While watching a morning re-run of TV3’s ‘Midday’ programme last week, I could feel my temperature rising as I fulfilled some domestic odds and ends before hitting Munster Express Towers.
Some members of the exclusively female panel were suggesting that Irish fathers require a GPS to locate the dishwasher and that the Irish mother still does everything in the home.
The tone of the programme forced me to consult the calendar on the laundry door to remind myself of what century I was living in. Yes, remarkable that I know where the washing machine is, isn’t it?
During an exchange with Miriam O’Callaghan who had called the programme to clarify comments attributed to her regarding women in the home, panellist Dil Wickremasinghe said the following.
“When you (i.e. women) come home after a hard day’s work, you will see the kitchen needs to be cleaned, you will see that the dishwasher needs to be emptied…I think we’re letting them (men) off. I think they do see it but they think ‘do you know what, if I ignore it long enough, sure my wife or my girlfriend or my partner will do it’.”
This was immediately followed by a claim by Sunday Times columnist Brenda Power, suggesting that “it’s too easy to let men off the hook” and that the “division of labour at home” remained a predominant female burden.
Again I checked the calendar to ensure I hadn’t been teleported back to the 1950s. To my great relief, it was still 2011 and this was still a democratic Republic, rather than an authoritarian state ruled by a pack of ‘tie them to the kitchen sink’ misogynists.
To no great surprise, Article 41 Section 2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann got an airing during a programme which relievingly didn’t conclude with the panellists singing ‘I Will Survive’.
It reads: “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that
mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”
Is it outdated? Of course it is. Should it be removed or amended from the little blue book? Of course it should, but changing a few words won’t matter a whit to any mother (or father for that matter) struggling to pay their bills in this cash-strapped country of ours.
The previous sentence in our Constitution, however, is rarely referenced whenever the gender debate enters media discourse.
It states: “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”
There are many things which mothers do for their children which, physiologically, fathers cannot.
That women in the Irish home have done the State a greater service than has ever been recognised either formally or monetarily goes without saying. Only the moronic would suggest otherwise.
Yet both parents are equally capable of changing nappies, washing clothes, preparing dinners, pushing strollers and, lo and behold, emptying dishwashers.
Now I don’t know if some social supernova exploded of late in Ireland, but there is, without question, an altogether different expectation on Irish fathers today than that which prevailed in previous generations. Things have changed and for the better, most would agree.
The man’s role in the home (in many instances, though not all) no longer consists of leaving a few bob on the kitchen table at the end of the week before hitting the pub
A great many Dads are engaged in the nitty gritty of rearing a child nowadays in a manner that would never have been countenanced during the days when women unquestionably carried the domestic burden.
It’s work they’re happy to do and certainly reduces the potential for a child permanently subdividing mother and father into ‘good cop, bad cop’ roles.
The depiction of man the breadwinner and master of all he surveys as captured in TV drama ‘Mad Men’ (when Dads always remained in the hospital waiting room during childbirth) surely doesn’t apply now.
Men no longer adjourn to the smoking room with their cigars and brandy while their Stepford Wives clear away the dinner dishes before breaking out the embroidery kits. But you’d have been mistaken for thinking differently watching ‘Midday’ last week.
Of course there are fathers who bolt from their responsibilities, who choose to opt out of the moulding and development of their sons and daughters, who don’t even make a financial contribution to their upbringing.
Of course these lazy, selfish sods exist and it’s important to acknowledge that.
But the contention of the ‘Midday’ panellists did a colossal disservice to many fathers who, like their wives/partners, aren’t seeking praise for fulfilling their responsibilities as parents.
They’re merely doing what they expect of themselves as fathers, let alone whatever expectations their significant others might have of them regarding the discharge of parental duty.
In a movie series hardly known for its social enlightenment, even ‘The Godfather’ challenges the manner in which many of its male protagonists treated their wives.
In an exchange with his ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ son Sonny (James Caan), Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) asks: “Do you spend time with your family?” Sonny replies: “Sure I do.” The Don, surely aware of Sonny’s infidelity, in turn replies: “Good. Cause a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
And believe it or not, one can even remain a real man when
opting to unload the dishwasher.