We live in dynamic times of change in many spheres of society. In the fourth industrial revolution and digital age, many segments of our daily lives are changing, new jobs are emerging as old ones are becoming the past, once firmly established social standards are shifting, the speed and space of public discourse is changing and some things that were unthinkable few decades ago are now part of the everyday norm as well as vice versa.
It’s interesting that in such a modern and, as it seems at first glance, acceptable and open today’s society, in which we have made significant progress, certain thoughts, attitudes and stereotypes based on the norms of other times, are still present. Perhaps certain opinions and stereotypes will always exist or be replaced by new ones, but it might be comforting that such topics and issues will always be discussed, debated and encouraged to change. But will they really?
Feminism as a social movement has been present for more than 100 years, at least in the sense in which it has become noticeable to the public and encouraged some final change. In terms of women’s rights, as well as many other things, society today looks much different than 100 years ago, but the fight for gender equality and equity is far from over and the future sometimes, given some indicators and statistics, does not seem so optimistic and prosperous while the impression might seem that the struggle will be a constant one. Nevertheless, the changes made so far, like change of standards, open public discourse and the pursuit of real equality have opened space for insight and discussion about other, until now perhaps secondary obstacles and problems, whose awareness is an additional step towards a better tomorrow in general.
Emma Watson, a well-known British actress, feminist and UN ambassador, was one of the few who, in her famous speech at the UN General Assembly, publicly called for awareness of the fact that men are as much victims of gender stereotypes as women are.
“I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent valued less by society,” Watson added. “I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. … Men don’t have the benefits of gender equality either.”
Watson stressed the importance of pointing out and raising awareness of harmful and destructive stereotypes about masculinity and consistent expectations that are imposed on boys from early age and affect their attitudes and behaviors in adulthood.
In public discourse, there are constant discussions about the upbringing of girls, the roles, characteristics, skills and expectations that are imposed on them from birth and affect their daily professional and family life as an adult. Public discourse, discussion and awareness of the problem are a key step towards change, a stage in which we are currently are in regarding certain issues related to gender inequality and women’s rights. Some of the examples are the MeToo Movement, advocacy for equal pay, supporting women’s leadership, various initiatives for working mothers, etc.
But this is one side of the story, and the issue of gender inequality and gender stereotypes has another side, related to prejudices and stereotypes towards men, and solving one cannot be done without knowing and solving the other. When women behave in a way that is different from the expectations of society and deviates from certain set standards, they are considered less likable, aggressive, conceited, etc.
But what is happening on the other side? If strong standards of masculinity are called into question and deviate from them in behavior, are men as susceptible to judgment as women? The answer is, certnaly yes.
The difference in ways in which we are brought up and what expectations are imposed on us depending on gender is absolutely present, perhaps even interesting to some and, when you look a little closer, absurd. While girls are seen as more emotional, gentle, intuitive, smart, tidy and responsible, boys are mischievous, messy, aggressive with a tendency and a “natural click” for math, for example.
What happens then? In general, girls may be more responsible because they are expected to be so as well as being calm, helping with household chores, and at the same time being polite, tidy, diligent, and have good grades in school. On the other hand, the only obligation boys have is school and often, like girls, extracurricular activities like sports. But even though we also raise boys to be responsible, hardworking, diligent and good at school, the attitude certainly seems more relaxed than it is towards girls. Because boys are naturally easygoing and gifted, “naturally intelligent but lazy“, gifted at sports activities but clumsy at vacuuming and tidying up dishes, and so on.
It’s logical to assume that these boys grow up to be confused teenagers and men. From the habit that everything goes “naturally” and “by hand” for them and lacking knowledge of household chores and taking care of everyday operational tasks, to the expectation that suddenly occurs in life that they must be “someone and something”, successful, hardworking, earn well, take care about family, wife, children, etc. When we add to all this the mentioned concept of strong masculinity responsible for the belief that men are expected not to cry, not to show weakness, not to ask for help and to be successful, it seems impossible to deny that men are also victims gender stereotypes.
And that is their side of the story. Women are on the first one, more familiar side where they, through their upbringing thought to be responsible, multitask and use their emotions, develop ambitions and aspirations, and as adult women face socially set barriers that prioritize gender in opposition to skills and abilities.
Many would agree that women throughout history have been and are today, as many factors, such as pay gap, employment rates, parental leave, and violence rates, confirm, are at a disadvantage compared to men in terms of gender inequality and gender stereotypes. But this should not be a competition. Socio-historical movements and processes have led us to recognize that the problem lies at two, interdependent ends and inequality towards one implies inequality towards the other.
International Father’s Day is celebrated today in many countries around the world to remind of the importance of fathers’ involvement in the upbringing and development of children from an early age and invite children, parents and the society as a whole to express their gratitude for their role and importance. But this topic should not only be highlighted one day of the year and should be present as a constant segment in discussions and aspirations about gender equality and equity.
Parental leave for fathers or so-called paternity leave is becoming an increasingly popular topic in HR discussions, strategies and support programs for gender equality. The reason for this is that recent research shows that today’s modern fatherly role tends to be more involved in raising children and family life, while the traditional “male” career prioritization is less emphasized. Therefore, working conditions such as parental leave for moms and dads and flexible working hours, that provide men and women the balance of private and business life, or WorkLife balance are becoming a necessity for successful and sustainable businesses.
It is impossible to ignore the existence of a certain stigma in society and public discourse around paternity leave based on a deep-rooted gender stereotype about the distribution of male and female roles. Fathers who exercise their right to parental leave seem to be looked down upon, questioned and even laughed at in some cases, which is certainly one of the main reasons why many, as research shows, do not use their right to parental leave despite their desire to do so.
The more active involvement of fathers in the upbringing of children and the equal division of family responsibilities also has a positive effect on the satisfaction of women who, in addition to performing their new parental role, must also prepare for returning to work. There are also positive effects for children – more active and involved fathers have a positive effect on the child’s cognitive, social and emotional development from the earliest days of life.
Paternity leave is not and should not only be a strategic tool for attracting talent in the recruitment process but also contributes to inclusiveness, motivation and retention of employees as well as reducing pay gaps, a 2018 survey of employed American parents showed. Some of the other research results were:
56% of employed parents confirm that there is a difference in support and encouragement to take parental leave within the firm for the benefit of women.
72% of employed fathers claim they would use their parental leave when they saw their male counterparts do the same.
74% of employed parents agreed that encouraging fathers to use paternity leave helps mothers in their career advancement.
That parental leave is an important segment for fathers and a step forward towards achieving gender equality was recognized by the European Union, which in 2019 adopted a new Directive aimed at achieving gender equality, encouraging greater employment of women and women’s careers and involving fathers in the development and upbringing of young children from an early age.
Consequently, an increase of employment, wages and career advancement of women, reduction of stereotypes about gender roles in family life and enablement of greater emotional connection between fathers and children from an early age are expected.
Paternity leave has benefits even companies – by taking care of children on their own, fathers not only improve their parenting competencies but also acquire new skills such as multitasking, stress management and organizational skills that they can apply in their workplace. Furthermore, as parental leave encourages loyalty and retention of the company’s workforce, as well as society should encourage greater frequency of use of parental leave by fathers and allow them to spend more time with their children, for the benefit of all of us.
To create inclusive, equitable and attractive jobs that care for the well-being of all its employees and attract and retain the best talent, it is crucial to recognize that issues such as gender equality do not only apply to women and working mothers but go both ways. Fathers often fall victim to the expectations of society and the environment. That is why the DADFORCE standard has been developed, to help companies provide working conditions that will show responsibility towards working fathers, but also achieve gender equality in general.