Posted by Meera Suresh Babu
If you think about it, one can barely find a man or to be more specific, a father, in the advertisements of baby care products such as diapers. The majority of the advertisements of diapers portrays moments that are shared by a mother and her child. Now most of them might wonder why is that a concern and such a thought comes from our socialisation of seeing mothers as the primary caretakers of the child. Mothers are expected to provide all their time, attention and love to the child and to place the needs of the child above their own needs. This intensive mothering takes a great toll on the mother’s physical and emotional wellbeing. When advertisements focus on the child and mother relationship for the promotion of their products, it is reinforcing the norm of motherhood as the primary caretaker.
It is in this context that an Indian brand recently launched an advertisement that discusses the theme of equal parenting for the promotion of their product. The commercial navigates through the thoughts of a father before and after-delivery and portrays the challenges in caring for an infant. The company has started the campaign with the tagline “It takes two to make a baby, it takes two to raise a baby” in 2016.
As part of their campaign, the company with the help of A.C. Nielsen surveyed 432 parents in different metro cities in India. As per the survey, 84% of fathers believe that chores related to the baby are primarily the responsibility and requires the involvement of mothers. It is not a shocking result that was unexpected, however, it is a result that needs serious consideration in the current times. The rise of nuclear families gave rise to concerns around childcare especially for pre-school children. More importantly, in families where both the parents are working, childcare has become a pressing issue. The formal child-care arrangements such as creche are not relied upon by parents due to trust and quality issues.
The traditional belief about gender roles that place men as ‘breadwinner’ and women as ‘caretaker’ is still running deep in Indian families, which is one of the prime reasons for the lower participation of mothers in the labour force. The expectations around the father’s role in childrearing are still constructed around patriarchal lines: providing economic means. The absence of paternity leave, unlike maternity leave is an outcome of such culturally institutionalised gender roles. Paternity leave in India is only available for a certain class of population such as central government employees and the leave period is for 15 days. Other private and unorganised sectors do not have such provision unless the individual organisation takes an initiative.
Often a father who takes care of the needs of children in the absence of a mother is seen in a light of sympathy. One often finds situations where people ask the father whether the child is doing fine without the mother in cases where the mother is employed and the father stays back and take care of the child. On the other hand, the same question is not asked of a mother as it is taken for granted that the child will do fine even if the father is absent. Despite the existence of family-friendly policies, it is equally important to spread awareness on equal parenting and time to redefine the expectations about the role of the father.
“It takes two to raise a baby” campaign says nothing new, but continuing the dialogue around equal parenting is important in present times. Especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the work has been transferred to homes. It has also led to parents spending more time with children. Yet how many fathers might be engaged in chores relating to children is a question that needs to be echoed.
Division of labour around parenting is also something that needs to be analysed. Parenting includes a whole range of activities that can involve physical to emotional labour. The engagement of parents in physical labour such as cooking and feeding the children to bathing the children and in emotional labour such as reading stories to children and playing with them will vary from family to family. The division of such tasks in a family where both parents are employed will be different from that of a family where only one parent is employed. Also, the arrangements vary based on religion, class and caste, especially in the Indian context. There can also be an unequal division of labour under parenting. Even in families where the father stays back, mothers who are employed still tend to be regarded as the primary caretaker of the children. The probability that women will end up doing tasks that require more time and physical energy is more due to the underlying belief that ‘mothers know best’.
Even though it is easy to say equal parenting, how much of it requires to be considered as equal is something that needs further conversation and analysis.
The final dialogue said by the father in the advertisement that focuses on equal parenting goes like this “Just being called a father is not enough. I must become one”, which reminds one of the quote of Simone de Beauvoir (1949) from her book ‘The Second Sex’ which is “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. The emphasis on the process of becoming “someone” calls for the performance of certain activities and tasks. Now the question of how does one become a father can yield multiple results varying from one person to another.
One should also be conscious of defining the essential features of fatherhood as it has happened in the case of motherhood. It might force or expect one to adhere to such features or characteristics of fatherhood limiting the alternatives of fatherhood. It might then take form as “ideal fatherhood” against which other activities of fathers will be compared much like how motherhood is now. Conversations around equal parenting should not be limited to a two-minute advertisement. We also need to start questioning the norms that are seen as ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ that reinforces gender inequality. It needs to be taken forward by advocating for parent-friendly labour laws and provisions along with awareness in the society on equal parenting.
Meera Suresh Babu is a Doctoral Scholar in the department of Social work at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is interested in exploring themes such as Reproductive rights, Motherhood and Women’s Labour. She can be found on Facebook.
Featured image source: Shreya Tingal/Feminism In India