“all you basically did was orgasm about 20 months ago, now you get 6 months off, its bullshit…”

I’m always fascinated by people’s reactions when I say I’m having 6 months off to look after our baby . Most people don’t know it’s an option, but when I explain its a legal entitlement, the general consensus is that this is a good thing. I obviously think it’s a good thing too, but it does raise social and political issues than not everyone is comfortable with, sometimes this comes through in their initial reactions.

So – at the risk of over-generalising:
Older people (men and women) with kids:
“That’s wonderful – I wish I/my husband had done that”
“So good you get that time with them, bonding etc”

Women my age with kids:
You lucky bastard – I can’t believe your wife is letting you do this! “
” Ha! at last you’ll see what it’s like for us” (with a knowing look that says “you’ll definitely be shit at this!”)
“You’re just doing this for the female attention, right? “

(most) Men my age with kids:
“Are you mental? “
“6 months off – sweet.”

Men my age without kids:
“Are you mental? “
“6 months off – sweet.”

Women my age without kids:
“No way I’d let you do that – I’m having a whole year off if/when I have a kid.”
“That’s not fair – you’ve not done the hard work” (someone actually said to me “all you basically did was orgasm about 20 months ago, now you get 6 months off, its bullshit…”)

The responses I find most fascinating are the ones from men who would never consider doing this, and the ones from women who disagree. The reluctant male response is fairly common and a straightforward stereotypical reaction I guess, but I find the conversations with women who disagree with the idea to be quite difficult.

Some seem to view maternity leave as a kind of prize – a reward for surviving pregnancy, and something that should remain available only to women. I find this attitude baffling for two reasons. Firstly, maternity leave is about looking after something that is 100% dependent on you – it’s not a reward. Breastfeeding aside, there is no reason why it has to be the woman who takes this role (although of course she needs time to recover).

Secondly, making maternity leave a female-only thing is bad for everyone. It means the workplace-based discrimination experienced by women who have kids ( finding it harder to find/keep a job, taking longer to climb the earnings/promotion ladder etc) will remain. It means dads never get the chance to bond in the same way, are less able to understand the role their partner has to take on, and feel pressured to be the breadwinner. I also think kids generally will benefit from spending time both sexes, and grow up without the fixed attitute to gender roles that many adults seem to have.

I think the change in the law is good because it should, in time, reduce some of the workplace – based discrimination -especially if men start to experience it, and join together with women to fight it. It also means families can arrange their lives in a way that suits them – financially, socially etc.

However much of a positive step the change in the law is, it still feels like a missed opportunity to me because ultimately, it’s not a change every couple will be able to take advantage of. The biggest single factor in making maternity policy should be about money – gender is a side issue. There are still problems with the way maternity leave is funded that make it an unaffordable luxury for some, and an economic headache for small businesses.

Well off people are more likely to have the means to take a full year off, and will do so, but poorer families often struggle disproportionately financially and have to compromise between being with their child and earning money. I think we all have a stake in raising happy healthy kids, and would like to live in a society which recognises this and is happy to fund, through tax, a system that means every child can spend their first year with a parent. The system for maternity pay already allows this for 6 months, but places a lot of burden on employers and I would have prioritised a system that allowed employers to be compensated if they had staff on parental leave.

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One thought on ““all you basically did was orgasm about 20 months ago, now you get 6 months off, its bullshit…”

  1. Pingback: Plans for Dads to be allowed 12 months parental leave – good news, but I have some questions… « Applehood and Father Pie

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