Tag Archives: Fathers

One of the things Thatcher’s death made me think about

15 Apr

A comment made by Russell Brand in his article in The Guardian on the death of Margaret Thatcher provoked feminist outrage, and cries of “nobody ever says that about male politicians.” Or male anythings, really.

You could never call Margaret Mother by mistake, Brand writes. For a national matriarch she is oddly unmaternal. I always felt a bit sorry for her biological children Mark and Carol, wondering from whom they would get their cuddles. “Thatcher as mother” seemed, to my tiddly mind, anathema.

Of course it’s rare for male achievers to be considered from this perspective, and of course that can be a source of outrage to us women, seeming, as it does, to privilege our mothering abilities above and beyond anything else we can do, and do well. So we read obituaries of female scientists, for example, that begin with a tribute to their role as mothers, implying that no matter what else they might have done, their finest accomplishment was, well, mothering.

This feminist refrain has become so familiar to me over the years it’s become reified. I hear it and think, oh yes, that’s right isn’t it, and move on.

This morning I found myself thinking about my sons. They have done well in their chosen fields. I’m enormously proud of them. I’m delighted when they achieve another goal. I’m proud of how they love their female partners, and I don’t hesitate to tell them if they aren’t being fair. They may not listen, but I tell them anyway.

One son  seems quite proud of having been brought up by a feminist. Another claims it probably trashed him. This one bore the brunt, as an adolescent, of me going back to university, and then me and his Dad parting company. I will never forget one screaming, tearful encounter between us when he was having difficulties with his stepmother that were, of course, all my fault. “If you hadn’t gone back to university and got political,” he yelled at me, “none of this would ever have happened and we’d still all be living in the same house!”

In a way, he was quite right.

But what I realised this morning is that while I’m proud of them for just about everything, the thing that really makes me go weak at the knees is watching my sons with their children. As dads, they are, to my mind, amazing. I know they learned a lot from their own Dad, who was an excellent and very loving Dad. But they surpass him, and I’m sure, me.

For example, when the newest baby arrived last week, his dad stripped off his shirt in the delivery room, said he didn’t need them to clean the infant up, and took him in his arms for skin to skin contact while the baby’s mother was temporarily unavailable.

I would make this the first line in anyone’s obit.

Is it demeaning them, for me to think of and treasure these young men first as brilliant, loving Dads, and second as successful young men in all their other roles? If it’s offensive to think of women in that way, surely it must be equally offensive to transfer that thinking to men?

No, I don’t think it is demeaning to honour a man’s dadness. What’s wrong is that we hardly ever do it.

We should acknowledge a man’s role in his family life, just as we do a woman’s. I don’t think it’s sexist and demeaning to honour a woman’s role as mother.  We are throwing the baby out with the bath water in demanding that women are not first spoken of in terms of our love for our children and our role as mothers. We need to keep doing that and we need to start speaking in these same terms about men a whole lot more than we do.


New born babies, and gender: what is it good for?

4 Oct

As I welcomed a baby boy into the world last Wednesday,  I wondered just what kind of a planet he’ll be inheriting from his elders.

For a start I’d been unable to buy any decent clothes prior to his birth in either the US or here, because the parents decided they didn’t want to know their baby’s sex. Access to prior knowledge has come to mean insanely stupid gender divisions in the infant clothing market, and if you say you don’t know shop people look at you as if you’ve come out of a cave. So the infant had nothing much other than hospital garments to wear for his first couple of days on Earth, as everyone waited to hear about the newborn genitals before they went on a spend.

If I was still bringing children into the world I’d dress them in primary colours from birth, stuff the pinks and the blues, and anybody who said girls always or boys always would be banned from the infant’s presence.

Which reminds me that I am seriously pissed off with the likes of Clive Hamilton telling me all about women and men, as if the possession of a vagina or penis is the only determining factor in the life span of one’s entire being. Women, according to Clive, are supposed to provide an ameliorating presence that soothes the warring and destructive instincts of men. The very idea it’s the role of women to soothe the violence of men is so ludicrous that you wonder what Hamilton’s on that he’d even suggest it, let alone seriously argue for it.

Well, Clive, I could tell you some stories about a few warring and destructive women that would make your hair curl. Sorry, I forgot you haven’t got any, but you know what I mean.

I could tell you some stories about tender, pacifying, nurturing men that would turn all those essentialisms of yours right on their heads (is that another new word I made up? Essentialisms?) because the argument you’re running flat-out denies the possibility of such men, and shame on you for that.

I just watched a young man with his first baby and I’m telling you Clive, he’d match any woman any day in the nurturing stakes. Talk about feeling the love.

It seems to me that the gender card is usually brought into play when somebody wants to use it as a blaming weapon. Like, men never do the dishes properly, women never read maps right. Men abuse women, women are the victims of men. Women are compassionate, men would rather fight. Men are from Mars Bars, Women are from Venus fly traps. Gender, like race, is a construct and it pays to have a long hard look at who is currently constructing it and why.

I’m all for acknowledgment and appreciation of difference, but not for using difference as a reason for discrimination, accusation, blame,and lower pay scales.

OMG! I just got up to close the door and shut my finger in it. There’s a gender devil in the room, and it’s looking to hurt me!

I told our baby boy, whispering it into his tiny (pink) ear, that he can be as tender, nurturing and ameliorating as he wants, and he’ll probably feel violent and aggressive now and again as well, but somebody, likely his dad and mum, will show him how to handle that without acting it out on somebody. I told him he could grow up to love men or women or both and none of us will think twice about it because he’s ours and we love him, and love is love whether there’s a penis or a vagina involved. By the time he gets round to thinking about it, I told him, gay marriage will be legal and that’s one less battle he might have to fight on his own behalf or that of others.

I hope, I told him, that the climate change deniers will have gone to their god, and somebody in charge will have attended to the situation before it gets so bad his life will be spent in a hostile environment. I am so very sorry, my darling, I whispered, that we have let it come to this, and that we’ll die off and leave you with the wreckage.

The world is an amazing place, I told him (I watch a lot of SBS) in spite of all its problems, enmities and murderous ways. There’s still wondrous people in it, and thrilling things to see and do.  I’ll shout you a trip around the globe when you finish school, if they still do gap years then, so you can see its marvels for yourself.

I’ll mind you as often as your parents will let me, I promised him. It’s a family tradition that at some point in adolescence, everyone goes to live with a grandmother when their parents get naff. I did it, your dad did it, your uncle did it, your aunties did it, and I’m pretty damn sure a few of your cousins will do it as well. I’m here for you, then and always, I told him, if I’m the granny you choose.

And here the infant opened his eyes and looked at me for the very first time. How, I wondered, as I fell immediately and irrevocably into love, can we live with such disregard for the futures of those who’ll succeed us? They are newly formed human beings. They come in utter helplessness and trust. They come with a vulnerability that makes the heart ache.  Don’t we owe them everything?


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