Equal Rights for Men?

According to research men would rather say they were unemployed than the primary child carer.

NOTHING has really changed for men. In the ’90s I did a stint promoting male issues and the fact that men wanted to be more involved in child-rearing and home making, thus enabling women to be more available for their careers.

As the daughter of an absent father, I lobbied that it was nourishing for both children and fathers if dads took the domestic reigns for a while. Women agreed, but at the same time still expected their men to be the major breadwinners. Men were deeply confused.

And it hasn’t changed. According to University of Western Sydney researcher Deborah Wilmore, men passionately want to be involved in childrearing but are often embarrassed to admit their role because they still get stigmatised by women and other men.


“Some [dads] would rather say they are unemployed than state their main duties are childcare,” she says. Often employers will discriminate against ¬single dads who need flexi-hours.

The hypocrisy of how we treat men annoys me. I fought for women’s rights; I fight for animal rights; and I will also fight to allow men to have the same choices women have. I understand that a lot of men still favour the role of alpha male and are delighted to return home to domestic bliss. But not all men are like this and it makes me sad that many would welcome the chance to spend time at home with the kids if society respected them for doing so.

My ex-husband was a stay-at-home dad many years ago. It worked for both of us. A second-time dad, he was burnt out by a long career and ready for a more nurturing role with our daughter – a role he missed with his first family. I was a lot younger than him and, despite loving being a mum, was hankering for career ascension.

It was a good arrangement. But society mocked us both. I was considered a ball-breaker and a bad mother and was overtly vilified when I told the truth about our domestic situation. He was derided – mainly by other males who didn’t take him seriously anymore. In the end we got tired of the scorn and kept to ourselves.

That was 16 years ago. And nothing has changed. My daughter will be forced to make the same awful choice I had to make: a rewarding career or a full-time mum. Her partner will choose to be seen as a man or a wimp. Gender bias still locks us in to boring stereotypes. Come on people: equal roles for all.

What are your views? Press “Comments”

The Australian


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21 Responses to Equal Rights for Men?

  1. Ian Gurry 4 August 2011 at 1:26 am #

    Great column, thanks Ruth. My wife and I job-shared from the time our eldest was born 10 years ago, and it has always astonished me that so many people would assume that a full-time career dealing with other people’s problems is inherently more satisfying than raising your own children. For all the incredible rewards, primary care dads can certainly be subject to daily backhanded minor insults and be damned with faint praise. I lost count of the number of times I got to the counter of a shop or a chemist, baby in one arm, bag of groceries in the other and screaming toddler underfoot, to be greeted patronisingly by a middle-aged female with “Got the day off, have we?” As much as I wanted to snarl in reply: “Does it look like I’ve got the bloody day off, you halfwit? When’s the last time you asked a question like that to a woman?”, of course I was never brave enough to do other than smile enigmatically.

  2. Lucy 1 August 2011 at 12:51 am #

    Geoff Jones, I am mortified by the fact that your unwillingness to work extra hours resulted in your job loss. Appalling that we, as a society, have come so far down the “I’ll do it for nothing” road – no matter what the cost – and that few are willing to discuss this issue and its social cost. Thank you for your honest contribution and I wish you well!!

  3. Ruth Ostrow 1 August 2011 at 12:01 am #

    I understand your frustration, and so did I do it on my own. Does it stop us standing up for those who are struggling. Both women and sensitive males are dominated by The Patriarchy like in any animal kingdom.

  4. Geoff Jones 31 July 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    Hi Ruth,

    Thank you so much for your article talking about equal rights for men (Weekend Australian July 30-31 2011).

    I have always understood the need to do more to make it easier for women to enter the workplace and build their careers, and as an employer, I have done this whenever possible. It does, however, rankle when so little attention is given to the glass ceilings that prevent men from changing their roles whether it be, reducing their work hours to spend more time with family, or making a career change into traditional female dominated professions such as nursing or school teaching. I have experienced the tremendous pressures (from both men and women) to keep men working long hours when, after five years with a professional organisation, I was ‘let go’. While I certainly could have done some things better, to my mind, the main reason for losing my job was that I was not prepared to work the evenings and weekends necessary to get ahead (and I was told as much). My new son had arrived at the very start of this job and when I first held him in my arms, I swore that I would not be the absent father that mine was. So for me there was more than just a principle at stake. I do not blame my ex-employers and there are no hard feelings, they were nice people and simply responding to pressures themselves. And of course, they can always point to examples where people have achieved both a family life and great things at work. But the result for me at the age of 44, was unemployment, a large mortgage and a young family to provide for.

