Feminism needs fathers
It is extraordinary how little it takes to splash the Daily Mail. This morning, the testimony of one woman to one parliamentary enquiry made for the headline 'Equality Law Nightmare' - the sort of front page Mail sub-editors have on a pre-saved button on their keyboards, to save the effort of typing it out every time. The woman in question is Nicola Pease, Deputy Chairman of JO Hambro capital management. She told the enquiry into gender inequality in financial services that increasingly generous maternity leave provision could perversely damage women, by increasing the cost and risk of hiring women, relative to men. 'We have got to be realistic and make sure the protection around women doesn't end up backfiring,' she said. 'That is actually one of my greatest worries.'
The Mail's hijacking of her thoughtful evidence to rail against the idea of equality is to be expected. But the difficulty is this: Pease makes a powerful point. Many passionate advocates of equality have come to realise that improving the rights of mothers, while leaving the role of fathers largely untouched, runs the risk of reinforcing the impression that raising children is women's work. Labour ministers ended up in an incoherent position, arguing on the one hand that men and women should be treated as equals in the workplace, while passing laws entrenching the gender divide for childrearing. Only fairly recently has the Government woken up to the important of paternity leave, and parental leave for men, for gender equality.
If women are expected to do the vital work of raising children, they will inevitable face higher hurdles in the workplace. Only when employers look at men and women as equally likely to want to take time off, or work part-time, or refuse overseas engagements because of their responsibilities to their children, will we approach genuine equality. The long-term goal should be the equalisation of maternity and paternity provision. We will know we've succeeded when the language used not only by The Daily Mail but the rest of us has changed - when the terms 'working father' and 'career man' are in general use. Equality at work requires equality at home. There has been a big push to recognise that 'families need fathers'. Now feminism needs fathers too.