It’s in their nature by Natalie Wreyford
Inspired by Emma Dabiri’s article in The New Statesman about hair in which she asked us to “Imagine a world that is dominated by Black Africans”, where “All the successful women in society have full resplendent, Afro hair, even the minority white ones.” I thought it might be interesting to try a similar imaginative experiment about gender. So here goes. There’s a lot I couldn’t fit in. Please feel free to come up with some additions.
Imagine a boy… born into a world where all the daddies stay at home and look after the children and the mummies go out to work full time. Where, in the first years of his life, he sees a lot more of Daddy and other daddies than he does of Mummy, and he starts to link his own gender with this important role in life. He is given toys that promote this association – baby dolls to look after, play food and supermarket baskets, even miniature cleaning equipment. He sees Daddy do the cleaning, the shopping, the cooking, the tidying up, and it reinforces the idea that this is what boys and men do. Mummy helps a bit, but it’s not really her job. He sees it all the time on TV and in films too. The men always stay at home with their children and they don’t often have other jobs, only sometimes they are nurses and teachers and other nurturing roles. He also enjoys his sister’s programmes, all about adventures and rescuing people and fighting the bad gals, but his friends all have the same T-shirts he does, the ones with the pretty boys who wear the sweetest shorts and shirts, and who gaze out bashfully from his colouring books and dinner plates, as they pick flowers and stroke baby animals. As he starts school and starts to learn about the world, he begins to realise that the stuff Mummy does, out there in the big world, might be a bit more interesting that this small cozy world of Daddies. He’s doing well at school. He’s ready for new adventures. He’s encouraged to pursue what he’s interested in, and imagine himself in some of the roles that mummies (and a few daddies) take. But all the time, in the back of his head, and often in the front too, is the reminder that one day he will most likely want to have children too, and how will that fit in with all the other plans he has? How will he look after them? He had better make sure that he finds himself a good woman to look after him and the kids. He’d better make sure he doesn’t do anything to put the ladies off. He’d better make sure he looks good all the time, because you never know when Mrs. Right is going to appear. Also the girls seem to have much more confidence in class. They’re not afraid to speak out, or to mess around and get in trouble. It’s part of their nature. It might help if the girls weren’t always commenting on the way he and the other boys look. And reading those magazines stolen from their mums with pictures of men with no clothes on lying around in the strangest of places. The girls have started asking him to text them a picture of himself like that. He doesn’t want to, but he really wants the girls to like him and some of the other boys have done it. As he reaches senior school he starts to think that he should have as much right as the girls in his class to do whatever he wants. But he feels most comfortable in the supportive environment of male-dominated subjects where they talk about art and relationships and don’t get laughed at by the girls when they put on those unflattering lab coats and goggles. His dad went back to work a few years ago, but he’s always there to pick him up from school and on Fridays he goes to the Supermarket. That’s also the day the cleaner, Jose, comes. By the time he’s at university, the boy has decided that he wants to try to make his mark in this world. He’s ambitious to have a good job and to make a contribution to the world. He’s found a girlfriend who is pretty nice to him (after a series of disastrous learning experiences with girls who were only interested in losing their virginity with him and made him feel pretty insecure and unattractive at times). He believes it is possible to have a career and a family. It’s all a question of balance. He imagines working flexi-time, rushing back from an exciting day at work to pick up the children from nursery and sing them to sleep. He doesn’t dare talk to his girlfriend about these things. If she got any idea that he was thinking even in vague, speculative terms about these sort of things it would probably make her run a mile. It’s not like he wants to rush into things, but sometimes he wonders whether it will be as easy as he thinks (he’s heard thinks from the Masculists at the students union which scared him a bit. Something about men doing ‘second shifts’ of work and childcare and not being paid as much as women, and not making it into the senior jobs in practically any professions). But maybe those men don’t want to rise to the top of their professions. That’s fine. Maybe they prefer to stay at home and look after the kids, just like their dads did. After all, it’s in their nature isn’t it?