Today’s men have become the next generation of fathers and now our modern-day father takes many different forms and roles (American Psychological Association, 2013). No longer are fathers being ‘relegated to a role of disciplinarian’, they are now enjoying a more involved, hands-on ‘nurturing role’ (Wilson, 2002). This brief essay aims to examine one of the possible causes for this dramatic change; that being the rights of women and the feminist movements for equal rights. I write this essay in support of International Womens Day to show my appreciation for the hard work that is constantly taking place to fight for equal rights for women. My take on this approach considers the traditional early role of the father dating back to the 1800s and also considers the modern role of the father. The evidence I gathered attempts to bring forth a possible cause in our modern understanding of the role of the father.
Looking back through the timeline of gender developments from around 60 – 70 years ago, as far back as the 1800s, the role of the father was very traditional and considered a mere shadow in family life due to constant absence. Fathers were seen as the ‘breadwinners’, the ones who provided the financial means to support the family and they were also seen as the disciplinarians, the ones who conveyed moral values and religious education in their children (American Psychological Association, 2013). Fathers were generally ‘shadowy figures’ that left the family home in the morning and returned when dark. Fathers did not entertain the idea of nurturing children or carrying out domestic duties because this was traditionally seen as a female gender type duty to which fathers should have no involvement (Wilson, 2002). However, when considering the role of mothers there is a difference.
According to Jones (2003, p.2-3), mothers were seen as ‘unnatural’ to not want to have children, wives not wanting to be mothers or not wanting to devote their lives to the duties of child-rearing. Bilton et al (2002, p.236-237), clearly states that society was focused around the male gender, females becoming continuously pregnant to secure a male heir to take over the control of property; the next in line. Daughters had to be ‘sexually pure’ in-order to be married through pre-arranged contracts between ‘property-holding families’. Jones (2003, p.14-16) states that females at this time were best placed at home carrying out domestic services for men; if women wanted something different, this would seriously conflict with the interests, desires and ambitions of men. Yet in comparison, modern-day mothers and fathers behave differently to that of their ancestors.
According to Wilson (2002), it is becoming more common when strolling through your local park to see a father pushing a pram or buggy participating and engaging with their children on every level, developing their parenting skills or mothers working in high positions of authority, establishing business relations with top blue-chip investment companies. Fathers are now carrying out duties within the family home which were commonly referred to as ‘feminine roles’ and females are entering the traditionally male orientated roles in construction and management. Hallam (2004, p.15-22) refers to this turn-around as the era of the ‘new man’, a man taking on a caring, sensitive role and the ‘ladettes’, who take on features of traditional masculine identity. Jeremy Smith, a web editor for the University of California, Berkley (2011), calls this whole process the ‘daddy shift‘, the ideology that something has driven men and women to share their roles more equally. A possible cause I propose is ‘political feminism’, the struggle for women to gain access to equal rights and equal recognition to that of men.
Political feminism had a major push for success after the First World War but it is important to recognise that females had been fighting for equality since before the 1800s (and still do to this day). According to the British Broadcasting Company (2013), women had been fighting for the right to vote since before the First World War and female statements at the time were ‘Some women are far better than some men (at their own jobs)’, and women should be able to cast votes but the opposition (generally men) would state ‘The vast amount of women are too ignorant of politics’ in-order to use their vote effectively. This demonstrates to me the control that men still wanted and clearly had over women at this time.
An important society for women’s suffrage was formed in 1867 called ‘The London Society for Women’s Suffrage’ and its main role was to campaign for female suffrage, fighting for equality between men and women. Soon after, the press ‘coined the term suffragette’ to describe the more militant campaigners such as, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kearney after serving a prison sentence because they refused to pay fines after being found guilty for disrupting an election rally (Women’s Resource Centre, 2013). Females had been campaigning for many equal rights including such iconic topics as; employment, equal pay (still campaigning to this day), the right to vote, the right to state benefits, property and equal inheritance of assets. Bilton et al (2002, p.236-237), clearly states it was a male dominated society and females were there to serve the needs of men but when the First World War began the men were sent off to fight. Lord Horatio Herbet Kitchener, who was the Secretary of War in 1914 made the famous poster ‘Your Country Needs You‘, calling for men to join the war efforts and fight for freedom (Lang, 2004, p.327-329). More men were needed to continue the fight which meant there was a shortage of workers in the factories producing goods that were required to continue the war battles. The suffragette had to step in and lend a hand because the government introduced ‘conscription’, which meant women were required to replace men in the factories (Lang, 2004, p.327-329). According to The Reader’s Digest (2001, p.28-31), women took on the roles of men in the factories and offices, surprising the men and themselves at times, as they were better at certain roles than men. The change that took place and fuelled women’s rights campaigners brought the women unexpected benefits. Women no longer saw themselves as mere ‘social ornaments’ for men, no longer requiring male company to dine out, changing their clothes for such items as pants (which were more practical) compared to the traditional clothes for women (Reader’s Digest, 2001, p.28-31). When the war was over some men returned home (over 12 million men died worldwide) and men expected both themselves and women to return to their natural roles but this was not going to happen. The war had exposed the skills and abilities of women and thus fuelled campaigns to get women equal rights. Men would not entertain the idea of equality with women because having equality meant less power for men, less control and less domination (Reader’s Digest, 2001, p.28-31).
