Mea Culpa. It Was the Mothers

Mea culpa. We did it! It was us, the mothers of the 60s and 70s, that may be responsible for the current misogyny epidemic. We were so busy concentrating on turning our daughters into confident, hard working women who believed they could make any choices in life they wanted that some of us obviously forgot our sons.

And now look what is happening.

This current spate of outspoken misogyny, fortunately, is just from a minority of men. There are some wonderful men around, very supportive of the progress of others including women and very involved with their own families. My sons, who have working wives and who can turn their hand to a nappy and homework, sometimes simultaneously, are among this group. They are deeply disappointed with those of their own gender who are spouting  misogynist ideology. (But they are also disappointed in some of the attitudes of a few women who think they are free to “do anything” and  include in that “anything”, to put down men, especially on sexual or domestic issues.)

We still have not reached equality. One of my daughters, working in the field of industrial relations, thinks the employment problem around gender is more complex than the way we view it. Her experience is that men will be given jobs, even when they are primary carers of children. Of course it is then made more difficult for these men to leave early in emergencies than it is for women with the same emergencies, and they can be the subject of jokes in the workforce. However, the corollary is that the women who do make other arrangements for children so they do not leave early for domestic reasons and who do not demand a right to first consideration for school holidays etc. often do not get as many promotions as the men or better opportunities. In other words often people are treated according to expectations and not necessarily by the realities of each individual situation. 

And men taking on the care of their children often find equal disadvantages, for example negative reactions from mothers when they offer to help with children, such as groups for pre-school excursions.

But we have moved a long way in the direction of gender equality. Our middle aged children are much less restricted to gender stereotypes than was the situation when I was their age.

Talking to my old female friends can be interesting. Most are retirees now and many were University educated career women, but only to the extent that our working lives still played second fiddle to our husbands’ careers.  We spruik feminism and want advantages and an interesting career for our daughters, but, when challenged, many cannot conceive of their sons being primary carers or equal carers of their grandchildren to allow their daughters in law to pursue their careers. 

Some of these friends ask questions about my wonderful son in law, spectacularly well educated, who does an excellent job looking after their pre-schooler children and working part time while my daughter follows her career as a school principal. I particularly do not like it when those of my age group ask after his “real job.” 

One of these women, who did not work after marriage, describes herself as “CEO of the home” and gets very annoyed if any one of her sons, all with working wives, feels he has to take time off work to help with a family problem. It is very clear her opinion makes them feel quite guilty.

Another talked of her son’s desire to have children. She thought it was unfair to him for her daughter in law not to particularly want children because she wanted to continue her career. When I made the suggestion that he should offer to stay home with this proposed child, she was appalled.

How many men are there out in the workplace thinking their “feminist” mothers will be desperately disappointed if they do not do their manly duty and have careers? Yet their own sisters are being encouraged to have careers but still be asking for special concessions as a parent.

The admiration that has been there for centuries for those men who just “put their nose to the grind stone and brought home the bacon” has gone. Many women can do it now and there are no more mysteries and no magic about it. 

But some of the men who solo or jointly look after their own children are regarded as lesser by, not only their companions, but by their own mothers. 

Meanwhile women who “do it all” get much admiration.

It is not any excuse for the blatant and appalling misogyny we are seeing now, to say that these men are floundering and dismayed at the realization that their world is actually shifting under their feet.  They are grown up people who have been taught to act with decency. They should. 

But we mothers must bear some blame for not making it clear that when the world changes for women it also changes for men. Our boys should have been prepared. Instead some of them obviously assumed that the types of roles that we played as wives and mothers would be replicated in their wives. Of course this would never be the case for the woman who was truly liberated (except by mutual negotiation). That a lot of important roles would be played by women inevitably means these roles will not be played by men. That we did not make this more overtly clear was our mistake but it seemed pretty obvious to me. 

But a small band of men, the misogynists, are reacting badly to the fact that they have only just noticed. (And even some elderly mothers still haven’t.)

Mea culpa, as an old feminist, that we took this understanding for granted.

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About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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