The Daft Dad Stereotype Needs To Stop

“The first rule of being a man in modern Britain is you’re not allowed to talk about it.”

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It was a very ordinary Tuesday. I went out to collect my class and one of my favourite parents (yes, we have favourites) came running up to me dragging her daughter behind her. “Sorry Miss Brown, it was Daddy’s turn to get her ready today so surprise, surprise, she hasn’t got her glasses!” This isn’t a one off. I’ve heard dads blamed for, incomplete homework, no book bag and unwashed hair. Of course it could just be the case that there are hundreds of incompetent men out there producing children without the intelligence to look after them but I doubt that’s true. It got me thinking.

I am a feminist. This means I believe in equal rights for men and women. In many ways women still aren’t treated equally to men and I will always speak up against that. However, there are mutterings at the moment of a “crisis of masculinity” that cannot, and should not, be ignored.

Research conducted by the Men’s Health Forum, a charity which aims to tackle male health inequalities, found that men are more likely to take their own lives than women – in fact suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 35. The research also discovered that, on average, men attain lower at all stages of school, are more likely to be homeless, are less likely to access NHS services when they need to and, as they get older, men have fewer friends than women and feel more isolated.

So what is going on? Men still earn more than women, they dominate politics and business and are less likely to be the victim of sexual assault or domestic violence. There isn’t an expectation on them to sacrifice their careers for family life and, to top it all off, they don’t have to give birth. Yet suicide is the cause of death for 26% of men under the age of 35.

So let’s start at the beginning.

School Days

The problem starts in the first few years. Seven-year-old boys are 7% less likely to reach the expected level in reading and writing than girls. By the end of Primary school, that gap is eight percentage points. It gets wider the older the children get: at 13 it’s 12%; by GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap is 14 percentage points. So whilst 66% of girls achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C or equivalent, only 56% of boys manage the same. Show me a maintained school that doesn’t have “boys’ writing” on their School Improvement Plan and I’ll show you a school in denial.

One could argue that this is because we have an education system based on an outdated model that measures how many revision notes you can remember and how neat your handwriting is but that is probably being too cynical. Also, I seem to remember the Daily Mail once published a “schools are sexist towards boys” article once so let’s give that argument a wide berth. The reasons boys don’t achieve as highly as girls is a separate article/dissertation in itself (one that I may write in the near future.)

Media Men

Now I am not for a second suggesting that the way men are portrayed is worse than the way women are portrayed but I think there is definitely an issue here. Adverts, in particular, like to present the man as a bit daft, bumbling and almost childlike. Think of any advert that shows a “regular household” and you will see a man struggling to get their heads around childcare, internet providers or electrical goods whilst the women run around sorting out the house, the children and generally saving the day.

Of course the reason this started was to subvert the stereotype of the airhead woman being rescued by the competent, strong man. Whilst I understand where this formula came from I can’t help but feel it is counterproductive in the fight for gender equality. We’ve all agreed it isn’t right to perpetuate unfair, female stereotypes so why don’t we feel the same way about male stereotypes?

A couple of years ago there was a Boots advert that showed two women, full of cold, talking about the busy days they’d had. When they ask about each other’s partners they both explain their partner is tucked up in bed with a cold – bless him. The message is clear: women get on with it whilst men mope about. If that advert was men talking about women it would have been called out as sexist.

From Homer Simpson, to the man who was late to his wife’s prenatal scan because he took a detour to McDonalds or the “Huggies” Dad Test –  advertising love the “dumb Dad.” He is presented as an additional child, creating more work for the Mum. The message is loud and clear: he is surplus to requirement within the household.

Gender Roles

It used to be so simple (albeit unfair.) The man went off to work/kill a mammoth and women would stay at home to cook dinner and clean the cave. Thank God/Father Christmas it changed. Women don’t have to choose between a career or a family, they can have both, either or neither. Inevitably, this fact has had an impact on relationships between men and women too. Women don’t have to rely on men for a roof above their heads/financial support/protection from bears and men cannot assume that the house will be clean and dinner will be on the table when they get home.

This is fantastic and I am so grateful to be born at a time where I can choose whether or not I have children, where I work, where I live and how I spend my money. This does mean that couples, rather than making assumptions, have to have a conscious discussion about the roles they are going to play in their relationships. Are they going to share housework equally? Who will sort bills? Who will do childcare and who will work or will you both do a bit of both? Obviously this issue affects both men and women but are men going to opt for childcare if they are constantly made to feel as though they aren’t doing the job as well as a woman would?

Partners

When I first got together with the Man on the Piccadilly Line people would talk about “training him up” which is a strange way to speak about a human and I’m not sure if any of his friends asked him the same question about me. We’ve allowed this idea that men would be “lost” without women or need us to improve them to take hold. It is unfair, untrue and never said by men about women. It’s the female equivalent of the man that talks about “her indoors” or “the old ball and chain.”

