My Post-BlogFest15 Thoughts About Gender Stereotypes

OK, I don’t really know where I’m going to go with this post and I don’t often write in a ‘mind dump’ fashion. However, after attending the Mumsnet BlogFest blogging conference yesterday – with big thanks to online customised products retailer Zazzle who sponsored me to attend – there’s a lot of stuff going on in my head at the moment and it feels like I need to just stick it down on (virtual) paper.

This feeling was created by the first session of the day called ‘A Room Of One’s Own’: Motherhood and Creativity – here’s the spiel from the BlogFest programme on what was to be discussed:

“When Tracey Emin declared that she wouldn’t have been able to be an artist and a mother, creative women lined up to counter her claims. But had she tapped into something that many of us have – however secretly – been anxious about? Motherhood changes everything – there’s less time, less money, and less space. Does this mean less room for creativity, too?

Since much of the childcare burden is still shouldered by women – whether by choice or by default – is it easier for men to create? Does the very act of bearing children impact women’s creativity? This panel of women – some with children, some without – will discuss the balance between family life and their art, and ask whether motherhood is a curse or a catalyst when it comes to creativity.”

As a stay-at-home dad, I’ll admit that the session title and description didn’t put it at the top of my Blogfest to-do list, however I’m always interested to hear about other peoples’ experiences, particularly when it comes to people who are in the same boat as me, albeit another gender. Within a few minutes though, I was already feeling pretty pissed off. A few throwaway comments had been made by the all-female panel about blokes and dads, which felt all too similar to the ‘dad bashing’ which I experienced at BritMums Live earlier this year.

I’m all for people sharing what they’ve gone through and their thoughts on particular topics, but I hate generalisations and stereotypes. It’s just plain lazy and does nothing to help anyone – it only isolates and marginalises. At times, this session was very generalised, particularly when it came to dads. Little comments were made by the panel about how dads don’t help around the house without being asked or how a dad won’t change their baby’s nappy or how a bloke is only happy at the pub.

In isolation, these were just little throwaway remarks to get a laugh or to make a point. When viewed together though, it all became a little much for me and others. During the rest of the day, I had conversations with a few other mum bloggers who agreed that some of the comments had gone too far, made them feel uncomfortable and took away from the points being made by the panel.

In situations like this to test whether I’m being overly sensitive, I often try to reverse the roles. By doing this, I’m pretty sure that there would be a mini-uproar if five men took to the stage and said belittling things about women for a cheap laugh. Here’s one particular example of something which was said that annoyed me, which you can probably tell by my not so subtle reply:

The reason that it annoyed me was because it is based on absolutely nothing, yet it creates a divide between mums and dads. Unless I’m mistaken, I very much doubt that Meera has taken to the streets with a clipboard and a questionnaire to gain actual insight from passers by. Instead, she is just throwing a stupid comment out there which arguably creates feelings of spite, contempt and jealous between women and their penis-owning counterparts.

As a stay-at-home dad, what I’m starting to realise is that this mum versus dad divide is bloody ridiculous. Let alone then breaking down these groups into sub-groups like stay-at-home mum versus working mum or breast feeding mums versus bottle feeding mums. Seriously, who gives a shit. We are all feckin’ parents. We are all doing what we can to raise our little ones in the best way we can manage. It is a joint effort, not a matter of one group versus another.

And this is the problem with stereotypes and generalising. Yes, the stereotype may cover 60% of a defined population, but what about the other 40%? Those outliers that are tarred with the same brush just because they share the same gender, race, religion etc. Outliers like me, and probably outliers like you too. Do you fit the typical image of a man or woman? A mum or a dad?

As a stay-at-home dad to my 15-month old daughter, I do the same as what a stay-at-home mum does. I get her dressed, I change her nappy, I make her food, I take her out, we play together etc. I get annoyed if she cries for no reason, I feel guilty for secretly eating chocolate in the kitchen so that I don’t have to share and I can’t go to the toilet without someone’s little eyes peering at my nether regions.

Like you mums, I also sometimes feel like I’ve lost my identity since becoming a parent. Am I just Toddler L’s dad or is there more to me than this? Am I a let down to my parents, my wife and my friends because I traded in a £50k a year job for the odd £20 and an intimate understanding of buying houses at auctions thanks to Homes Under The Hammer? Who am I? What am I? What’s my purpose? Has a baby held me back? The exact same bloody questions that were being covered during this ‘Motherhood’ session.

The point I’m trying to make is that mums and dads are the same. We are all parents going through the same daily shit. Just because I lack a vagina, it doesn’t mean I should be viewed differently or treated in an inferior way, as I’ve already discussed in my dads don’t babysit post. This isn’t just a dad having a bitch about being a dad. This should be exactly the same for everyone. Bottle or breast. Working vs stay-at-home. Bla bla bla. We should support each other regardless of gender and the category we are placed into.

As such, I’d have loved to have seen a dad on the panel during this session and have seen the topic changed from ‘Motherhood’ to ‘Parenthood’. Why not be inclusive of all parents, rather than create the mum versus dad divide? I realise that you’ve got to play to the majority of the audience and the handful of men probably made up 1% of the attendees at Blogfest, but other sessions during the day had male speakers, so why didn’t this one?

Have I made a point during this post? I don’t know, you’ll have to be the judge of that. All I know is I needed to write a few thoughts down in the interests of discussion and debate, which after all, is what Blogfest is all about. It would be great to hear your thoughts on this gender stuff and your opinions of the ‘Motherhood and Creativity’ session if you did attend!

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