Radical Acts of Equality

This is my latest piece for Huffington Post where I am now blogging regularly about families, family separation, parental alienation and  equalities issues which as you know I am deeply concerned about.  Please do visit and like my posts, the more people like them the stronger my presence on HuffPost, where I will also be writing about all things to do with parental alienation, the controversies, the treatments and the difficulties of working in such an acrimonious field.

I was drinking tea in a Cafe in London this week when I observed what I think is probably the most radical act of equality I have ever seen. Sitting amidst the mummies and their children, I observed a young Asian man, no more than about eighteen, arrive with a tiny baby. The baby was crying loudly and clearly needed feeding and as I watched the young man struggling with the bib and the bottle, I became suddenly aware of an absolute air of tension in the cafe. I switched my attention and observed that collectively the mothers in the cafe were staring, (one open mouthed) at the young man. As the baby locked on and he gazed into the baby’s eyes, stimulating love, attachment and the development of mirror neurons, gradually, each mother became once again aware of herself and turned back to what she was doing.

Like a herd realising the danger had passed, each woman became again an individual, though I continued to observe as each mother cast glances to check that the baby was safe in its father’s arms. One woman close by still could not resist offering to give the man a hand, he smiled and declined and went back to his charge.

I drank my tea and thought about the way in which these women, faced with a scene which clearly challenged their personal experience, struggled with their collective biology in competition with their upbringing as modern young women. Whether he was conscious or not of what he had done, I silently applauded the young man for his courage and determination to be the dad he wanted to be. His choice, to provide for his child the care that he could give, in public and against so much of what we are still not alive to in our drive for equal rights. The right to make choices about who we are and how we live and work and care for the children that we bring into the world.

Equality is so often regarded as being about women’s choices and women’s needs and yet, in the western world, so much of what women choose to do and choose to be is still scrutinised, not least by women themselves and especially by those who are concerned with equality. Being old enough to remember the onset of second wave feminism, it seems to me that the original beliefs about women’s liberation have become lost in a drive to consider concepts of fluid expressions of gender instead of liberation from gendered constraints in our identity. Those early calls for men into childcare and liberation of both men and women from gendered strait jacket roles seem to me to have disappeared, replaced instead with concepts of how we choose to dress, or think or feel about ourselves as men and women. It would appear from this scene however, that those fundamental roles, so long ascribed to men and women on the basis of biological determinism, seem to run like a river under the narrative that we can be anything and anyone we choose to be.

If we can be anything that we choose to be then that scene in the cafe this week would not have happened because those women would not have noticed a baby with its father crying to be fed. Instead, like deer grazing on the plain, the sound of the baby caused invisible signals to ricochet around the room, triggering a collective anxiety that could not be quelled until each individual woman was satisfied that the baby was safe.

I wondered how many of these mothers wanted to go back to work and how many felt that being able to do so is proof of equality in action. And whether their collective biological responses, are something we need to talk about more so that gender roles can be shared and men and women are more free to make choices about who they are in the world and the family.

For me that young man’s actions were more radical than any I have witnessed in all of the years that I have been working in the field of equalities. I applaud him and his courage. May his brothers follow and show us that sharing the care, (even when challenging popular conceptions about what babies and young children need), is as necessary a step to equality as opening the doors to the boardroom for women.

8 thoughts on “Radical Acts of Equality

  1. Total equality is where roles are interchangeable seamlessly, however as Karen rightly points out we also have out countless years of DNA programmed evolution to contend with and that has to be overcome by constant conscious thoughts and actions. Mask profiles allow us to do that but still underlying is our evolutionary auto response “programming” that will not be changed any time soon. That is not being sexist or gender biased, it is just plain facing facts that to overcome our DNA, it is a constant vigilant process and it can’t happen all the time as we will naturally lapse, after all we are only human. Also if the feminist are trying to take over the system and they are in the minority then they do not represent the correct demographic of most moderate people. They have infiltrated to where their radicalism can be most effective, in positions of power and behind those positions, as radicals they are driven above and beyond what and how moderate people are, however in order to restore balance, it is down to the moderates amongst us to take back the middle ground and stamp our version of our vision, that of a truly fair system.
    God forbid a system of equality that is actually good for men and women equally!


  2. A very astute observation and article Karen. I was a primary carer for over 9 years of 3 young children in NW London and virtually never met hostility from men. But on occasions I met the pursed lips and hard stare from women and more often the comment ” does the mother know you have the children” or the very common one ” your’e so good with the children, I would never trust my husband with the children.” The most common one of all was ” I wish my husband would do more of the caring for me, I always have to do everything for the children.”

    The underground river here and in the Cafe you write about is the Matriarchial Role. And the matriarchs do not like competition, not one little bit. But many do so like to play the martyr act, a new version on the old Irish mother self martyr status. Ironically most people paid not the slightest attention to me being out and about with the children, it was only when the mums found out I was the primary carer that the above comments came about. So, radical acts of equality within the cage of matriarchial primacy role, and that will be one hard river to divert. Still, one of Hercules tasks was diverting a river, looks as if Ms Woodall you find yourself doing the same. Best of Luck.


  3. Hello Karen,

    Good article.

    Re Huffington post. Are they having problems with receiving comments for the comments section? Tried to login with my personal email address with no luck. Tried my business email address and eventually my Facebook account. No success.

    Is it just me or maybe worth checking out?



  4. I see that Murdoch’s toilet papers are shitting out several articles these days about the lack of women in politics. The implication is of course that men are to blame for this, as they are for everything else bad in the cosmos. I’ve never seen in all my years a single article crying over the lack of men taking on parenting full time? The explanation that journalists are just too ignorant or unintelligent to question why things are like this seems too simple.


  5. As you say the truly radical change will be when men are not under additional scrutiny when caring for their children, or children at all. I do so agree that the notions I knew as a young man, that the aim was that sex would not be destiny for either sex, have been shifted back to ideas of almost Victorian ideas of motherhood, men as in need of being “civilised” , use of “servants” to look after children and a narcissistic concern with self.


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