                  It is equal to the mothers no greater or weaker.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • paul walter March 23, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

                    Look, it’s not the point I am making.

                    I am merely exploring the possibility that women are more more biological attuned to early child rearing. We do indeed love, but because of our inadequacies as to actual baby tending, we some times ought to demonstrate our love in other ways (and sadly, in most cases, not adequately enough).

                    Ok, the most conservative of my traits is a certain response on these things coming from a background as a infant coming into being in the nineteen fifties and sixtes, when stay at home mums were the norm. Mum and dad brought me into the world, dad wasn’t up to doing parenting, mum was and did it as a matter of self respect. She was never rich, but she had self respect, something not easily bought.

                    My dad was a bloke who should never had married, at least not someone like mum. But mum and I were so close and if bringing joy to another human counts, mum will be in heaven.

                    And no, I understand why mum eventually crawled out from under the rock and got shot of dad and I deeply respected her courage.

                    Therefore, why women are angry at being taken for granted.


                    • townsvilleblog March 24, 2016 at 9:42 am #

                      And Paul I agree that women are probably more attuned to child raising in most cases all I am saying is that the fathers opinions are equally important and should be debated along with the mother’s ideas especially when it comes to discipline, I am not disagreeing with you mate.

                      Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter March 24, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

          Impressive brains? You haven’t met some of my mates.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 22, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

      I’ve had some pretty awful experiences with women, not trying to whitewash us, but those good ones are damn good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paul walter March 22, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

        The best ones are the best of all.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. davechaffeyhippie March 22, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    Great point that both women and men are denied the full range of human experience by our traditional gender stereotypes. When growing up, girls can usually be tomboys or girly girls or anything in between. But boys are discouraged from being girly boys. If we’re all on a gender spectrum, then some boys will want to wear dresses and play with dolls, but this is still very much frowned upon. I’ve seen this in my extended family and am always bemused. Girls slightly out-perform boys at school.

    Yet when kids grow up and become parents, both mothers and fathers are encouraged to fall back into the standard gender roles. Women do most of the domestic work and are also usually expected to work outside the home too. They are still expected to sacrifice more of their non-family hopes and dreams than the men are. It’s partly a practical decision with men still out-earning, even for the same positions. As long as it stays this way, women will do more work in total, and men can focus on their non-home work and get promoted faster. Then men can come home and hide in their man-sheds and work on their hobbies and pretend that they work harder and their jobs are much more taxing. I can see why many men don’t want to give this up!

    But as you say, this isn’t the best deal for the continuation of our species. It wastes the potential of women who could have been great CEOs, world leaders, genius scientists, etc. And it wastes the potential of men who could be great at raising children and doing unpaid work for the local community.

    Everyone should be able to reach their full potential of making the world a better and more sustainable place and that requires ditching a lot of our old ideas that just don’t work well anymore. We’re all human first and other labels a distant second in my opinion anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson March 22, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

      I wonder if you watched a Louis Theroux program on transgender kids on ABC 2 last night, Dave? It was excellent, I thought, and left me with many questions

      Liked by 1 person

      • davechaffeyhippie March 22, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

        Cool. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll see if it’s on iview. My wife watches the Caitlyn Jenner reality show. All the Kardashians & Jenners annoy me but she now has a group of friends who identify as transgender and show the range of opinions and experiences and struggles that people who don’t fit in with our arbitrary cultural norms go through. The gender spectrum seems to be the next frontier now that many have come to terms with the sexuality spectrum. One of the people on the show pushes for gender-neutral public bathrooms and is making some progress. I got a bit emotional when she got permission to change signs on one bathroom. Many people watch these reality shows who don’t watch documentaries so it should help to slowly shift public attitudes. Could that actually mean that something good has come from the Kardashian cult of celebrity that started with Kim and Ray J’s sex tape?


    • paul walter March 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

      This is where I’d go along with you. I leave biological determinism as a reduction of something very complex in this case and it is not quite the same thing as the rest of you are talking about, except ns part of an explanation for why men are often loath to join in the sort of activities Jennifer Wilson was describing.

      I’d suggest a Dawkinsite amendment that men participating with and sharing in the toils of others in their community actually fulfills a bonding imperative that can rewarding for all concerned. If I can love my cat, from that point a baby or a woman should not be too hard an accomodation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. flrpwll March 22, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

    Aaah sheesh. I always want to tread carefully when I say something like this (even when I think it!), because I hate the idea that I’m buying into gender norms and such:

    The men in my house are like preteens, compared to my daughter and myself.

    They are 21, 18, and 14. My daughter is 16.

