Shared parental leave – a victory for men’s rights!

Something really awesome happened in the men’s rights arena recently. A change that will benefit millions of prospective fathers in the UK: the parental leave rules changed.

Let’s take a minute to celebrate what this means. In the past, it was always assumed that the person who gave birth to a baby would be the person who’d be the primary carer in its first year. So mothers usually got maternity pay, and it’d be assumed that – beyond the statutory two weeks of paternity leave taken shortly after birth – dads would be the ones working in their child’s first year, while mums took on the lion’s share of childcare.

Obviously this explanation is pretty basic, and doesn’t take into account a whole bunch of stuff – same-sex couples or non binary people who give birth but wouldn’t identify as a mother, for instance – but those were the general rules, and they had a huge effect on UK workplaces. Now, though, thanks to rules on Shared Parental Leave (which came in at the beginning of April), apart from a compulsory statutory two weeks, which must be taken by the person who gave birth, parental leave can be split.

So: Dads are no longer assumed to be the ones working through the first year, missing out on things like their child’s first steps, or the chance to join baby yoga classes or hand-wash tiny babygros that are covered in weird yellow vomit – both parents get to decide how the work/childcare split happens. This is pretty fucking awesome.

Men – please celebrate this! Be happy! Join the party! Because it’s a step on the road to eliminating a whole bunch of stuff that really screws you over. From the big stuff, like the fact that you now get to have an equal opportunity to share in your child’s first stages, to the little but no less significant things, like challenging the attitude that Dad is ‘babysitting’ when he’s actually caring for his own children.

Ally Fogg, who’s written some brilliant stuff on gender issues from a guy’s perspective, welcomed the law change when it was first announced, but pointed out that we’ll need to change much more than just the law before we start reaping the benefits of shared parental responsibility.

“Most of us who have experienced it would probably agree that being a father, while often a source of great joy, can be a tiresome, tedious experience. The temptation is strong to seize on any excuse to skip out of our share, and society provides no shortage of excuses – from the boss who is difficult about time off, to the colleagues who tease or tut, even the lifelong conditioning about masculine mores, those corrosive, irrational but nonetheless very real mental pressures that say active parenting is demasculating.”

He goes on to say that:

“Creating a society where it is a practical norm rather than a theoretical ideal will take more than legislation, but legislation is a good place to start.”

And he’s right – when it comes to attitude change, nothing happens overnight. It’s not like the second these new rules came in, the world ground to a shuddering halt before slowly beginning to spin the other way on its axis. Change takes time. But we’re now one step closer to accepting that it’s not the case that women care and men work: there’s much more variety in different people’s relationships than that.

Where’s my men’s rights party?

As far as I see it, this is a massive victory for men’s rights, and I was pretty curious to see how it was reported on by groups and individuals who have been campaigning on behalf of men and boys. Given that feminists practically brought the house down when they managed to get Jane Austen on a ten pound note, I’d expect that something of this significance would warrant the men’s rights equivalent of a 21-gun salute.

Sadly no.

The loudest voice in men’s rights in the UK is usually Mike Buchanan – founder of the ‘Justice 4 Men And Boys And The Women Who Love Them’ political party. Is he happy about Shared Parental Leave? I can’t tell. He has nothing about the law change on his blog. A search for ‘paternity’ reveals a bunch of rants about paternity fraud, but nothing about paternity leave – an issue which affects a far larger number of men in the UK. A search for ‘shared parental leave’ yields… nothing at all.

Parity – the organisation which claims to fight for equal rights for men and women but seems disproportionately focused on issues that affect men – has nothing at all. In fact, the section of its website relating to ‘equal parenting‘ only talks about divorce, making a fairly bizarre assumption that men only begin caring about their rights to look after their children when a relationship breaks down.

Fathers4Justice, likewise, is focusing heavily on campaigning for shared parenting, but only in the event of divorce. As it happens, I do think there’s a big problem with the way family courts assume that caring is the role of the mother, and the way this leads to custody judgments which tend towards favouring the mother in cases of divorce. But guess what? I think the Shared Parental Leave rules will be a great step towards eroding these assumptions, because fathers will be seen as important right from the beginning.

The Men’s Rights section of Reddit had a couple of mentions of the change, but they were fleeting and dropped pretty quickly from the front page. The biggest ‘discussion’ I found consisted of a few men who were angry because they thought the change in rules would result in women stealing parental leave from their partners. Which is… umm… an odd conclusion to draw.