    As the poet Charles Bukowski said ‘I am at my best when people are trying to kill me’, and I did find a resolve that I had forgotten I had. I am also blessed with a lovely wife who was willing to work full time if necessary (which took some pressure off). Today, I am happy to say that we have moved to a new city (closer to my wife’s family) and I have been three years in a great job that is truly family friendly. And most importantly for me, I have a good family life and a great relationship with my eight year old son.

    There was a time when I would have sent a letter such as this to the ‘Letters Section’ of the newspaper so that I can contribute to public debate on these important issues but to be honest, I am tired of such letters being ignored and having the feeling that I am considered old fashioned and anti-women, simply because I want to talk about men’s rights. So thank you again for your courageous journalism, I always enjoy reading your work.

    P.S. I would prefer to remain anonymous as I am working in the same field and am afraid of consequences if I am perceived to be publicly critical of my previous employer.

  5. Rod 31 July 2011 at 9:42 pm #

    Late reading your article this week Ruth. About 6 years ago my wife and I made the decision that I would spend more time at home with our daughter, having missed many of my sons wonderful moments through working long hours. I think I went to his primary school 3 times in 7 years!! I spent time in her early classes doing reading etc. it was wonderful and some of the most enjoyable and rewarding years of my life. We have a wonderful relationship now (she is 12) Funny thing was I found some of the most hostile and hurtful comments came from women, which REALLY surprised me. It was almost as if I was intruding on some private club. Most of my tradesman ex-workmates were (surprisingly to me) incredibly supportive. I remember a woman approaching me at a supermarket whilst I did the weekly grocery shop and commenting how ‘well trained’ I was. I lost count of the number of women friends of ours asking me how my wonderful life of leisure was. Yes it was wonderful but certainly not leisurely. I think stay at home dads are a bit better accepted now, thankfully. I don’t regret a moment of it.

  6. Ruth Ostrow 31 July 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    Thanks for your comments, and i agree that the media play a role; and that it is a social phenomenon where child rearing is frowned upon in comparison to bread winning. Strange isn’t it, and very very sad.

  7. Irene 31 July 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    The problem lies with Australian society which still has a long way to go in terms of child-friendly workplaces. Certainly, in some occupations, people can do some work from home, but that can also have advantages and disadvantages.

    The root of the problem lies with the fact that child-rearing still has little value in social and monetary terms for either parent, despite all the rhetoric about the importance of raising children. Child-rearing does not really rate as a vote-winner.

    If we can raise the status of a parent/s, financially as well as in other ways, as well as providing better child care arrangements, then, perhaps, things will change, but that could be a long way off, if ever.

  8. Bruce 31 July 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Mandy, all men are not like your dad. I for one have the nurturing gene…I love being with my kids and looking after them, and many other dads I know feel the same. Please don’t stereotype us all just from your own experiences.
    Jeannete’s post further down is all I’m saying too.

  9. Bruce 31 July 2011 at 11:46 am #

    Onya Sam!

  10. Bruce 31 July 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Hi Ruth,

    As a single dad I’ve chosen to work part-time (while studying) so I can be home for my boys after school to give them a healthy afternoon tea, help with their homework and take them to training. Yet even they make occasional derisive comments about my not having a real job ‘like other dads’, though I’m aware that they are just trying to work out gender roles etc.

    However, they are also aware enough to be critical of TV advertising that continues to stereotype women as the ones who clean bathrooms and tend to sick children. “How come they always show the mum doing these things?” they ask me. I find it amazing that in this day and age we still have women portrayed in adds as the sole homemaker. Surely it’s in advertising’s interests to reflect current demographics, including norms and attitudes. Many bathroom cleaner and nappy adds miss their mark with me, that’s for sure!

