Imagine, for a moment, that you are a full-time working mum. Would you feel it acceptable to have your sex life or femininity questioned simply because of your working status?
As a stay at home dad, I occasionally have to tolerate questions or comments that question my masculinity. The other day, however, I read a comment that sent my blood pressure soaring. I felt the need to write something to address the issue.
The comment in question appeared in this article, written by a couple called Sarah and Jaron. The pair of them have decided to make the most of the UK's shared parental leave rules. These have been in place since April 2015 and enabled a couple to share 50 weeks of leave following the birth of a child.
In Sarah and Jaron's case, Sarah has decided to return to work full time following the arrival of their second child. Jaron, meanwhile, will become a stay at home dad and look after the kids.
In the article, Sarah makes this comment;
Okay okay, I may have a completely biased opinion, but I feel that's an appalling thing to ask. It also reveals total ignorance of what it's like to be a stay a home father.
This brings me back to the question I asked in the opening paragraph. If you wouldn't question a working woman's femininity or sex life, why question a man simply because he fulfills a caring role?
Anecdotal evidence suggests increasing numbers of men are, slowly but surely, becoming stay at home parents. Even so, the numbers are small and frequently overstated in the media. A while ago I put some effort into investigating how many stay at home dads exist in the UK. The conclusion I came to may surprise you.
The parenting world, especially the early years environment, is very heavily biased towards mums. If you are male and going to enter that world and thrive, you have to be a thick skinned, confident individual. Far from being emasculated, you have to be tough and very sure of your masculinity.
Let's put it another way. A stay at home father is simply trying to do the best for his family (as is any stay at home mum). It's desperately sad that doing the correct thing can lead to such an unhelpful, knee-jerk response.
Last September I spoke at the launch of a marvellous book called Pioneering Stories About Men and Boys. I had three minutes to outline how I thought masculinity had changed.
I said that, in my opinion, there was one constant regarding masculinity; that of responsibility. From the time of the hunter gatherer to the modern stay at home father, good, responsible men, take care of their families.
Let me make it quite clear; I do not and have never felt remotely emasculated as a stay at home father. I enjoy being the main carer for my kids and I am very comfortable in my gender.
Should you ever be tempted to question the masculinity of a man doing childcare, think about the stereotypes he is fighting against. He is not a figure of fun. He has not taken the easy option. This doesn't mean he deserves anything special, but he does deserve to be treated with common decency and respect and there is no justification for questioning his masculinity whatsoever.