What will fatherhood look like by the end of the 21st Century? In 2013, insideMAN’s news editor, Glen Poole, was invited to join a panel at the Men’s Health Gathering in Australia to discuss the topic “21st Century Man”. Here he provides a summary of some of the key ideas he covered in this talk.
I remember the 21st Century starting. My daughter was two at the time and my immediate family joined us at our home in London to celebrate. It was the last Christmas I spent in my marital home.
Up until then, I’d had the extraordinary privilege of being a full-time “house husband” spending every day with a little girl, watching her grow day by day. But my wife left and soon after I received a letter from her solicitor, which said:
“You made a valid contribution in the first two years of your daughter’s life but it is no longer in her best interest that you look after her.”
That’s when I began to discover the raw deal that separated dads can get in the UK and that’s when I got interested in “men’s work”— which is ultimately, how I ended up, 14 years later, speaking at the National Men’s Health Gathering in Brisbane about “21st Century Man”.
Women and children first
I started by looking back over 100 years to the sinking of the Titanic, the greatest single symbol of the historic belief that men as protectors should put women and children first:
- 100% of children in first and second class survived
- 75% of all women on board survived
- Only 20% of men on board survived
I considered the deaths of millions of men in the 1914-1918 war, men with no right to vote, many of whom were collectively shamed into dying for their country.
At the time of speaking my daughter was 16 and had just started Sixth Form college next door to where I live. She was popping in and out on a daily basis and I became aware that it was the first time in 14 years that she’d been in my life on a daily basis in this way.
It made me realise that when I was looking forward to the 21st Century back in 1999, my expectation was that I would continue to be with her every day—but things change and sometimes we need to stop and reflect and make sense of that change.
My opportunity to be a stay-at-home-dad arose because my wife was a lawyer and earned considerably more than I did. It was 1922 when the very first woman in the UK became a lawyer. I can’t imagine what it was like being the only woman in a profession dominated by men. Whatever the experience was like, it didn’t open the floodgates. Fifty years later in 1972, just 3% of lawyers were women.
But now, another forty-or-so years later, law is a profession that is evenly split between the sexes and two-thirds of people who attend law school, the next generation of lawyers, are now women. So things can and do change very quickly in the world of gender.
Can men’s roles change too?
I wonder what the world would be like if men could undergo such radical change too? Imagine if men could undergo a similar transition in the areas where we are unequal and/or significantly under-represented.
Forty or fifty years ago, gender roles were very clearly divided: broadly speaking, men were the providers and women were the carers
There’s been a huge diversification of roles since then. Women have a greater diversity of choices. They can provide for themselves and others; they can be a full-time carer who’s provided for; or they can combine providing and caring. When you look at the categories that women fall into, there’s a fairly even spread across these different groups.
When you look at men’s experiences, our roles have diversified too, but to a far lesser extent. There seem to be fewer choices for men, fewer ways to be man. Most men who become fathers will still become the main providers in their families and fit in a bit of caring on the side.
Who cares for men?
Very few men will have the experience of being provided and cared for in our relationships and that unavoidable fact seems to help create the other category of men—the invisible men, the men who are homeless, excluded, isolated, unemployed, imprisoned, suicidal and lonely. The men who, for whatever reason, are unable to care and provide for themselves, let alone others.
These invisible men are generally boys we have failed, collectively, to nurture; boys our society has failed in some way; boys who we have somehow denied the opportunity to grow up to be either a carer or a provider in life.
How different would our world have to be to stop 90% of homeless people being male; 95% of prisoners being male; 78% of suicides being male? How much more care and concern would we all have to give to men and boys to make this happen?
It would take a radical change that matches the rise of women in the professional world. It will take men, en masse, claiming their right to enter the world of care—for masculinity and femininity to evolve in way that it is natural for men and boys to care and be cared for.
Gender isn’t rigid
As I look to the future, as I look ahead a century, I can see that greater choice is slowly becoming available to the next generation of men and boys. History shows us that gender isn’t rigid.
The way men and women live their lives now, would be unrecognisable to our Edwardian ancestors. And the way our descendants will live their lives by the end of the 21st Century will be unrecognisable to men and women today.
If gender isn’t rigid how will it change over the next 100 years? For me, gender is comprised of a diverse range of quality’s and experiences that we call “masculine” and “feminine”. There’s lots of evidence to show women’s experience of gender has diversified much more than men’s, but that masculinity is also diversifying and evolving in a parallel way.
This isn’t simply about women becoming more like men or men becoming more like women—though there may of course be examples we can point to of women being more “masculine” and men becoming more “feminine”—it’s about men becoming more flexible and adaptable and ultimately having more freedom and choice when it comes to being a man.
And there is probably no better place for us to develop that flexibility and adaptability than in our roles as fathers to our sons and daughters who will be the ones to reshape gender in the 21st Century.
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men
In the run up to the launch of a new film on Fatherhood called DOWN DOG, insideMAN will be publishing a series of articles about fatherhood and we’d love you to get involved. You can join the conversation on twitter by using the hashtag #MenBehavingDADly; leave a comment in the section below or email us with your thoughts and ideas for articles to [email protected].