One of those linked was from Inside Man – which does actually have a few interesting discussion pieces. One, interestingly, laments the fact that a large proportion of new fathers won’t be eligible for Shared Parental Leave because they are with female partners who aren’t currently in paid work. Why, it’s almost as if our assumptions about women as ‘caregivers’ has had some kind of impact on the employment landscape!

Why aren’t we shouting about this?

You might have noticed that I’ve missed something pretty significant from this blog so far – the fact that changes to Shared Parental Leave will also benefit women. And they will. In fact, if you’re a woman, the changes to the rules will benefit you even if you never have children. As soon as we remove the assumption that women care and men work, a whole bunch of exciting stuff opens up for all of us – men and women and people who identify as both or neither, as well as parents and non-parents:

  • could we eliminate the discrimination faced by women of a certain age applying for jobs?
  • will we see companies offer better flexible working options?
  • will there be more career options open to people, as we accept that ‘caring’ roles don’t come more naturally to Susan than Steve?

I could go on about this forever, but hopefully you get my point.

While some writers and commentators (like Ally) are celebrating the change, there’s a strange silence on the part of people like Mike Buchanan, who are usually very vocal on anything that affects men. Why aren’t men’s rights organisations celebrating the Shared Parental Leave rules? I suspect it’s because Shared Parental Leave smacks of the F-word. Feminist organisations have campaigned for better parenting options for a very very long time. And, like all good feminist campaigns, it’s something that should benefit men as well as women: giving them more time with their children, helping them break free of expectations around who should be the breadwinner, etc.

I bang on about feminism all the time here, and nearly every time I do, someone will pop up in the comments to say ‘what about men though?’ and give me examples of issues which disproportionately affect men in society. I maintain that the vast majority, if not all, of these issues are ones which stem from our attitudes that “men are X, women are Y,” assumptions that feminists have been fighting against for a very long time. That’s why I’m sceptical (can you tell?) of organisations like Buchanan’s ‘Justice for Men and Boys’ that claim to take men’s rights back from the clutches of the evil feminists. Or organisations which claim to offer an ‘alternative’ to feminism.

Here’s a genuine men’s rights issue, and it’s also an issue for feminists. Shared Parental Leave – while it won’t immediately change the world – represents a big step towards tackling one of the most damaging assumptions about gender and parenting.

The solution to it doesn’t involve punishing anyone of a particular gender in favour of another, or removing rights from a certain group in order to boost another – unlike some of the bizarre policies in Mike Buchanan’s men’s rights manifesto. But perhaps that’s why it’s not great press fodder for him and his band of angry dudes. Because celebrating this change may well involve accepting that the best decisions on equality are the ones which benefit all of us.


  • Vida says:

    *Quietly bookmarks to link to in case of future argument*

  • RB says:

    I work in HR so I’ve been dealing with this legislation a great deal over the past few weeks; it won’t be something I deal with directly within my job, but I can imagine I’ll be fielding queries about it at some point. From my perspective it’s a total administrative ball-ache, but a necessary one. I’ll have to see how it all pans out.

    I think for Mike Buchanan and his co-horts of misogynists, they wouldn’t say anything for the additional reason that this is GOVERNMENT legislation, and he’s too chicken-shit to praise the government when he’s running for office against the current incumbents of wherever-the-hell-he-lives.

  • joe fat says:

    If your wife isn’t working or is self employed you aren’t entitled to this. What I can’t figure out is if fathers are guaranteed the 2 weeks they used to be allowed regardless. Otherwise it might mean many fathers won’t be entitled to a single days leave without taking as holiday. 40 percent of fathers have a partner who is self employed or unemployed. It sounds like it could just be an incentive to make women work harder, with less less benefits for everyone if they don’t. Is the 2 weeks thing still available regardless of mothers employment status does anyone know?

    • Girl on the net says:

      It is still available, yes: The point of the new rules isn’t to take anything away, but to make leave available on a more flexible basis.

      • Girl on the net says:

        Sorry, just realised that wasn’t clear – you can’t take both (i.e. if you’ve chosen to take shared parental leave, you can’t take paternity leave as well), you can choose between them. Paternity leave is still there as an option if you only want to take 2 weeks (or if your partner doesn’t work), but if you prefer + are eligible you can take the SPL instead.

        EDITED TO ADD – Nope – I read the GovUK website wrong – see comment below from Dad on Leave for proper answer on this!

        • joe fat says:

          Thanks for that. That’s ace. I’ve been looking long and hard for the catch but I can’t find one. It seems there really are no downsides! Which, under this govnt, frankly leaves me baffled. You are totally right to revel in this, its excellent news for everyone! About fucking time we won some better rights for workers. Still a long way to go mind. But for now I’ll drink to it.

