By George Kanjere from The Northern Dads Group
Recently I have been featured in a couple of articles, one in the Herald Sun, and one in The Daily Mail, about the lack of change tables in men’s bathrooms. I feel that, while these articles were well-meaning they do not represent my feelings on the issue, and I also think that some people may have incorrectly read into my advocacy for change tables in men’s bathrooms, which has so far been limited to these two articles. I also wanted to say that I do not want to take up valuable space talking about this issue – I thought an article in the Leader was reasonable, but it grew into two, and then a possible television interview (which, thankfully, was cancelled).
I had intended to try and address what I talk about below, but clearly this was not ever going to be possible (could it be that I was being a bit naïve?).
Firstly, and most importantly, I think there a myriad of other issues surrounding parenting and gender that are much, much more important than whether men have access to baby change tables in public spaces. Pregnant women and mothers still face discrimination in the workplace, and work and life choices can become severely limited once a woman becomes a mother. Women are now expected to be the primary carer and still hold down a job, in effect doing more work than ever before in what has become known as the “second shift”. Women are still fighting for control of the environment that they will give birth in. Women shoulder the majority burden of child care both at home and as childcare workers, a role that is still massively undervalued both morally and economically. The list goes on and on, and it is a shameful reflection of the gender inequality in our society, of which men are the beneficiaries. It is true that progress has been made but to me it pales in comparison to the progress that still needs to be made in so many areas.
So it is in this context that I agreed to participate in these two articles about the lack of baby change tables in men’s bathrooms: it is an entry point into a discussion about men and parenting, which both indirectly and directly impacts on bigger issues such as those outlined above. As a result of the skewed expectations on men and women surrounding parenting men rarely take the role of primary caregiver. Under our patriarchal system this job is little valued, its difficulty is downplayed, and therefore men eschew it. There is also peer pressure not to be involved, and some aspects of parenting are, rightly or wrongly, considered a woman’s domain – but ultimately the blame for this situation rests with us, with men. While there are situations in which this role is shared equally, in general the mother is the primary carer. Sure, men are the fathers of our children, and we may go to work while our partners stay at home and thereby provide for our families (although some fathers fail even to do that), but we do not do the actual caring. We are not at home. We do not change the nappies, or feed the baby, or check if the baby is cold and put more clothes on her. We do not think about ways to support our breastfeeding partners, or ways to make the baby sleep through the night. We play on the floor with the baby for a little while, but if she starts crying then we hand her over.
Many people would say they are happy with this arrangement, to which I would say: fine, but, within your relationship could it be otherwise? Have you really arrived at this arrangement after trying alternatives? Why aren’t men more involved as parents? Why aren’t we prepared to support our partner’s careers, rather than the other way around? Equality isn’t just women achieving equal pay in the work place, equality also means men taking on what has been historically considered women’s work. This means taking care of our children, and becoming that person that your child needs every day. It means putting our career second. If we as men are committed to equality, we must be committed to this.
There is a huge, massive positive to becoming a primary carer, which is often overlooked: it means opening up to a whole aspect of oneself and one’s children that you would otherwise never experience. Being a primary carer of your child is something be treasured, to be really there for your child as that person: that person who will be warm and comforting when your kid stubs their toe; that person who makes a fun birthday cake; that person who always says no to chocolate at the supermarket. Being that person is a whole new world of possibilities as a human being which is going to be obscured from the male experience until being a primary carer is considered a perfectly fine and normal thing to do.
So, after a long segue we get to change tables. I think that change tables in the men’s toilets are important because they say several things. They say that if a man wants to be a proper parent and change his children’s nappies, he can and he should. Their presence in the men’s bathroom would indicate an expectation that, yes, fathers can and should change their baby’s nappies, something which could help parents of both genders come to change their outlook.
The systematic placing of change tables in women’s bathrooms is an institutional enforcement of sexist, backward gender roles. There is simply no reason not to legislate that where change tables are provided they must be in the bathrooms of both genders or, even better, in a unisex parents’ room.
Listen to George’s 3AW interview on the subject here.
Follow George on Twitter here.