Joseph Wakim, pitched involuntarily into fully hands-on parenting by the death of his wife, describes the process as an “emancipation”. Advised to find another woman to whom he could sub-contract the role of caring, Sound of Music style, he responds:
There was no way I was going to avoid the painful path to get closer to my daughters…so I began my emancipation…..I swung my metaphoric sledge-hammer to the rusty shackles that defined masculinity.
Following his reading about neurobiology and fatherhood, he sums up the research neatly: “We are soft-wired by nurture, not hard-wired by nature.” Caring for children changed him, as it changes every person who does it.
Equality of opportunity for women and men: together
The social constructions that have caged women in diminished roles have also created the glass wall between men and their closeness to children. The passion that this discovery has inspired in some fathers is a vital force for the future of equal opportunities for women and men in UK. It is a force that is almost completely unchannelled and unutilised at present.
My hope is that Work Care Share can be a place where this energy is channeled into changing society. This is not a place for finger wagging, where women are told that they should take the fatherhood issue seriously, or men are told that they ought to be more interested in gender equality. The debate is already awash with these approaches, both based on a dim view of the other gender.
Work Care Share is different: it is women and men, both inspired by the opportunities that being able to share roles brings for both, working as equals and affirming each other.
The approach is built on the realisation that equality of opportunity at this more fundamental level needs us to accept our inter-dependence. Yes, there is much men and women can do to promote their own emancipation, but at every point in this process, we need the support and affirmation of the other gender. The history of feminism is punctuated by the support of men, either in the public sphere or privately in the family. And campaigns for more support for fatherhood are routinely advanced by women and men together. This story of mutual support is rarely told – it does not fit the picture of a battle between the sexes – but it has been ever-present.
Emancipation and mutual affirmation: telling the story in art
Ever since my daughters were very young, I have discussed equality issues with an artist, Caroline Mackenzie. She explores in her art the different roles that men and women can play – men caring for children and women being powerfully creative.
For 15 years, her father and child sculpture (top) adorned our garden and, years back, when we were discussing these issues across the kitchen table and I had a squirming two-year-old in my arms, she drew us as we talked.
Her nativity scene (above) represents both aspects of emancipated masculinity – strength (the bull) and care (Joseph nurturing the baby Jesus). Joseph holding the baby is an image almost entirely absent in the European history of art and still today in the exchange of Christmas cards every year.
Most recently, developing the theme of interdependence, she has crafted an image of a man celebrating and welcoming a strong and free woman.
Caroline’s art is currently exhibited on her website.
All images selected by and reproduced with kind permission of the artist.