This morning, on my Facebook Page, I shared an article about men calling for baby change tables to be installed in men’s rest rooms (click here to read). A member of The Northern Dads Group, George, was one of those men. Some comments to my Facebook Page and other comments on the article itself, came with a bemused tone and questioned whether it’s a serious issue at all, and some made a point of saying that it’s not about gender inequality. I just wanted to put my thoughts on those points out there.

If a restaurant or workplace or public building, without an existing family room (a common thing unfortunately), provides a baby change table in the female restrooms but not in the male restrooms, then OF COURSE it’s about gender equality and therefore it IS a big deal.

Having baby change tables in many women’s restrooms and not in many men’s is just another whispering voice contributing to the ongoing scourge of gender inequality.

Open requests and messages for men to shake off generations of stereotyping and conditioning, to be more involved in parenting and equally responsibile at home are a good start but there are some glaring mixed messages out there and what we see around us speaks louder than words.

Despite more men being involved in parenting there is a still an underlying societal message that men don’t quite belong in the caring role and to see that in effect you only have to become slightly more aware of how baby products are packaged, how domestic products are advertised, how most parent-related stories in major media outlets have ‘mother’ instead of ‘parent’ in the headline, how there are ‘mother and baby’ movie times at cinemas, or how there are no baby change tables in men’s rooms.

That’s just a very small list of the many ways men are subtly and overtly influenced away from really accepting their great potential as parents, to really consider that they have more options available to them than just being the walking wallet for the family; to really open up to the possibility that there are more avenues to ‘success’ and less traditional but equally important ways to provide support; to be more influenced by partnership than patriarchy when negotiating roles within the family.

The cry is ‘get more involved with the children men!’ but this drip drip drip subliminal message undermines the invitation by reinforcing that men are not quite as capable or as welcome to it as women.

The outward message that men are required to become responsible on the domestic frontline is weakened by the underlying message that they don’t quite belong there. The lack of change tables is another whispering voice that reinforces that message: Hey, good on you for trying, but just shrug and grunt and hand your baby over to Mum. Women are the ones who should do the bulk of the childcare.

George-OttalieThis has an effect on every man but is especially restrictive on men who are really struggling to escape internalised traditional ideas of masculinity: that men are not as caring as women, less emotional, less affectionate, not able to multi-task and less natural with babies and children.

If men are not able to firstly become aware of that constant all pervasive message on a conscious level it will remain incredibly difficult for many men to rise above it and it will continue to limit the choices available to themselves and their partners.

And it’s not so difficult to go a few steps further to see how that resilient male stereotype may be contributing to other serious social issues like the gender pay gap; the number of women in leadership and senior management positions ; the inability of men to seek help for emotional suppression and depression, suicide, and domestic violence.

The lack of baby change tables in men’s rooms is reflective of a long history of gender assumption that is still so all pervasive it’s hidden in the very structure of our buildings. It’s another one of those whispering barely discernible voices that confirm old age ideas about what men and women should do, and where they belong. At its core it’s sexist and dangerous and a confirmation of patriarchal beliefs.

It is a big deal.