5 Ways to be a First Man Standing as a Father
We’re spending the month of June – Father’s Day month – looking at what makes a good father. Children are exposed to so many gendered messages of how boys and girls should behave. These come through films, clothes, toys, music and adverts, as well as friends, teachers and parents who often reinforce them without even thinking about it. But these messages are often negative, constraining children into pre-set moulds. So how can fathers stand up for gender inequality and for their children’s right to be who they want to be?
We hear a lot about the pay gap, the appalling fact that, even though the Equal Pay Act was passed 46 years ago, the average female worker in the UK still 86.1 p for every £1 a man earns.  But did you know that this gap begins early, in childhood? Girls aged 5 to 16 receive £2.20 less per week than boys.  On top of that, they are allowed less financial independence, meaning the payments are less regular and they are often dependent on others to manage their money for them. Children pick up on gender messages, so if girls are being undervalued at a young age, what ideas will both boys and girls have later about their relative value in the workplace? Norms and expectations are created early; you can make sure you are sending the right messages by giving your children the equal pocket money.
Whether pretending to be a doctor, a parent, or an astronaut, playing is when children get to experiment with “adult life”. So the organisation Let Toys Be Toys put it: “If we tell children there are girls’ toys and boys’ toys, why be surprised when they grow up believing there are girls’ jobs and boys’ jobs?" Toys are marketed in a targeted, gendered way, giving children a very clear idea of what they are “allowed” to like as a girl or as a boy. Some parents are worried when their child shows interest in toys not “meant” for them, perhaps thinking they may be bullied because of it. But in the long term, isn’t it more healthy to let children decide what they are interested in for themselves, rather than reinforcing these gendered divides of interests and ambitions?
One of the best ways to teach your child about gender equality is by your example. Sharing the housework equally sends the message that your relationship is equal, and children will learn to see this equality as the norm. And the advantages are not just limited to children’s perceptions of gender: Surveys have found that when men increase their share of housework and childcare, their children are happier, healthier and do better in school. What's more, when school-aged children do housework with their fathers, they get along better with their peers and have more friends. 
As of 2014, shared parental leave came into effect in Britain. Parents can now take up to 50 weeks off – shared between them – following the first two weeks after birth, and receive statutory pay. But relatively few men have taken up the opportunity: 40% of men choose to take no paternity leave at all and less than 10% of new dads are taking more than their two weeks’ statutory leave.  There’s only so much legislation can do – it’s also up to employers to create an environment where parental leave is encouraged, and up to fathers to take them up on it. Taking leave and spending time with your child is a way to show, right from the beginning, that you are an equal partner in childcare.
Offhand comments like “Man up!”, “Boys don’t cry” or “You throw like a girl” police the behaviour of girls and boys, and is often called out these days. But what still often slips under the radar is the masculine as default: for example, mankind, policeman, businessman and “he” to mean a general person. Using alternative, more gender neutral terms (business people, they, police officer) may feel unnatural to begin with, but this is only because we are not used to it. Imagine if your children grew up with the gender neutral terms as the default and a corresponding non-hierarchical view of men and women’s place in the world.
Throughout June, we’re running a fathers campaign – we want to hear about what you think makes a good father. How has your dad inspired you? How was he a role model? Who is a father figure for you? Find us on Twitter at @FirstManStandng and join the conversation. We’ll donate £1 to White Ribbon for every Tweet we get about good fathers.