I’ve never heard any of my male friends say, “Yeah she’s putting on weight. I’ve told her she needs to get rid of her tummy so she’s joined a gym. I’ve bought her some new clothes to try and replace those god awful cardigans she wears.” (I’m a big fan of a cardigan.) Yet it’s a common theme women trying to “improve” their partner and not in a “helping them achieve their dreams” sort of way. In a “wear this, eat this and be a bit more like this” sort of way. It’s not by ANY means all, or even most, women but it’s enough.

Surely when you commit to a relationship you are committing to love that person for who they are not for who you hope you will be able to train them to be. By marrying me, The Man on the Piccadilly Line knows that every couple of months he will probably get a phone call asking if he’ll be home soon because I’ve locked myself out. He knows that if we get lost it will be he, and he alone, that has to get us found as my sense of direction and map reading skills resemble those of a snail. He also knows that I will leave my hair straighteners on at least three times a month. Equally, I know that most of our holidays will be taken by train, I will occasionally find the freezer emptied of food and replaced with bags of ice for a DIY air-conditioning experiment and I will sometimes lose him to a novel he’s writing, the World Cup or Battlestar Galactica marathons. I’m sure you could try and train the person you love to be more like version you have in your head but you won’t be particularly successful and it will make you both miserable.

Yet comments like this are so common they’ve almost become acceptable in some female circles. You can talk about your partner’s appearance, annoying habits and make derogatory comments about their intelligence, organisational skills or competencies. (Disclaimer: obviously we are allowed to moan with our friends.) I just worry that for some people there is a sense of achievement in promoting how incapable your partner is in comparison to you. It is possible this stems from some women feeling it is justified. After all, women have had more than their fair share of this sort of treatment, this just resets the balance, right?

I am a feminist. This means I will always fight for equality between the sexes. I’m not saying that men deserve to be held up on a pedestal and neither am I denying that women still suffer at the of hands inequality far more than men do. But let’s be vigilant. The fight for equality is not won by indulging lazy stereotyping.

Vote for me!

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I’ve entered the UK Blog Awards and we’re now into the public voting stage. The Girl On The Piccadilly Line is still very new in blogging years and I know it’s unlikely I’ll win but I figured it was worth a shot. So if you’ve enjoyed reading my musings on everything from Ofsted to cheese I would be so grateful if you’d click on this link and vote for me for Best Education Blog + Odeon Cinemas Best Storyteller.  Extra cheese for anyone that shares the link with their friends and family.

#Teacher5aday Pledge 2016

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Martyn Reah’s idea is a very simple one: If teachers are happy their pupils are happy. To achieve this wellbeing needs to be at the forefront of a school’s agenda and head teachers need to make looking after their staff a priority. However it is all too easy to blame a head teacher for our workload or your stress levels. The idea of #Teacher5aday is that teachers take responsibility for their own wellbeing by pledging 5 changes. if you want to find out more check out the original post here. Also, get involved on Twitter by following the #Teacher5aday hashtag. If you really want to support the cause you can contribute to crowdfunding the #Teaher5aday journal to guide teachers through a year of looking after themselves.

  1. Connect: Easy – spend more time with friends and family. Planning a wedding offers plenty of opportunities for this. Also, try and be more “present” in the evenings. At the moment I tend to get home and collapse onto the sofa and scroll through my phone or get lost in the internet. Time to turn off the screens and make the most of my evenings.
  2. Exercise: Normally at this time of year I would be signing up to a gym or buying a Groupon for 8 Zumba sessions, “this way I’ll definitely go because I’ve already paid for it” no, no it doesn’t mean I’ll go it means I’ve kissed goodbye to £40. This year I need to get real the only way I’m going to be more active is if I can convince my body it isn’t really exercise, like when we told my brother the homemade soup he loved so much was chicken when it was actually mushroom otherwise he’d never have eaten it. So I’ve invested in a Fitbit and I have a target of 10,000 steps a day which is about 7km. The stats get sent to my phone so I can track my progress. This way I’m just building more activity into my day-to-day life.
  3. Notice:  I’ve kept journals on-and-off since I was little and I’ve never been able maintain writing an entry every day. Some days I’m just too busy and others the entry would read, “Watched an entire series of “Orange is the New Black.” However I’ve got this book that I was given last year that requires just one line a day. Just one reflection. I can manage that.
  4. Learn: It’s my 30th birthday this year so it’s probably time to extend the repertoire of recipes I have up my sleeve. At the moment I seem to live off pesto pasta and that’s been the case for the last decade. I LOVE cookery books and have a shelf packed with everyone from Nigella to Nigel Slater. So to keep it manageable I’ll learn just one new recipe a month. Watch this space.
  5. Volunteer: I’m a moderately active member of the Labour Party and I’ll be volunteering my time to campaign during the run up to the mayoral election.  
Whilst this began as an initiative to support teachers I think we’re all prone to burning out and putting our mental health and wellbeing too far down our list of priorities. So whatever your job, think about how you can keep yourself happy and healthy this year. Write the ideas down, stick them on your fridge, scribble them on the mirror  or print them on a t-shirt. Do whatever it takes and remind yourself each day: my wellbeing matters.