After the war more campaigns were brought against the government for equal voting rights and in 1918 ‘The Representation of the People Act’ was passed through Parliament which gave women the right to vote but still came with certain restrictions such as; had to be ‘over 30 years’ of age and ‘property owning’, which was a direct result of men trying to realise that the First World War did not bring the equality that women were striving for and only after more campaigns and protests did the restrictions get lifted in 1928 when women finally received full equality regarding suffrage (British Broadcasting Company, 2013).
Women’s campaigns for equal rights did not stop and more acts of Parliament were passed which allowed women to feel more accepted as equals to men. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was passed and it became illegal to ‘discriminate against women in work, education and training’. This act was a direct result of the actions taken by the women’s movements. Contraception was made available through the NHS as another direct result of the women’s movement and this gave women the control of births, the choice not to have more children and devote their lives to careers rather than child-bearing. In 1980 women were given the right to apply for ‘loans or credit’ but could do so in their own names and not require the signature of a man resulting in more property-owning females (Women’s Resource Centre, 2013). More acts followed and it appeared that men were facing the loss of control, even power over women as females could get educated and children of both sexes were forced to attend school due to the Education Act 1870 (Parliament.uk, 2013). This did mean that the traditional ideology of males gaining an education via their father’s pockets now had competition from females who could now acquire an education from the government.
The above actions of women seem to have forced men to think differently regards women, their abilities and position in society in my opinion. Smith (2011) states that it was not feminism that drove the change of men and women sharing roles but believes that feminism has educated people with the information to accept that an ever-changing society and its demands is the cause of the roles becoming more equal. Referring to the ‘family nucleus’, (the traditional idea of the mother and father living together with their children (Hallam, 2004, p.24-25)), having specialist roles where the father would go out to work (career) and the mother would become a housewife (domestic) are no longer ‘economically stable’ family structures and modern life requires a modern family that moves away from the ‘model of prioritising efficiency’ to one that can withstand ‘economic shocks’ and allow both parents the ability to switch roles and become the ‘breadwinner’ while the other becomes the domestic stay-at-home childminder.
Smith (2011) states that studies constantly show mothers would rather have a male breadwinner up to 90 percent of the time and only a few women will support the stay-at-home dad. Women want to work just as much as men do and chasing a career is becoming more important to women within a modern society with the increase in women’s labour force participation (Society for Research in Child Development, 2000, p.128). According to the Society for Research in Child Development (2000, p.128), the absence of fathers within a child’s life has major effects on their development (I write further about effects of fatherhood and presence in a child’s life here: A Wise Investment: Why I don’t work weekends. Both boys and girls exhibit problems in many areas including, ‘gender-identity development, school performance and self-control’. It would appear that fathers are still struggling to accept that a role in their child’s life can be beneficial according to YouGov (2012). The results from the YouGov Survey 2012 show that more fathers compared to mothers still believe that a father’s role should be to provide for the family by working and earning money, with 56% of males agreeing compared to only 49% of women, with a collective result between parties agreeing at 52% and disagreeing at 42%. 86% of both male and females believe the role of the father has changed over the last 50 years with 95% agreeing that both parents should share responsibilities for bringing up children.
The role of the father in my opinion has clearly developed overtime but the question remains as to whether or not the role would have changed without the influence of female revolutions? From my brief research in support of International Womens Day, it becomes apparent that our current society is embroiled in a revolution of equality politics and the role of the father can be seen to have clearly been forced to change due to the role of motherhood changing. While mothers were traditionally expected to be stay-at-home mothers and raise children, the fathers were career focused and distanced themselves from the family unit. Women have now ingrained themselves (and rightly so) into the workforce and it would appear, are no longer forced to take part in the sexist traditional roles of the past. It is clearly a female revolution that cannot be denied a hand in allowing men to appreciate the benefits and rewards of having an active role in their child’s lives, while accepting women want to have careers too, therefore, shifting the role of the father from a very respected traditional view to a more hands-on role. As a result, surely fathers must now take a more active and nurturing approach to child-rearing duties and begin to accept the position of women is now engrained within our modern society.
American Psychological Association. (2013). The changing role of the modern-day father. [Online] Available at: http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/changing-father.aspx
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British Broadcasting Company (BBC). (2013). Votes for women – for and against [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/britain/votesforwomenrev2.shtml
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Women’s Resource Centre. (2013). The Women’s Timeline [Online] Available at: https://www/wrc.org.uk/includes/documents/cm_docs/2010/w/website_timeline_2010.pdf
YouGov. (2012). Results – Fathers Day and Parental Roles. [Online] Available at: https://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/xjn04senx/Results%20Fathers%20Day%20and%20Parental%20Roles.pdf