This article first appeared in The Daily Beast on January 6, 2015
Tony has been accumulating identities. He’s the son of Mexican immigrants; his father was abusive. He’s a high school drop-out. He was a gang member and then an inmate who’d been jailed for gang activity and the use of a deadly weapon. Gang tattoos are still inked onto his face, like scarlet letters.
But on that cold night in southwest Chicago when we interviewed him, a symbol of his most powerful identity is sleeping peacefully in his lap. Tony is also a father, 19 when we spoke to him. He says his one-year-old daughter is the reason he changed.
Tony isn’t unique among men formerly involved in gangs or those men who have lived in America’s high-risk neighborhoods yet managed to stay away from the violence. And his story isn’t so different from men we have interviewed in slums in Rio de Janeiro or in conflict zones in Africa and other parts of the world.
Caregiving transforms men: in one of the largest studies ever on gang violence in the U.S., researchers followed 1,000 low income young men in high-risk neighborhoods in Boston over forty-five years starting in the 1950s and found that being a father was one of the strongest factors for men to stay out of gangs and criminal activity.
The same picture emerges from middle class men in the U.S., Canada, and the Nordic countries. Evidence is piling up that as men do more of the caregiving, violence against women falls. Delinquency declines. The health, happiness and well-being of men, children and women improve. Couples report better sex lives. Women’s income increases. And battles between the sexes diminish.
We also have a growing body of biological research showing that fathers, like mothers, are hard-wired to care for children. Analogous to women’s hormonal changes when they become pregnant, breastfeed and care for children, men’s bodies respond with similar hormonal shifts.
Human evolution has left men as deeply wired for emotional connections to children as women are. When fathers hold and play with their children, oxytocin and prolactin kick in, priming them for bonding. These are the same hormones that are released when women are breastfeeding. The more we care for children as fathers and mothers, the more our bodies respond to the task, literally pulling our attention and energy to caring for our child.
With all we now know about the importance of fathers, and the ability of men to care for children, caregiving is, for the most part, still seen as women’s work. This status quo has a cost: debilitating poverty, persistent gaps in women’s pay compared to men, poorer societies and fewer educated children in the U.S. and around the world. Just to give one example of the power of equal caregiving: economists estimate that the U.S. GDP would be 9% higher if women did as much paid work as men.
How do we encourage more men to do the caregiving? Paid paternity leave is certainly one way. For the last 20 years several Scandinavian governments have offered on average one year of shared, paid parental leave that either parent can use. In Sweden parents can use those days up until the child turns 12.
During the time either parent takes leave, they are paid at 85% of their salary via the country’s social security system. Sweden and its neighbors have learned the following: parental leave must be paid, there must be a portion reserved specifically for fathers, and workplaces must create a culture that supports men in taking leave.
Some seventy-plus countries currently offer some paternity leave or parental leave days reserved for the father. But outside of a few European countries and Quebec, this leave is usually two weeks or less and usually unpaid.
In short, fatherhood gets little attention in policy debates. It gets scarce mention in UN reports on the burden of unpaid care work on women, and it seldom shows up in the reports of international aid organizations that work for women’s empowerment in the global South.
Try to find a father in the logo or in the reports of UNICEF, the UN agency dedicated to children’s rights. With all the years of women’s empowerment and the push for gender equality, we still have trouble imagining that men can do the care work, that they matter for children, and that they matter for women’s equality.
Getting men to do their share of care and domestic work is a key overlooked strategy in reducing poverty. Women are now 40 percent of the global paid workforce and half of the world’s food producers.
Women’s incomes have increased relative to men’s although they still lag behind: globally women earn 22 percent less than their men counterparts. The main reason: women and girls still do the lion’s share of the care and domestic work—two to ten times more than men.
This unequal care divide keeps girls out of school, holds women out of the paid labor market or in part-time work, cuts women off from the social world and continues to be the single largest driver of women’s unequal pay relative to men.
In middle and upper income countries—the U.S. and Europe—we have achieved something closer to pay equality and something closer to equality in terms of who does the domestic and care work. In these regions, men are now doing between 30 and 45 percent of the care work.
But even there, we have yet to shatter the glass ceiling for women. Expensive day care pushes women out of the labor market while men continue to work outside the home. Men’s incomes go up. As their careers get repeatedly interrupted, women’s incomes hit a wall. The pay gap has lessened somewhat in recent years—and quite a bit in some sectors of the economy—but it has proven stubbornly resistant to change.