    I think the media have a lot to answer for in contributing to the stigma felt by dads who make a choice to stay at home.

    Great column by the way!

    Bruce Smith

  11. Lucy 31 July 2011 at 5:52 am #

    Look, this is a fraught area for discussion. I know some men who feel disenfranchised by the fact that the courts will always, almost always, favour the women – even when those women have little or no skills in child-rearing, or can be openly damaging because of mental health issues. Trying to prove it is about as easy as proving the existence of God. I don’t like to lump all men and all women into the same category but, by the same token, history has shown that the nurturing almost always works better for women, except when they are incapable (for whatever reason). Obviously, the old story about “career” and “work” are important get-out-of-jail-free cards for women who don’t want the responsibility (and they DO exist). So, a controversial subject…

  12. Geoff 30 July 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    My experience was that your female partner will never truly permit you to be the children’s “primary carer” and will indeed deny you are to other people. You also have to tolerate sexism and discrimination (primary inflicted by women). I eventually gave up and went back to work.

  13. Ruth Ostrow 29 July 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    Mandy women have oxcytocin to help with child rearing and bonding but men have an equal hormone called vasopressin the bonding chemical. There are many species where the male is nurturer, for instance the seahorse; the bush turkey male sits on the eggs till they are hatched. There is no reason men can’t be encouraged to express this side, they want to, and we want them to. All i am saying is we can’t expect each gender to be everything at the same time.

  14. Ruth Ostrow 29 July 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Yes Sam, my point exactly

  15. Ruth Ostrow 29 July 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Thanks Brian, I only leave the door open for you all to tell me how it is. I like to hear what you’re all feeling on this topic. In my column tomorrow I talk about my own experiences – my partner was a stay at home dad for a long while and I worked. Interested to hear your views after you’re read it.

  16. Brian 29 July 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    I agree with the rational females in this discussion. Namely that men are not given equal rights at all. Not all of us want to be Masters of the Universe as was coined in Bonfire of the Vanities. Some of us want to savour the young years of our kids, and cook and be part of home life. For me it is a pleasure, and I am talented with kids and cooking. Yet like many others of my generation (late 50s) I am shamed by these desires, and would be seen as less of a man amongst my rather conservative peers if I stepped out of role. I like Ruth Ostrow. She tells it like it is.

  17. Jeannette 29 July 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    Can’t you see that’s exactly what Ruth is saying. If the men that wanted the nurturing role were allowed to have it, or rather respected for it, there would be more jobs available for the girls, more need for us to step into those roles, and more support at home for us to do so. Its such a fight for so many of us – the US and THEM syndrome. Why can’t we just share roles?

  18. Florali 29 July 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    I tend to agree with the last post. Equal rights for men you say? Yeah let’s us women who are still underpaid and abused in many countries, stand up and fight the battles of the Patriarchy. I can tell you now, when i was a young woman there were no men at work fighting for me to have equality. I did that on my own with the help of the sisterhood.

  19. Mandy 29 July 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    Just thought I’d say that I don’t agree with this whole poor men story you sometimes spin Ruth. Middle class white males are not defenceless and in need of protection by your big strong voice. Give me a break. They rule the world! By the way, my father chose to work, he didn’t like children. or at least when we were young. We annoyed him. Giving him the golden opportunity to be Mr Mum he would have preferred to eat a spider. Why not lets be honest and say men and women ARE different biologically. Many many men don’t have the nurturing gene.

  20. Sam 29 July 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    I was a stay-at-home dad for a while, but only because I hurt my back at work, and needed to take a few months off. We were given workers comp so it made it easy for me to relax and enjoy the kids which enabled my wife to do extra work. It was a fantastic experience for both of us. She enjoyed the break from the kids and I got to enjoy the pleasure of their beautiful faces. It is a joy I wish on all men.

  21. Shelly 29 July 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Hi Ruth, I definately agree with you. It is an impossible thing women do to men. Firstly we ask them to be helpful and domesticated, then we yell at them for not earning enough money. I am sure men are confused especially on what a man is supposed to do or be. But in defence of women, my generation were brought up with dads we never knew, so I guess we are confused too. Thanks for the thoughtful blog I look forward to your column on Saturday

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