French fathers don't change nappies

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Photo: Getty Images

You have to love the French. After all, this is a people whose collective genius managed to make philosophy into a career, legitimised pastry as breakfast food and gave us Gerard Depardieu.

And, oh yes, they came up with liberté, égalité, fraternité.

But it’s not all Champagne and Boules in Franceland. It’s disheartening, but they have conservatives just like us. And although their conservative politicians wouldn’t be seen dead in lycra, on most other counts they’re just as objectionable.

What’s even worse, some of their most outspoken conservatives are women. Recently, French conservative politician Valerie Pecresse has come out and said that men have more important things to do than change nappies.

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In a debate about making parental leave more egalitarian in France, Pecresse said, ‘Do you think that most fathers want to change nappies?’

I’m not sure how many actual women Pecresse has been talking to, but I’ve yet to meet one who actually wants to touch, see and smell their kid’s dirty nappies.

Pecresse isn’t the first powerful woman to make excuses for many men’s unwillingness to share the nappy-changing tasks. Her fellow national Carla Bruni-Sarkozy dished the dirt on former French president Nicolas saying he absented himself from this parenting task because he is ‘a Latin man’.

Well, that clears that up then.

And it’s not just a French disease. Madonna claimed Guy Ritchie didn’t change nappies because he's 'a man's man', and 'it's not a man's job'.

To be fair, in most families, mums stay home for a while and dads go straight back to work. Therefore women encounter more of the estimated 7000 nappies required per child before they are toilet trained.

But I don’t think this fully accounts for the discrepancy in nappy changing duties between men and women. Based on my, admittedly unscientific, research of one child, I’ve observed that babies and toddlers also excrete outside of business hours.

Pecresse, however, tried to recover some respectability in her argument. But in doing so, she managed to both flatter and degrade men in the same breath.

‘If we want to share the responsibilities of fathers and mothers in the education of their children, we should certainly encourage fathers to take parental leave’, she said. ‘But they will be more willing to take it with an older child, and their employers will better accept seeing fathers getting involved in more complicated problems.’

‘We know well how much children need to be followed during their adolescence. And that is the moment when the need for fathers is greatest, notably because they are a figure of authority,’ she said.

Aside from the nauseating spectacle of yet another conservative and powerful woman excusing men by claiming they have more ‘authority’ than women, the idea that there is a ‘moment’ when men are required in their child’s life is insulting.

Ironically, the idea that men have more important things to do than raise children devalues men as well as women. The implication of Pecresse’s argument is that fathers are pretty much rubbish at everything when it comes to parenting young children.

If you accept this logic, then the only useful role that fathers play in their children’s lives is teaching them to play chess or advising their offspring on which university they ought to study at.

This limited notion of masculinity reduces men to that of enforcers and advisors. And you have to wonder how successful their attempts to give advice or enforce rules will be if their kids hardly know them.

While many emotionally-distant fathers do exert an influence on their children, as the children seek their approval — even into adulthood — such relationships are hardly ideal. In many cases, they’re damaging and hurtful.

It may come as a surprise to conservatives, but having a penis doesn’t mean that people automatically respect you or take your advice. Sorry. I don’t make the rules.  

Early childhood is a critical time to establish bonds and trust between parent and child. It’s also fun. Aside from the drudgery of nappy changing and other domestic tasks, playing with young children and watching them develop is wondrous and life-affirming.

Men who are fathers-by-appointment are missing out. By prioritising other activities that are more ‘important’ they miss out on the richness of what’s really important.

Kasey Edwards is the author of Thirty-Something and The Clock is Ticking: What happens when you can no longer ignore the baby question. www.kaseyedwards.com

65 comments

  • So it's okay for the boys to prioritise changing a car tyre (manly!) over leaving their kid sitting in its own excrement? Backward.