A recent U.S. study found men get a “daddy bonus” —employers seem to like men who have children and their salaries show it. A study over 15 years in the U.S. finds that men’s salaries increase 6% for every child they have while women’s salaries (who work full-time) decrease by 4% for every child they have. Why? Some of the gap has to do with the fact that men work more hours after having children, while women shift to jobs with more flexibility and fewer hours.
But most of this gap, say the researchers who carried out the study, is due to discrimination. Employers—both women and men—think mothers are distracted by family duties. They not only believe that fathers won’t be distracted by these duties (because they don’t do as great a share), but they believe that fathers are more responsible and motivated workers than childless men.
In Scandinavian countries this discrimination has been dramatically reduced. As colleagues in Norway have told us, an employer who interviews prospective employees in their late twenties or early thirties knows that the odds are about equal that, whether those interviewees are male or female, they are likely to take the generous family leave at some time in the next few years.
Men will likely take less, but still, in the case of Norway, more than 90% of men who are fathers take at least six weeks of paid leave. Family leave–for men and women–has become a fact of life, a government sanctioned benefit as sacrosanct as paved roads and public transportation.
So, how do we achieve such equality in the U.S. and other parts of the world? Certainly paid paternity leave is part of it (and in the U.S., we need paid maternity and paternity leave). But we need to start even earlier and go much deeper. We need to start with how we raise our sons and daughters. Boys are taught early in life to devalue care, to be hyper-competitive, super-achieving men. In the process, we get straightjacketed into emotionally distant, competitive lives. To break this cycle, we have to promote men’s caregiving early on.
Programs like Roots of Empathy (based in Canada) or Program H, our curriculum for work with young men and young women that has been implemented in schools in more than 20 countries around the world, do just that. They provide opportunities for boys and girls to question out-dated notions of manhood and womanhood, and provide opportunities for both to practice involved caregiving in the classroom and beyond.
Another obvious entry point is during pregnancy. In Rwanda, Brazil and elsewhere, Promundo, the organization we’re affiliated with, is engaging fathers via prenatal visits. In addition to providing basic information about the birth process, men are encouraged to take on a greater share of the domestic work and the care of children.
Before we started this work in Rwanda, men said they needed hands-on experience; none of them had ever held babies before and their wives said they didn’t trust their husbands to hold babies. So we asked a women’s cooperative to make dolls that weigh about the same as real babies. The men use the dolls to practice the basics of caring for babies.
In one of the activities men practiced putting the dolls gingerly on their backs to carry them. These are young fathers, rural farmers, usually growing banana or coffee or subsistence crops. They had rarely seen their own fathers carry small children unless their mothers were ill.
A few months later, after their children were born, we visited the men and women again. The men were holding their babies. The women looked on, smiling. We know from evaluating the intervention that when men do a greater share of the caregiving, women have more time to work in income generation activities, which in turn means more income for the household and reduced child poverty.
Indeed, study after study affirms the benefits of involved fatherhood for women and children. Children in households with more equitable participation of men show better health and development. Girls raised in households with more equitable fathers show lower rates of unwanted sex. Men who report stronger connections to their children tend to contribute more of their income to their households, so their children are less likely to grow up poor. Women are more likely to recover sooner from birth and less likely to experience postpartum depression. In the global South, women and children are more likely to get life-saving health care when men are involved and support prenatal care.
And caregiving is good for men themselves. We have richer, healthier lives and more meaningful relationships of all kinds. We learn that our job is not everything. We value women as being our equals.
Where we’ve seen change happen—men embracing caregiving in Scandinavia or Africa—the shift feels irreversible. You don’t have to spend much time in Oslo or Stockholm to see what it looks like when men do a nearly equal share of care work. There are parks filled with men pushing strollers and coffee shops where fathers meet their friends, babes in arms. Everyone expects men to do their share of caregiving.
In Rwanda, as we watched the young fathers hold their babies, we saw a contented look in their eyes. We thought of the research confirming the changes that happen in men’s bodies when they care for children. And we thought back to that winter night in Chicago when we interviewed Tony, the former gang member, who smiled softly as he told us that his daughter was the reason he would never return to “that life.”
Earlier this year, the United Nations Girl’s Education Initiative videoed a five minute conversation with me about gender-based violence. They were interested in knowing more about
the impact of violence against violence on girls and also on boys. We talked about why it’s an issue for men and the responsibility of all men to work alongside women to bring the violence to an end. And, as an educator, I talked about the special role that educators must play to end the violence.
November 25 is the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
As a small contribution to ending the violence, I hope you’ll share this video with the educators and parents you know.