Just 3 Teachers

three teachersA couple of weeks ago one of my favourite Educational bloggers @MichaelT1979 published this post. Since then other bloggers have jumped on the bandwagon and done their own version of the post – teachers aren’t as averse to copying as people think. The idea is you pick three teachers from your own education. One who you now emulate, one who changed you and one who inspired you to become a teacher. I really struggled with this as I was fortunate enough to be taught by so many fantastic teachers during my school years. But rules are rules – so here are my three.

1) The teacher I emulated – Mrs Woodhams

I sometimes wonder how different my attitude to school might have been if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to wander into Wendy Woodhams’ classroom at the age of 4.  Although my memories of Reception aren’t hugely clear I do remember that classroom being such an exciting place to be and being desperate to get to school every day. Wendy worked hard to give us real-life experiences so we had a real dentist’s chair in our role play area, god knows how she got hold of it. Our art work wasn’t double mounted and displayed on the wall, instead our classroom became “The Ghostbusters Gallery” (I can only assume we chose the name) that we opened to members of the public.

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5-year-old me curating at our Ghostbusters Art Gallery

We built a Berlin wall and kicked it down for our assembly. Learning was always fun and always started with what we wanted to find out. I think by the time I started school I was well on my way to reading and once I started I didn’t want to stop. Wendy was my very own Miss Honey providing me with her own books that I was allowed to take home.  She was endlessly patient, warm and always, always cheerful and I’m pleased to report that we are still in touch and she is still all of those things today.

2) The teacher who changed me – Mr Hall

Being born in Kent brings one inevitability – the dreaded 11+. Once the tests had decided I was capable enough, I went to a Grammar school in a nearby town. The problem with attending a very high achieving school is that it is all too easy to feel inadequate or imagine you’re failing when you’re not. By the time I was 15 I had decided I was terrible at maths.  This was confirmed for me when I was put in the lower set (because I was predicted a “B” grade at GCSE  and anything less than an “A” wasn’t worth mentioning.) The task of getting me that “B” grade fell to Mr Hall whose official title should be: “The Most Patient Man In Britain”. We went over and over the basic principles; he must have answered the same questions 498 times. Trying to motivate teenagers isn’t the easiest task but with good humour, patience and a huge level of empathy Mr Hall managed to keep us engaged (most of the time.)

I imagine it’s very difficult to teach teenagers, particularly teenage girls as they’ll make fun of any little quirk or idiosyncrasy. High pitched voice or regional accent? There are impressions of you going on in the Common Room. Your clothes, aftershave and the way you walk will all be scrutinised. It isn’t fair or any reflection on how good you are at teaching. However, there are a handful of teachers who escape this treatment either by being relatable, kind and good-humoured or just hugely respected.  Mr Mr Hall was one of them. We thought he was brilliant and he… well, he thought we alright too I’m sure.

It took two long years but somehow, amongst the boyfriend and friendship drama that seems to rule your life at 15, I got my B grade and, far more importantly, my confidence was back. I no longer find Maths intimidating or scary in fact it’s my favourite subject to teach.

3) The teacher who made me want to teach – Mrs Jennings

By the end of Year 6 I’d decided I was going to be a teacher (or a Blue Peter presenter.) I was lucky, I’d had two of most inspiring teachers bookend my Primary education. As I’ve already mentioned I started my education with Mrs Woodhams and in Year 6 I was fortunate to have another inspirational teacher in the shape of Mrs Jennings.

If Mrs Woodhams got me loving reading Mrs Jennings pushed me to the next level. She would always want to know what we were and what we thought about it. She introduced me to Tennyson, Wordsworth,  and Shakespeare. We were only 10 but Mrs Jennings made herself the tour guide as she took us into these new realms explaining the unknown words, providing us with the background knowledge we needed and answering endless questions so we weren’t intimidated by this literature. At the same time she read us picture books, nonsense poems and Roald Dahl. There was no such thing as the books we were “meant” to read – it was just important that we enjoyed reading. I wrote countless stories and poems that year and remember so clearly her positive and thoughtful feedback.

By the time you are in Year 6 you are far more aware of the system you are in and you can better appreciate everything your teacher does for you. I remember watching Mrs Jennings working with a small group of children in our maths lessons. It must have been in the run up to SATs or the 11+ yet there was no sense of stress in herself or the pupils. The group were laughing and working through things at their own pace with just the occasional gentle nudge from Mrs Jennings to stay on task. I remember thinking, “I want to do that when I’m older.”

What I haven’t included are all the teachers I’ve worked with as an adult. So many of them could fit these categories. From Mrs Redshaw, the class teacher I worked with on my first PGCE placement to Miss Noble who taught me to make sure every day is just a little bit magical for the children in her class to my current SLT who I learn from every single day. I’ve worked with the some of best teachers you’ll ever meet (I’ve not met all teachers but just trust me on this) and I’ve learnt from them all.

So – who would be your three?