Picture Credit: Julian L. on UnSplash
Gender equality is being addressed today from many perspectives, in STEM fields and, at the workplace, mostly. I believe, however, that the core of a value system supporting gender equality is the very family one is brought up in.
And our subtle, unconscious, everyday behaviours, or habits could be the very reason we are not seeing the change we would like to see on moving the needle towards a gender equal society.
Now please hear me out before saying more…
Our children learn from our actions, our decisions and our reactions. How we choose to deal with organising our lives with our families, largely impact the way our children will do, theirs. Hence, by setting the right examples within our homes, we would be teaching our children some invaluable lessons, those that could make them self-competent and self-efficacious. Whether we like it or not, from our experience growing up, our children will likely repeat the patterns we have built in them, until they consciously choose to release them and imbibe new beliefs.
Here are some ways our habits could be sabotaging our very intentions to support gender equality.
a. Maternal Gatekeeping:
It is defined as a mother’s beliefs and values that impact a fathers’ involvement in child rearing. Specifically, maternal criticism of their partners’ ability to handle chores around child-rearing are said to have severe, damaging effects on the family. In fact, it is believed that a mothers’ positive affirmation of the partners’ role in child rearing has shown to create a more harmonious, positive child rearing experience (Finley, Mira, & Schwartz, 2008) within families.
Hence, the more women lean into their partners’ efforts and see child rearing as a journey together, rather than a means to show the other down, there is a higher possibility that familial responsibilities are fairly distributed between spouses, allowing more women to rely on that support from their partners, while stepping out to gain financial independence.
b. Absent or Inactive Father Figure:
While the role of a father is varied based on its cultural contexts, inactive or absent fathers have shown to impact children’s careers in adulthood, in addition to their mental health.
One often less spoken about fact is that postpartum depression could also be seen in fathers (Fogarty& Evans, 2009). Changes in their identity, relationship and biology that occur during the parenthood transition (Wee et al., 2011) are important issues that need to be dealt with attention and care (Freitas and Fox, 2015). Coltrane (1996) suggests that as fathers participate more fully in raising their children and performing traditionally female household tasks, men will themselves be transformed by the experience in profoundly positive ways, leading the society to move closer to true gender equity.
However, men are less likely to seek mental health professional health, given the fact that they are pressured by the society to remain strong and not ask for help because they are meant to deal with it (Letourneau et al, 2012). Once the stigma around men asking for help shifts, we are going to see some amazing shifts in perspectives, both at home and work. A father-child evening, a fun family cook out, a sit together movie night or in fact, a drive to that basketball practice, together with their child, these are all the moments that will matter, eventually.
c. Tuning into the needs of our children
I chaperoned my son to a basketball game, a boys vs girls’ fixture in a venue outside school, showed a stark contrast. The girls team had parents cheering them, shouting and encouraging them, and the boys team had 1 supporter, me. No other boys had been escorted and while the exact reasons don’t matter, it kept me wondering if we are bringing up our boys in a way that made them feel supported and encouraged.
Boys are said to be brought up differently from girls - reduced protectiveness, talking about crying less and anger more and being more suspicious about their actions (Svoboda, 2002). However, boys are said to have wanted both equally – boundaries and independence and not at the expense of closeness with their family.
A simple means to keep connected productively with the children in the family is through sharing household chores. Participating in chores at home has shown to increase academic success while developing self-competence and self-efficacy.
With us having them spend more and more time on extracurricular activities, this generation of children is least involved in chores (White, DeBoer and Scharf, 2019), and while we also risk creating exclusively “female only” role-models doing chores in the household.
What this could lead to, is a society where boys, our future men, expect women to take the lion’s share of chores, because they simply never saw it as their responsibility.
A chores list, making dinner together, taking turns doing tasks that nobody loves, these are ways we can imbibe skills in children that they will see is a part of their life.
In our seek for academic success and achievement, we want to be mindful of nurturing our children to do the right thing – help where it is required, to give to our family when they need it and experience abundant relationships which are fulfilling and enriching.
d. Our choice of hiring domestic help:
In an Asian context, more often than not, we choose to hire women helpers to help organise our lives. Out of the 400,000 women helpers in Hong Kong (as reported in July 2020), only 1% of them are men.
A deeper look into the economies of expatriate domestic helper led families show us how these women are sometimes forced to separate from their families for years, before they can repay loans and return to them, most often, rife with conflict and discord.
Hiring men to help with work at home is yet to become commonplace. A little compromise may go a long way in helping men find work in place of their women counterparts. Interview men and women without bias to make a choice based on the task required to complete, rather than one that comes from habit.
This, in my opinion is how we can start becoming more sensitive to gender equality, from the very centre of our homes and families.
I invite you to share your comment on these thoughts for a truly collaborative step in the right direction! Love and Light!
References: a. CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/09/asia/hong-kong-helper-live-in-rule-intl-hnk/index.html b. Coltrane, S. (1996). Family man: Fatherhood, housework, and gender equity. Oxford University Press. c. Finley, G. E., Mira, S. D., & Schwartz, S. J. (2008). Perceived paternal and maternal involvement: Factor structures, mean differences, and parental roles. FATHERING-HARRIMAN-, 6(1), 62. d. Fogarty, K., & Evans, G. D. (2009). The hidden benefits of being an involved father. EDIS, 2009(10). e. Freitas, C. J., & Fox, C. A. (2015). Fathers matter: Family therapy’s role in the treatment of paternal peripartum depression. Contemporary Family Therapy, 37(4), 417-425. f. Letourneau, N. L., Dennis, C. L., Benzies, K., Duffett-Leger, L., Stewart, M., Tryphonopoulos, P. D., ... & Watson, W. (2012). Postpartum depression is a family affair: addressing the impact on mothers, fathers, and children. Issues in mental health nursing, 33(7), 445-457. g. Svoboda, S. (2002, Jan 31). Why boys don't talk and why we care: A mother's guide to connection. Everyman, , 67. Retrieved from http://eproxy.lib.hku.hk/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.eproxy.lib.hku.hk/magazines/why-boys-dont-talk-we-care-mothers-guide/docview/210695385/se-2?accountid=14548 h. Wee, K. Y., Skouteris, H., Pier, C., Richardson, B., & Milgrom, J. (2011). Correlates of ante-and postnatal depression in fathers: a systematic review. Journal of affective disorders, 130(3), 358-377. i. White, E. M., DeBoer, M. D., & Scharf, R. J. (2019). Associations between household chores and childhood self-competency. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 40(3), 176-182.