    Commenter
    lizzy
    Location
    the deep north
    Date and time
    July 19, 2013, 7:16AM
    • "The implication of Pecresse’s argument is that fathers are pretty much rubbish at everything when it comes to parenting young children."
      Precisely.... take a new mother and father, neither of whom have had any experience caring for babies and suddenly the father's learning capacity tanks, but the mother just 'knows' how to do it all? We all know this is absolute rubbish, yet this is how parenthood is viewed by our society in general.
      I will never understand why a man who is quite competent at grasping complicated concepts, and is a highly educated and intelligent individual is viewed as being unable to comprehend and undertake the most basic of child-rearing tasks. Or worse - he uses society's belief in his incompetence as an excuse not not bother trying in the first place, thereby further devaluing what is considered to be 'women's work' and reinforcing this stereotype.
      Men can't give birth and they can't breastfeed. That's it. No more excuses.

      Commenter
      Ames
      Date and time
      July 19, 2013, 7:59AM
      • Agreed - it denigrates men to suggest they're incapable of learning the other things just as well. I take the author's point that more women than men spend more time with small children, however most men take some initial time off and if you throw yourself in at the deep end you'll soon find yourself swimming freely.

        Despite spending more time with the offspring due to working from home, I was completely rubbish at baths, because from day one (I wasn't in a good way after the birth) he did the bath thing which continued at home, after he got home from work.

        When he spent a week away at nine months, I only tried once, I found it so tricky (in a deep old claw foot bath). How anyone manages to wash a heavy, slippery piece of humanity doubled half over is beyond me. Just goes to show that practice makes perfect.

        Commenter
        bornagirl
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 19, 2013, 10:13AM
      • "Ironically, the idea that men have more important things to do than raise children devalues men as well as women. The implication of Pecresse’s argument is that fathers are pretty much rubbish at everything when it comes to parenting young children."

        What a huge dollop of sh*te. There is absolutely no such implication whatsoever just your overactive imagination at work. So no, we don't accept that logic ' cause it ain't logic.

        What the article firmly and clearly denotes is that men do not like changing nappies. Not that they cannot do anything else relating to children. That is an absurd conclusion to draw.

        I think some female partners should just suck it up. Men don't want to change nappies just as they don't generally want to do indoor housework, so the male housework contribution will in all likelihood never increase much.

        Outdoors housechores is fair enough - and this is invariably expected by the female partner anyway. What's the problem.

        Commenter
        Popper
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 19, 2013, 11:44PM
    • Ms Pecresse is obviously quite behind the rest of the modern world on the nappy changing issue.

      However her idea of delayed parental leave - maybe taking a year off and making the kids' lunches, doing canteen duty, attending teacher meetings - certainly does have merit (for parents of either gender).

      Commenter
      Deesby
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 19, 2013, 8:01AM
      • Too funny. With both of my kids I took 3 months' paternity leave. Highly recommended.

        Commenter
        Me
        Date and time
        July 19, 2013, 8:17AM
        • Good on you. Bet you wouldn't have changed it for the world. My husband took six weeks (a while ago now) which was more than usual at the time, because I was self employed. We both learnt together.

          Commenter
          bornagirl
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          July 19, 2013, 10:23AM
      • A lot of this depends on your opinion of men vs women and their ability/enjoyment of looking after babies.

        Can a man breast feed? Did did he carry and deliver the a baby? Did his biological clock 'go off'? Does he get a rush of certain hormones while feeding the baby?

        Screw the extreme feminists! Most women are better equipped to look after babies than most men. E.g. I dare you to approach a normal woman after giving birth and tell her to go to work immediately while hubby looks after her child. Let daddy raise it. She'll claw your eyes out.

        So who will change more of the nappies? Mum. Because she is around.

        FWIW, I think both parents need to share working, childing, homeing etc... like Kasey says, the bonds are formed when they are really young.

        Commenter
        cranky
        Location
        pants
        Date and time
        July 19, 2013, 8:27AM
        • How many mothers have you interviewed to reach this conclusion?

          I returned to full time work 8 weeks after having my first child and my husband stayed at home. There was no clawing of eyes as we both agreed it was the best option.

          While I think it is probably true that the majority of new mothers prefer to stay home with a new born, that does not mean that it is true for all new mothers. There are always going to be people who do not follow the average behaviour.

          Commenter
          Judy
          Date and time
          July 19, 2013, 10:03AM
        • I think the biological clock in the sense that is commonly referred to is a myth. It's more like social pressure to have kids because of the way society views women who don't have any.

          Commenter
          Cimbom
          Location
          Real World
          Date and time
          July 19, 2013, 10:05AM

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