        • Dad on Leave says:

          Great post; absolutely spot on! I’m currently on six months of shared parental leave. It’s great for me to get some proper time to bond with my new son. It’s also great for my wife who was eager to return to her career. I’d like to think it is good for our kids too.

          But you’re right that it’s a lot more than legislation that needs to change. I’m hoping for a cultural shift – it would be for everyone’s benefit.

          Small point of clarification. You absolutely can take both the normal two weeks of paternity leave and shared parental leave. Shared parental leave kicks in after the first two weeks are over, and allows both parents to shared the remaining 50 weeks between them as they choose. It doesn’t take anything away that either mum or dad had before.

          You also can take shared parental leave if your wife is self-employed, provided she has worked for 26 out of 66 weeks before the due date and earned at least £390 in 13 of those weeks, as well as meeting the other criteria.

          I’ve written more about this on my blog The and ACAS guides are good reference points on the legislation.

          • Girl on the net says:

            Ah, that’s interesting – and thank you for the clarification! I’ll edit my comment above, and I’ll also have a good look round your blog =)

  • Alan says:

    Anything that lets parents decide what makes sense for them is great and this is another win for dads while taking nothing away from mums.

    Happy to see you getting stuck in to the men’s rights wankers about this too :)

  • @cavasupernova says:

    Good Men Project has stuff on its site about how shared parental leave is beneficial to all genders in the workforce.
    It seems a pretty sensible website – the Men’s Rights ultras probably regard anything posted on there as an act of gender treachery, which obviously goes in its favour.

  • Karmakin says:

    To be fair, it’s very rare to see activists of any stripe celebrate any sort of victory because it’s seen to diminish everything else you’re doing/lower your power/etc.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I disagree – I actually think that campaigners have a tendency to overcelebrate victories, even if they’re relatively minor, because it makes their campaign look more powerful. It’s a fairly recognised campaigning tactic, and its used by all the big groups – SumOfUs,, 38Degrees, etc – as well as a lot of the smaller ones. Look at UKUncut, for instance – they’re a very effective campaigning org (given their relatively small size) because they’re incredibly savvy at getting press attention – for their victories as well as their initial complaints. No More Page 3 is similar. I think most campaigners – whether activists or people who work for campaigning organisations – would tell you that shouting about your victories is as important as raising the problems in the first place.

  • Chris says:

    As to where the men’s rights party is and why we aren’t shouting praise about this, you covered that nicely. This isn’t about men’s rights, it’s about parental rights, and about equality. No advantage is sought or attained for baby boys over baby girls, nor for fathers over mothers. Improving equal access and equal treatment requires vigilance and hard work where equality doesn’t yet exist.

    I’ll take a quiet pause to thank those who expended the effort to make this happen, and acknowlede that things are now more as they should have been all along.

    The more loudly one proclaims his own human dignity, the only certainty is that he’s giving some of it up in the process, seeming to seek gain by taking from others.

  • Charlie says:

    I agree that Shared Parenting would help break down the gender roles in regards to parenting. I’m not sure if the UK has a similar problem that we have in the States, but what about equal pay for women? I also believe this would help men with custody battles during divorce as well. I had a coworker who was embattled in a pretty bitter fight with his ex-wife over full custody of the kids. The courts almost always side with the mother and it takes a lot of red tape, legal fees, and documentation to prove that the father is the most reasonable of the two who is capable of providing a stable and safe environment for the kids. Breaking down the bias would help our justice system make a more informed decision based on the facts presented.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ah, yes we absolutely have similar problems. The pay gap is shit, representation of women in certain roles is poor (and men in other types of roles i.e. primary teachers, certain caring professions etc). And family law is similarly biased -assuming that women will naturally be the homemakers/carers for children etc while men are breadwinners. There are so many different things that need to happen in order to untangle all of this stuff – you’re right that biases in the justice system need to be broken down, and I think that general change in our cultural attitudes towards parenting will help feed into that. Well, I hope!

  • Blue Romantic says:

    We’re too busy doing all the important jobs to be celebrating, hence the gender pay gap.

    • Girl in a hard hat says:

      Hey Romantic Blue, as a highly paid, hard working engineer I have learnt to manage my time sufficiently to stop the plant from blowing up today, look at ways to improve it tomorrow, take time to read other people’s blogs, write sarky comments, and help close the gender pay gap – as well as having a little celebration that male colleges can now spend more time with their wee ones. I’m sure you could do the same too if you just tried a little bit harder. It’s ok to ask for help you know.