With each passing hour, I am feeling angrier, sadder, and more disgusted as a result of the allegations coming from a growing number of women about Jian Ghomeshi, the host (until last weekend) of Canada’s most popular radio show (which is also broadcast in the United States.)
I am not a close friend with Jian, but on the two or three occurrences over the past decade when I ran into him at a public event we always had a very friendly chat. Back in the mid/late-1990s, we spent a lovely social evening together along with another friend. I emailed him a few times to applaud a good commentary he did on Q and once to raise a thought about an item on the show. And (along with Gloria Steinem and others) he wrote a generous blurb that appeared on one of my books, The Guy’s Guide to Feminism (co-written with Michael Kimmel)—which is an explicitly profeminist book that includes several sections on men’s violence against women.
I thought of him as a smart and thoughtful individual. Concerned about social and environmental issues. Hip. Charming. Sweet. A supporter of women’s rights.
When I first heard on Sunday that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) had severed ties with him, I assumed they’d had some sort of blowup or he’d fallen apart following the death of his father -– a conclusion that was encouraged by the first CBC report that mentioned how distraught he’d been. Then I heard about, but hadn’t yet read, his Facebook statement that said he was into consensual BDSM. Although it’s not something I can relate to, I do believe that adults have the right to the private, consensual, sex lives of their choosing without getting fired. It had seemed he had gotten a bum deal from the CBC.
But now, more and more women have come forward with allegations of physical abuse at his hands – punching, slapping, choking, hair grabbing, pushing – that was clearly not consensual.
I’ve heard or read some of these women state they neither know, nor have contact with, the other women who have come forward. Jian’s retort that there is some sort of conspiracy against him, that these women are lying, or this is just the complaint of a “jilted ex” does more than strain credibility: with every passing day, it appears clear that he is either in serious denial or he is lying. Simply put, the accusations paint a picture of a disturbed individual and predatory behaviour.
(There is now a third possibility: That he is acting on the advice of lawyers and a damage-control firm and that his denials and counter-charges are simply a calculated attempt to salvage his reputation and career.)
These are extremely hard words to write, but when I think about the friendly chats we’ve had, the quote from him on the back of that book, and the plain fact that I liked him, it’s hard not to feel betrayed. I am sure this feeling is a hundred times stronger for his close friends and a thousand times for women who trusted him.
And it’s hard not to think, more broadly, about the far too many men who have felt entitled, because of their positions of power or prestige, to do what they want in terms of their sexuality. Around the world, we have had a seemingly endless stream of cases of abuse by priests, star athletes, political leaders, and media personalities. It is time to acknowledge that the root of these problems is not simply bad individuals; it lies in how we have constructed a world of men’s power and entitlement, and the troubled ways we’ve raised boys to be men. The majority of men do not commit these acts of violence, but far too many have and far too many of us let it go on without speaking out.
As of the time of writing this, all but two of nine women have spoken under condition of confidentiality: they did not want their names used. And so, to add insult to injury, these women have come under attack by the usual online trolls and “men’s rights” misogynists: why, they say, didn’t these women go to the police? Why are they not using their names? The answers are very clear: By its very nature, suffering abuse can be deeply humiliating and traumatizing. And the experience in Canada, as in countries around the world, is that women (or, for that matter, adult male or female survivors of childhood abuse) who come forward often have not felt supported by the police, the justice system and the public. Often, they have felt put on trial themselves. Women might feel they will not be believed. And, in other cases, some women feel their best course of action is to get support from friends or family.
To Jian’s claim that he always had consent, one would have to conclude from the quickly-increasing numbers of accusers, that he did not have consent or that at the very least he was somehow blind to what consent means in sexual acts. Which points to why, in Canada and a handful of other countries or states, our law has what is called an affirmative consent standard. You can’t just think you have consent. You have to know for certain you have consent for any sexual act.
I wrote an email to Jian this morning (Oct 30). I said that if even just one of these allegations is true (and as I said above, I believe what these women are saying), that he should dig deep into his soul and take responsibility for what he has done. Whatever the consequences, he owes it to these women, he owes it to his hundreds of thousands of fans who held (and perhaps still hold) him up as a model, and he owes it to himself.
As a start, I hope he will stop calling these women liars, admit whatever he’s done, apologize in no uncertain terms, seek psychological help, and face up to the consequences that will follow.
I hope that others will, from discussions sparked by this terrible situation, learn to speak out against abuse and learn lessons about consent: Ask for it. Confirm it. Don’t assume it. And never abuse it.
Most of all, I hope that the women who are bravely coming forward will get a fair hearing and justice
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Guys Guide to Feminism…The Talk
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