    I swear I bought them up the same way! Everyone had (and has) an even distribution of jobs inside and outside the house … and as a single parent of 13 years, they’ve seem me to both “male” and “female” things.

    Still. I need to make lists, I need to keep on top of them, I need to double check, I need to remind them. If I don’t, it doesn’t get done.

    My daughter just walks into a room, and if something needs doing she does it.

    So now our house is a bit of a wreck, because I will NOT have her shoulder half of the house, while I do the other half. No matter how much I enjoy working with her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 22, 2016 at 7:54 pm #

      Gawd, the frustration…

      Liked by 1 person

    • townsvilleblog March 23, 2016 at 9:38 am #

      In contrast my 17 y.o. has no jobs around the house and I have to ask her to do something on every occasion a job needs to be done that I cannot do due to fibromyalgia.


    • doug quixote March 23, 2016 at 10:24 am #

      “if something needs doing”

      There’s the rub: their definition of when something needs doing may differ from yours (and your daughter’s). The males probably think that you are obsessed with tidiness and neatness.

      (eyes roll)


    • paul walter March 23, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

      You are one of these unfortunates with a daughter, and menfolk, and clearly a woman’s work is never done when there are children or the equivalent in the house.

      It appears that they have not been house trained.

      Do they understand how to shop a supermarket?

      Man management?


  4. doug quixote March 23, 2016 at 12:14 am #

    There has been a confluence between the sexes, over the last fifty years. The world is unrecognisable from what were the accepted norms of 1960.

    In our lifetimes safe and reliable birth control has become the norm; homosexual intercourse is no longer criminal, and is widely accepted as legitimate; corporal punishment (the cane, beatings) is no longer acceptable, at school or at home; equal rights and privileges amongst the races and religions are the norm, even equality between the sexes.

    It isn’t grounds for complacency and there is a distance yet to go, but going it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson March 23, 2016 at 7:51 am #

      Yes, DQ, it certainly is however there are dinosaurs who are unaware of the meteorite…


      • paul walter March 24, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

        And wasn’t ignorance bliss?


    • townsvilleblog March 23, 2016 at 9:34 am #

      I have nothing against two animals (that’s what we are) engaging in any form of sexual activity if the cane could be bought back fairly (to give to the guilty party, which sometimes didn’t happen) then I would be favor of it because parental responsibility these days seems to be buying the children the latest iPhone, instead of parental guidance in the way of discipline (NOT BASHING CHILDREN, BUT GIVING THEM A SMACK ON THE BUM WHEN THEY GO DOWN THE WRONG PATHS) parents are supposed to have had greater experience than their children.


    • townsvilleblog March 23, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

      Doug yes, going it is along with discipline, self discipline, personal standards of self esteem, self worth, personal hygiene, and a host of other things because children are spoiled rotten when they are babies and toddlers and never quite adapt to ‘real’ life. It’s tough these days for the everyday Aussie family, trying to protect children from that reality only suspends the shock when the young need to be employed. People do no favors by spoiling their children as I’ve painfully viewed over the past 17 years, I feel very sorry for my daughter that I was not strong enough when she was born to raise her properly, and always allowed myself to be ‘over ruled’ by my wife and mother-in-law.


  5. townsvilleblog March 24, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    Thank you Jennifer it is so easy to be misunderstood with language.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. paul walter March 24, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    Jokes aside, I do get the point of the article: that current behaviours give the impression of a system still imperfect, turning out deliberately half created units to be commodified as determined by others.

    Only by retreiving the notion of “community” and reinstigating it, can we begin again to produce healthy people and communities and this goes against the political agendas of the less well formed emotionally and mentally, eg Murdoch.

    The vision of the women together happy and cooperative; enjoying life, brought back memories of my own childhood, Xmass gatherings and the like.

    The current system has forgotten how fundamental emotional balance is and from whence it is derived. So I actually, at bottom, like the article.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Stephen Brailey April 5, 2016 at 7:37 am #

    I’m sorry but whilst I am happy to acknowledge that a women and child/baby enclave can function smoothly and efficiently in the absence of men. To then extrapolate that experience to call for the feminising of boys is a big stretch! You see I have had similar experiences when it was boys/boy babies and dads…so maybe its just that everybody relaxes when gender roles are moot?! My second issue with your thesis is the fact that boys are generally performing worse and worse scholastically. Those in educational circles who speak of such things point to the ongoing increase of female to male teacher ratios and reduced contact with other male role models due to family breakdown. This would suggest to me that boys are surrounded by femilising influences that they are unable to relate to and so feel like failures or fail to cope in a more feminised environment.

    Liked by 1 person

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