      • Blue Romantic says:

        But that wasn’t what this blog was about. It was just a chance to have a pop at men and you know it, hence the cartoon. I thought you were cool, I thought you were into equality. It’s just really sad that someone I used to admire so much has turned out to be so unpleasant.

        • Girl on the net says:

          No, it really obviously wasn’t. As you can tell by the fact that I spent the first and last sections explaining just how beneficial I think these new rules are.

          Edited to add – you also seem to be conflating ‘vocal sections of the MRA movement’ with ‘men’.

  • Spoonwood says:

    This article reeks of dis-ingenuity. The author says this:

    “As far as I see it, this is a massive victory for men’s rights, and I was pretty curious to see how it was reported on by groups and individuals who have been campaigning on behalf of men and boys. Given that feminists practically brought the house down when they managed to get Jane Austen on a ten pound note, I’d expect that something of this significance would warrant the men’s rights equivalent of a 21-gun salute.”

    But, of course, she’s actually looked at MRA sites and found that MRA’s do NOT consider parental leave as that much of an issue. So, why would she expect that MRAs would write much about this? And why would she believe that MRAs would consider this a “massive victory” when it’s not even a major issue according to them?

    Bottom line: parental leave has never been much of an issue for men. To expect that men react as if it were such a massive issue makes no sense at all. It reeks of thinking that men and women are the same in this regard when they are not.

    Also, this sort of change which is local to the U. K. isn’t going to “helping them [men] break free of expectations around who should be the breadwinner, etc.”

    The very structure of relationships between men and women have to change for that to change… not legislation.

    Edit: The above might just seem like opinion. However, there is research that indicates that even when men have parental leave as an option, they don’t generally take it. And they certainly don’t take it at any rate close to the rate at which women take it…

    “But even when offered paternity leave, studies show most men won’t take it. A 2012 study of tenured track college professors found that only 12% of fathers took paid parental leave when it was offered compared with 69% of mothers. When new dads in the study did take paternity leave, many were still involved in projects at the office.”

    • Girl on the net says:

      OK, so the initial part of your comment seems to translate to “she’s saying MRAs don’t give a shit about this, but if you look at their sites, they don’t give a shit – so why would they give a shit?!” I’m explaining why I think they should, and why this is a genuine issue for guys. Can you explain why you think that equal rights to care for children in their first year should *not* be an issue for men’s rights? Further, could you explain why family law post-divorce should matter while this doesn’t? I think they both matter a lot, and I can see no logical reason why someone would care about the first but not the second.

      As for why guys don’t take paternity leave, I can only ask that you read the actual blog post I wrote, rather than the one you seem to think I wrote, for the purposes of your counterargument. This change in the law, while totally vital, is just a step on the road to better parental equality. As I said – it’s not like the world turned and everything changed on the day it came in, because there are a tonne of other things that need to change alongside it. Individual attitudes, employer treatment of parents who take leave, etc etc. But saying ‘oh this won’t immediately change everything overnight’ is ridiculous – engrained cultural attitudes (such as the ones which drive our family law and policy) don’t change overnight. They change as a result of a bunch of small and significant steps. This is one of those significant steps, and MRAs don’t seem to care. I’m wondering why not.

  • Mark says:

    Mike Buchanan. :-/ No, I’ve never had a good vibe about him. He’s one of my least favourite MRAs.

    Ultimately Ally Fogg is right, it isn’t just the law that needs to change and we need to stop portraying men as incompetents when it comes to child rearing.

    Novelty items like this for example:

    :-| Oh oh my aching sides. Please the hilarity is too much. :-|

    • Girl on the net says:

      Oh haha it’s so funny because haha men don’t know how babies work =/

      Yeah, I agree with you – there’s a hell of a lot of this stuff out there, and it’s pathetic. My biggest gripe is people who talk about Dad ‘babysitting’ or ‘giving Mum some down time’, as if when Dad cares for a child it’s a novelty rather than, you know, part and parcel of being a father.

  • anon says:

    This is good. Next: closing or reversing the education and literacy achivement gap! That’d be a real cause for celebration.

  • Jacquelope says:

    As a fairly hardcore men’s rights activist I’m extremely happy that this happened in England. If MRA groups actually never gave this much press then this is actually a bad sign, that we’re becoming as politicized as the feminists, out for scoring points rather than meaningful political victories. IT’s a good reason why men’s rights activism needs to evolve into egalitarianism.

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