When my first son was born, it made me reevaluate my life and what I was doing. I felt a responsibility to be a good role model, an effective breadwinner and I had to ensure I protected and supported my family. I dutifully fell into line with the gender stereotype handed to me by the previous generations.
My partner stayed at home and took on the burden of sleepless nights, bottom wiping, the mind numbing, spirit sucking boredom of keeping a baby alive. She felt isolated and was struggling with post natal depression. I felt anxious to prove myself as a man. We were like ships that passed in the night. I didn't understand her world, she didn't understand mine and my drive to play my role effectively meant I missed out on the precious early years of my son's life.
For the next two years my partner and I analysed those early days and wondered how we could have done it better. My partner runs a campaign and project called Pregnant then Screwed - supporting and advocating for the rights of pregnant women and mothers, who all too often are screwed over by the way our businesses, economy and society works.
The world has changed.
For me, the traditional gender stereotypes I succumbed to first time around don't work anymore (they didn't then, but I've learnt the hard way). They perpetuate the gender pay gap, devalue care in our society, and reinforce discrimination, bias, misogyny and inequality. Is it too much of a leap to suggest that all of this might be connected to our parents generation being, very often, divorced? There are other factors at play for sure, but divorce rates are down, and the tide is turning. Inequality in the workplace, alongside inequality to rights, means inequality in the home, which, I'm suggesting, leads to unhappy people.
With our second baby on the way we looked closely, and very excitedly, at the shared parental leave situation, and set about doing our sums. Maybe I could take four months, and my partner take five, and we overlap in the middle? Maybe we could both be off for a chunk of time and make it work?
£139 a week is very, very difficult to live on. Shared parental leave, to the idealistic and naive person in me, meant rights and access to it would be shared. Why then, do women get 6 weeks at 90% of salary (paid by the government, NOT the employer), but men go straight onto minimum statutory - £139? That isn't shared.
No wonder then that takeup of shared parental leave has been 1%.
That's why I've started this campaign to make parental leave shared. Since starting the campaign, people have left messages of their own experiences like, "I believe in Equality and kids need fathers too.", and "Not every dad is the main earner and not every mum wants to stay at home! The law should be equal".
This is a simple issue, that is connected to a wealth of others, and creates, in the end, a very complex picture. If we actually want to address the gender pay gap, discrimination, inequality, floundering productivity, even divorce rates, we need to campaign. Join us by signing our Change.org petition and tell your stories too.
One more thing, please can we put the following in the bin right now:
- Men being described as being on "babysitting duty" when looking after their own children?
- Jacob Rees-Mogg bragging that he has five children and has never changed a nappy.
- Baby changing facilities only being available in women's toilets.
For more information on Tom's campaign, or to sign his petition, go here