Sarina Bastrup is a second year History and International Relations student with an interest in literature, equality of all forms, human rights and beer drinking in London pubs. Preferably combined through good conversation with good people.
This article is part 2 in a series of 3 written to highlight the many positive outcomes of introducing non-transferable paternity leave on equal terms with maternity leave.
[Featured image: The picture shows a man in a messy kitchen with his hands full. He is holding a child, a bottle and wearing cleaning gloves, while talking on the phone.]
Previously the benefits given to women in the workplace by the introduction of equal paternity leave were outlined. However, women are not alone in experiencing discrimination based on their right and decision to take parental leave. Ancient customs dictate that men are breadwinners and women caretakers. Today this custom is redundant, and yet the sentiment persists. Men caring for children and taking longer parental leaves are exposed to a major stigma. For while modern sex education makes it very clear that it takes two to make a child, old fashioned social notions still hold firmly to the belief that it takes one to raise it – a woman. But in the 21st century that is outright wrong. It takes two to tango – both under the covers and when changing them after late night accidents. By giving men and women equal opportunities to care for their child from the very start of its life, we remove the precedent that women are the primary caretakers and let both parents be exactly that: parents.
The more obvious argument is that for the individual man, taking parental leave gives him more time to bond with his child. Women have the natural advantage of breastfeeding during which the baby forms strong attachments through skin-to-skin and eye contact1. Due to the lack of such naturally occurring events, newborn fathers need to actively seek the same kinds of bonding opportunities with their child. These opportunities require time, and time is given on leave. While most fathers take the limited paternity leave, they are offered, few extend into parental leave. In fact, in the entire EU, 93% of men do not take parental leave2. This is undoubtedly due to society´s view that the paternal bond is a bonus or perk, and not a necessity in the same way that the maternal bond is. This is although many studies show that the need for a paternal bond is just as strong as the need for maternal one, and that children who have early bonds to both parents have improved cognitive and emotional outcomes.3 Yet, men who prioritize the paternal bond and fatherhood in general currently experience large amounts of discrimination. According to UK Consumer Rights, men who take longer parental leave by using the option of Shared Parental Leave report being exposed to uncomfortable remarks both in their professional and social life.4 By making a larger part of the parental leave, earmarked paternity leave, we start normalizing the idea of men being fathers on equal terms with the mother, and slowly take the elements of toxic masculinity out of childcare.
Furthermore, by normalizing men caring for children, a long-term change in terms of equal distribution of the responsibilities of childcare will occur. Over time, this will transfer into the remainder of the child’s life, in terms of time off on sick days and other work-related sacrifices that needs to be made for the sake of the child, which will eventually be socially acceptable for both parents to take. While this is an argument which also benefits the woman’s quest for equality as the breadwinner, it most definitely also benefits the man’s right to be a caretaker. For the stigmatization concerning the lacking masculinity of men who take long parental leaves, carries on to men who take the majority – or even just half of – the child´s sick days.5 After all, men are breadwinners and women caretakers. However, if men are on equal terms with the woman from the beginning of the child’s life, a barrier would be broken, allowing them to be there under the same terms later on as well. By introducing longer paternity leave we do not just give men the right to be newborn fathers. We give them the right to be fathers for the duration of the dependability of their children. We let men be caretakers without the stigmatization they would otherwise be exposed to, and in doing so we benefit both father, mother and child.
The inequality presented to men outside of the workplace in the course of having children, is similar to, if not worse than, that experienced by women in the workplace. By introducing equal rights on paternity leave we surgically remove the stigmatization of men caring for children – not just at the onset of their life, but throughout the entirety of the dependable fatherhood. This logic does not just apply to the need for men to be recognized as early stage caretakers, but as parents on equal terms with women. By introducing equal terms for paternity and maternity leave, our society creates a huge platform for equality between men and women as parents, allowing both genders to be both caretakers and breadwinners, and thus effectively ending outdated gender norms for parenthood.
This article is part 2 in a series of 3. Next article is called “The Cherry on Top” and takes the debate on the introduction of non-transferable paternity leave to the macro level, highlights the terms set forth for non-traditional families and presents a welcome plot twist to the argument.
1 Kids Health.org: Bonding with your baby: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/bonding.html
2 European Commission Report: Paternity and parental leave policies across the European Union, p. 5
4 UK Consumer Rights: Shared Parental leave: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/what-are-my-rights-to-shared-parental-leave
5 European Commission Report: Paternity and parental leave policies across the European Union, p. 6