A recent column by Stuart Heritage in the Saturday Guardian Family section (“Man with a pram”, 3rd April 2015), left me with a number of questions and a feeling of unease.
His opening statement – “The first rule of being a dad is that you’ve got it easy” – seems to collude with the preconception that fathers are not able to make an equal contribution in the development of a child. It would have been nice to see him question this “rule” instead of pandering to this stereotypical view that fathers are redundant.
We need to get away from the polarised comparisons that Stuart describes: his life is “a breeze”, whereas his wife’s is described as a relentless process of caring for their infant. Instead, we need to accept that where there are two people involved in the upbringing of a child there will inevitably be different demands and challenges (some obviously physiologically driven) but buying into comparisons and competitiveness is anti-feminist and backwards thinking.
Maybe Stuart should be questioning this disparity rather than reinforcing it.
He goes on to write about his wife’s post-birth weight loss (presumably in a few weeks time he will re-focus this pre-occupation onto Kate Middleton along with a large proportion of the British press and public). According to Stuart, his wife’s weight loss is “spectacular” and “incredible”, and she has “plummeted” several dress sizes.
We know there are many women disproportionately focussing on their body size, and women who have just given birth may be particularly vulnerable to this. We already have a barrage of influences promoting this fixation and we know that this process is starting from an ever earlier age, especially with girls.
I accept he is writing in a humourous and tongue-in-cheek style, and this has its place. However, to equate weight loss with adjectives that implicitly hold such positive values (spectacular, incredible) is dangerous, and only compounds the deeply held belief that women need to be of a certain weight and size.
Why should his wife’s weight be cause for comment at all? My fear is, that this is yet another article about what women should or shouldn’t look like, but dressed up in faux new-man language.
Stuart’s assertion that “breast feeding is by far the best diet” also concerns me. There is much controversy and pressure around the pros and cons of a woman’s choice whether to breast feed or not. Regardless of the medical science that may or may not support this, I would argue that “promoting” breast feeding by implication as a form of dieting is so far away from its primal purpose as to make it almost ludicrous.
Alongside his observation on his partner’s weight is his anxiety with his own. If we are to tackle society’s pervasive pre-occupation with body size, we have to support both men and women in this. Without doubt there is a far greater emphasis and pressure on women and girls in this area, but it is also not OK for a man to fear ridicule – as Stuart states that he does – of inducing a “vomiting spree” because of his perceived extra pounds of flesh.
Despite this being intended as a light-hearted comment it is, I think, further symptomatic of our obsession and discontent with our bodies. When he expresses his own self-disgust, we as readers are drawn in to being part of this machine that perpetuates these expectations.
Underlying all of this, is the complicity with the current vast inequalities between men’s and women’s standing. It is all too easy to put out these messages without considering the wider context. There is nothing wrong with quirky pieces on modern-day relationships and families, but was there a missed opportunity here for offering an alternative for a different, more progressive and equalitarian set of values and lifestyle?